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Michigan lawmakers’ NDAs further erode trust, accountability

Gagging those who are supposed to speak for the people is not compatible with transparent, accountable government. But it is happening way too often in Michigan.

A Detroit News report finds one in five sitting Michigan legislators have signed non-disclosure agreements with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on potential economic developments in the state that are subsidized heavily by taxpayers.

The NDAs bind the public servants who signed them to keep the public’s business hidden from the public.

In nearly all cases, the NDAs were requested to prevent leaks that could competitively harm the companies seeking incentive packages from the state. They also may serve the state’s purpose in not alerting other states to how much Michigan is putting on the table.

But requests for elected officials to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent then from communicating with their constituents should be rare, and limited in scope.

They shouldn’t prevent officials from conveying information that taxpayers should know before a deal is signed. For example, residents of Green Charter Township, who are fighting a battery plant development, say they were not told for months that the project had ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

When such massive amounts of taxpayer money are being spent — in this case, the state is putting up $715 million in incentives for the Green Township facility — taxpayers should be fully informed of the costs and both the benefits and potential consequences of the development project.

The people they rely on to keep them informed are their elected representatives. Those representatives should not have to exchange their silence for a seat at the negotiating table.

The state’s corporate welfare program has been channeled through the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund. The fund has had too little success, despite the nearly $2 billion in taxpayer money it has handed out to large corporations since it was created in November 2021.

Some state lawmakers who signed NDAs said they never even received proprietary information. That suggests the agreements have become a perfunctory tool, rather than a necessity.

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