MI SOS Launches Online FOIA Tool To Improve Transparency

Michigan Government NewsLansing, MI - On Wednesday, Decemeber 12, 2023, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson unveiled a new online transparency tool that makes Michigan Department of State (MDOS) records more accessible to the public.

She renewed her call for legislative reforms in 2024 to make state government more transparent and ethical.

“Transparency in government is one of my top priorities as Secretary of State,” said Secretary Benson. “But for far too long, Michigan has been among the worst states in the nation when it comes to transparency and ethics laws. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is one of the most important tools citizens can use to hold their government accountable. This new online tool will make it easier for the public to request and receive records and will make our records more widely available to the people of Michigan.”

Secretary Benson hosted a demonstration of the new online FOIA tool at a news conference in Lansing. The new online portal will make Freedom of Information Act requests at MDOS easier and the results more accessible. MDOS is the first state agency to offer an online FOIA system that publishes responsive documents on its website. Responses will be searchable by keyword and will not require an additional fee to access.

Under the previous system, FOIA requests had to be made by email, fax, mail or in person and would be manually reviewed and assigned to the appropriate business area of MDOS for processing. While those options remain available, requests made via the new online portal at Michigan.gov/MDOSFOIA will be automatically routed and processed in fewer steps.

Documents that contain highly personal information like driver’s records and vehicle records will not be published on the website, nor will information from the state’s Qualified Voter File, as it changes rapidly.

“FOIA is an important tool for organizations like the Michigan Campaign Finance Network and investigative journalists who want to uncover information that isn’t yet public,” said Nick Pigeon, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “Additionally, FOIA is an important accountability mechanism that increases citizen trust in government as public bodies must conduct their affairs knowing that any public record can be uncovered. An online system for granting FOIA requests can expediate the process and make it more difficult for public bodies to slow-roll compliant requests or incorrectly deny information that they must disclose under FOIA.”

“Voters Not Politicians has been fighting for increased government transparency for years,” said Kim Murphy-Kovalick, program director for Voters Not Politicians. “Voters have a right to know how decisions are made, how policy is formulated, and how state resources are managed. With this new online FOIA system from the Secretary of State, voters will have a more accessible and efficient process to access requested documents. We look forward to working with Secretary Benson and the Legislature on further reforms to bring transparency and accountability to our state government.”

Secretary Benson reiterated her support for expanding FOIA to cover the Office of the Governor and the Michigan Legislature. Michigan is one of just two states exempting its governor and one of eight where the Legislature is exempt from complying with FOIA requests.

Last week, Governor Whitmer signed legislation implementing Proposal 1 – a ballot measure to amend the state constitution requiring public officials and candidates for elected office to file financial disclosure reports for themselves and their spouses. Proposal 1 passed with overwhelming support from Michigan voters in 2022.  

“The people of Michigan have made it clear – they want more transparency and accountability from state government,” Benson said. “As we look ahead to 2024, I will be working with partners in the Legislature to build on the progress of Proposal 1 and enact meaningful ethics reforms so that Michigan’s government is truly accountable to every citizen.”

Secretary Benson supports a comprehensive set of transparency and ethics reforms including legislation to:

  • Require corporations to disclose 501c3, 501c4, and 527 political donations.
  • Prohibit foreign-influenced companies from making unlimited donations to Super PACs and ballot question committees.
  • Prohibit state contractors from making unlimited political donations to politicians who approve their contracts – consistent with federal law.
  • Limit the number of Leadership PACs a candidate can have in Michigan.
  • Close the “revolving door” from government to lobbying, requiring a one-year gap for all legislators and two years for committee chairs, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, and statewide elected officials.

Visit Michigan.gov/MDOSFOIA for more information on requesting public records from the Michigan Department of State.

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