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How a Golden Slinky Helped Michigan Get a Big, Fat ‘F’ for Accountability

Michigan is the cellar with a handful of other states when it comes to accountability of elected officials. The state's lax gift policy is one reason.

Do you think Michigan should adopt more stringent laws regulating gifts to elected officials? (Patch file photo)
Do you think Michigan should adopt more stringent laws regulating gifts to elected officials? (Patch file photo)

What do you think Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should do with all that stuff?

The governor has accumulated gifts such as a 14-karat gold-plated Slinky, a ceremonial shield and spear from Kenya, s box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes bearing his mug, T-shirts, hats, books, Bibles, Korans and other religious tomes, and various and sundry other stuff – 1,100 gifts and tokens – that have been passed his way during international visits and official state ceremonies since he took office in 2011, The Detroit Free Press reports.

Some of it is valuable – for example, a quartz clock from Japan, vases and artwork received during trade missions to China, a $350 Ralph Lauren sweater worn by Team USA during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – but much of it has only symbolic value.

Governors don’t depart office with the same ceremony as U.S. presidents, who have libraries, museums and other edifices built in their honor, so what to do with gifts is left to their discretion.

There’s no law prohibiting Snyder and other public officials from keeping gifts, and there’s nothing in the code requiring them to log the gifts, as Snyder’s staff did. The Free Press said the governor’s staff voluntarily turned over the list of the inventory when asked to do so by the newspaper.

But that lax approach to the receipt of gifts to public officials is  one of the reason Michigan got a big, fat F from the Center for Public Integrity, which recently released its accountability assessment for state officials in 2013.

Only seven other states – North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia – got a failing rating.

State law doesn’t have much to say about gift giving. The Michigan Lobby Registration Acts restricts gifts to elected officials from lobbyists to $58 a month, excluding food, beverages, travel and lodging.

But when it comes to gifts from virtually anyone else, the state code doesn’t attach strings provided the gifts don’t influence the way officials perform their jobs.

Michigan’s “F” in accountability contributed to and corresponded with Michigan’s overall failing rating on the “corruption risk” report card, ranking it 44th among 50 states. The state’s highest ranking was an “A” for internal auditing, and Michigan received “B” grades in state government procurement and budgeting policies, and it received a “D” in its accommodation of access to public information.

In every other area measured, Michigan got an “F”:

  • Executive accountability

  • Judicial accountability

  • State and Civil Service management

  • State pension fund management

  • State insurance commission

  • Political financing

  • Legislative accountability

  • Lobbying disclosure

  • Ethics and enforcement agencies

  • Redistricting

All this raises the question:

  • What should the governor do with all those gifts? Take the poll and tell us what you think in the comments.

tracyrosellc May 14, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Two minutes of my life I'll never get back. This article that focused on non-issue petty gifts - this hurts who? The unsophisticated author ignored the "F" grades in alarming problems that affect the masses such as Pension Fund management, Ethics, Accountability, and Lobbying. Whoever wrote this article? Please stop writing...
Barb Narb May 14, 2014 at 01:39 PM
"The governor has accumulated gifts such as ..., a ceremonial shield and spear from Kenya,..., Korans..." He'd better be prepared to show his birth certificate if he's carrying those around...
BabzStanwyck May 14, 2014 at 02:19 PM
Golden Slinky: I think I like that better than One Tough Nerd as the guv's nickname. Doesn't Slink have his gifties accounted for on his Relentlessly Positive Best Practices Dashboard?
Jeff Phunter May 17, 2014 at 10:26 AM
!...excluding food, beverages, travel and lodging...! This adds up to hell of a lot more than those gifts. Outlaw LOBBYISTS !

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