(The Center Square) – Michigan House Republicans want an investigation into potential conflicts of interests for House Appropriations Committee Chair Angela Witwer, who was instrumental in forming the state’s record $82 billion budget.
On Sept. 5, a Detroit News report disclosed Witwer’s business connections involving a company she co-founded in 2007, Lansing-based public relations firm Edge Partnerships. Witwer was mentioned as an owner of the firm in a social media post in 2021. Company clientele include the Michigan Department of Education, Farm Bureau Insurance and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Jay DeBoyer, R-Clay Township, co-sponsored House Resolution 141 calling for a six-member panel split with Democrats and Republicans to investigate conflict of interest.
The speaker of the house and the House Republican leader would each designate a co-chair, and the committee’s findings and recommendations would be reported to the full House.
“The chair of the House Appropriations Committee is responsible for crafting the state budget and responsibly allocating taxpayer dollars,” DeBoyer said in a statement. “Having connections to a PR firm that works directly with entities that lobby and receive state tax dollars from the budget process raises serious ethical questions and breaches the public’s trust.”
The resolution was referred to the House Government Operations Committee instead of receiving support from the Democrat majority.
The company still pays for Witwer’s vehicle, the News reported. Witwer’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
“We need answers – and this committee would help deliver those answers,” DeBoyer said. “It’s disappointing this measure was not taken up on the House floor. Democrats will tell you they support transparency and ethics reform, but all of that gets swept under the rug when one of their own is caught up in an ethics scandal.”
Michigan voters passed Proposal 1 in November 2022. The rule requires the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state and each lawmaker to file an annual financial disclosure report with the Department of State.
The report must disclose assets, income sources, liabilities, positions held, gifts received and more. But the Legislature must enact the provisions. If not enacted by Dec. 31, a Michigan resident could sue the Legislature and the governor in the Michigan Supreme Court to enforce the provisions.
Proposal 1 requires the financial disclosure report to be filed by April 15, 2024, and include asset descriptions, unearned and earned income sources, and a description of liabilities.
The officials must disclose positions currently held as an officer, director, trustee, partner, proprietor, representative, employee, or consultant of any organization, corporation, firm, partnership, or other business enterprise.
The new budget for this fiscal year starting Oct. 1 allocated $10 million to buy surplus agricultural products for food banks via the Food Bank Council of Michigan, an Edge Partnership client. Additionally, the Department of Education became an Edge Partnership client in 2020 and was allotted nearly $650 million in the state budget.