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Michigan AG reviewing whether lawmakers can lobby out of state

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Attorney General's Office is reviewing whether legislators serving in the state can legally be registered lobbyists outside its borders, and regardless, Republican lawmakers are planning to change the policy.

The Detroit News first reported on Nov. 17 that Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, had been hired by the interest group National Popular Vote and filed a lobbying disclosure on behalf of the organization in Pennsylvania. She's also registered to lobby in North Carolina.

State Rep. Rebekah Warren

Warren, who leaves the House because of term limits at the end of the year, confirmed in an interview last month that she began working with National Popular Vote in March. The organization has targeted Michigan in the past as it tries to get states to agree, through a compact, to give their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote.

A current state law bars legislators and other state officials from accepting pay for "personally engaging in lobbying." However, it's unclear whether that prohibition refers specifically to only lobbying in Michigan, which is what the rest of the law is focused on. Violations bring a misdemeanor penalty of not more than $1,000 or 90 days behind bars or both.

Warren didn't immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment. Previously, the Ann Arbor Democrat said she was advised by a lawyer that the current state restriction affects only paid lobbying in Michigan — something she says she's not going to do while she's in office.

However, on Nov. 14, she did pen a pro-popular vote column in the Lansing State Journal without disclosing that she's being paid by the organization championing the reform.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, confirmed the review was ongoing Wednesday. The Lansing-based political news service MIRS News first reported the review was taking place.

While ethics experts say the arrangement raises concerns about her priorities, Warren has said she doesn't believe it poses a problem.

“This is an organization that I believe in and that I have known," she said in a past interview.

Michigan House Republicans are planning to officially ban lobbying out of state while serving in the Legislature next term, said Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, a member of the House Oversight Committee.

He labeled Warren's arrangement a "huge conflict of interest" and referenced the fact that businesses and organizations, like National Popular Vote, can't make corporate contributions directly to lawmakers' campaigns but can write them personal checks to do lobbying work out of state.

"It is our intention that we do a number of ethics reforms next year, and this will be at the top of that list," said Johnson, who's co-chairman of the Republican Policy Action Plan Committee for the 2021-2022 legislative term.

cmauger@detroitnews.com