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Lansing — Fifteen Michigan House Democrats have voluntarily released some of their own personal financial information while calling for new rules to require similar disclosure by all political candidates and spouses.

Michigan is one of two states that does not require any form of financial disclosure for those seeking elected office. Transparency advocates say revealing income sources and assets can help the public identify potential conflicts of interest.

“It is not just about showing what our financials are to the public and being honest and transparent,” said Rep. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, who said she took the rare step to excuse herself from a state House vote on landlord policies because she and her husband rent out a home.

“It’s also about not being able to hide behind a lack of legislation when it comes to voting on the very issues that affect all of the people we represent in this state," Geiss said Thursday.

Under the proposed legislation, Michigan political candidates would have to report on income sources that exceed $5,000 in a year, any property beyond their primary residence that is worth $50,000 or more, a description of any stocks and bonds or interest worth more than $10,000 and retirement plans.

Unlike some other states, the four-bill package would not require lawmakers to specify how much they earned in any given year or provide specific ranges for income or holdings.

State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, reported an ownership stake in eight different companies, including his law firm, two different distilleries, real estate holding companies, a chair manufacturing company and Egypt Valley Angus Farms.

“I’m sort of either a renaissance man or I’m suffering from a bad case of ADD,” LaGrand told reporters, noting he is also an ordained minister, ran a karate school for 10 years, is an attorney and holds a contractor’s license.

LaGrand said he’s personally recused himself from several votes — including bills to loosen requirements on becoming a lawyer and lowering the threshold for using a contractor — but said colleagues rarely do the same.

“Historically it was much, much more common for lawmakers to recuse themselves from votes a couple decades ago,” he said. “That stream of people who scrutinize their ethics has sort of slowed to a trickle.”

Reps. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids, Stephanie Chang of Detroit, Tom Cochran of Mason, Jim Ellison of Royal Oak, Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, Kevin Hertel of St. Clair Shores, Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo, Jeremy Moss of Southfield, Yousef Rabhi of Ann Arbor, Bill Sowerby of Clinton Township, Robert Wittenberg of Huntington Woods, Tenisha Yancey of Detroit and Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor also filled out disclosure reports.

The reports were published online by liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, which praised the voluntary disclosure and pending legislation.

Democratic sponsors said they planned to invite Republicans to fill out the disclosure forms as well. They did not say why the 32 other Democrats in the House did not also voluntarily disclose financial information.  

joosting@detroitnews.com

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