Benson discloses income of $370,000 in bid for personal financial disclosure law

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her husband Ryan Friedrichs leave the Church of the Divine Child in Dearborn on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, after a funeral mass for former Congressman John Dingell. Benson released a voluntary personal financial disclosure Thursday in an effort to increase transparency in government.

Lansing — In an effort to increase transparency among elected officials, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has revealed that she earned about $370,000 last year.

The Detroit Democrat challenged lawmakers to pass legislation that would require the same disclosure of elected officials in Michigan, one of two states that do not require elected officials to do so.

Michigan's distinction is one Benson said she’d like to end, noting that disclosing who might “be influencing (lawmakers') decisions behind closed doors” would boost public confidence in government.

“One of the best ways we can restore the public’s trust in our government is to require our elected leaders to fully disclose any outside income, investments, travel or gifts they may receive as candidates or elected officials,” Benson said in a Thursday statement.

Benson’s disclosure form, based on a document required of federal candidates and members of Congress, was posted to a transparency web page launched Wednesday on the Secretary of State Department's website in the middle of Sunshine Week.

The website includes Benson's calendar for January and February, staff contacts for her office and information on how to submit a Freedom of Information Act request.

Benson’s form indicates she earned $300,000 last year in her former job as CEO and executive director of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a non-profit that works with athletes and coaches to fight discrimination and improve race relations. The initiative is headquartered in New York with a Midwest office in Detroit.

Benson earned another $70,000 as a tenured faculty member at Wayne State University's School of Law, where she went on unpaid leave beginning in 2019.

Her husband, Ryan Friedrichs, earned $165,000 from the city of Detroit, where he is chief development officer.

Benson also disclosed interest-earning assets, an annuity and a 401(k) retirement savings account. The form also notes Benson is a board member of the Southern Poverty Law Center's board of directors and the iCivics, Inc. advisory board. 

Benson’s financial disclosure and the challenge to legislators come as the Republican-controlled Michigan House is expected to vote next week on a package of bills that would remove public records exemptions from the Legislature and governor’s office.

Last week, while testifying before the House Elections and Ethics Committee, Benson laid out a raft of legislative priorities to increase transparency in government, one of which was requiring elected officials to disclose their personal finances.

Benson also urged legislation that would target “dark money” funneled through nonprofit political groups and administrative accounts by requiring stricter reporting.

The meeting with Benson set a “tone of cooperation," said Julie Calley, the Portland Republican who chairs the committee, but no formal bills had been introduced that mirrored Benson’s proposed changes.

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