Your internal compass, for example, would tell you shooting someone is wrong; stealing is wrong; and there are a host of other acts that do not require a statue to force you to do the right thing.
Enter legislative Democrats who paraded in front of capitol scribes this recent Sunshine Week with a list of good government reforms. Each suggestion was a head nodder but you may be shocked to find out that there are no laws on the books to do what the Ds believe should be done.
Item: Put a stick in the revolving door to prevent lawmakers from being a law-passer one day and a law-influencer/lobbyist the next. Their suggestion is to slap a two year prohibition on that. The state's history is replete with former legislators who walked through that door without that restriction including a host of former House and Senate leaders including Bobby Crim, Gary Owen, Rick Johnson, Lew Dodak, Bob Vanderlaan, Dennis Cawthrone and even the former Eternal General himself, Frank Kelley, now in retirement. (He spent years as attorney general bird-dogging the very lobby corps that he joined after he left office. As Mr. Seinfeld would say, nothing wrong with that.)
Item: Force state lawmakers to make a personal financial disclosure to "prevent conflicts of interest." "The public has a right to know," the Democrats contend and you probably concur that if lawmakers X owns a business that would profit from a proposed law, he or she ought to let everyone in on the fact. There is a provision in the house rules that allows a lawmaker to make such a disclosure but the rule is not mandatory and is actually invoked about ten times during a two years session. Forty-seven other states by the way have disclosure laws.
Item: Include the governor's office and the house and senate under the state's Freedom of Information Act. Who exempted them in the first place? The legislature, of course.
Item: If a person makes a political contribution to officials, that person is prohibited from securing any state contract worth more than $100,000. Some will argue that once the U.S. Supreme Court makes mince-meat of that, there won't be much left of the proposal. But until that time, the good government types will like the attempt to prevent pay to play.
The news conference announcing all this was over-flowing with high-road rhetoric. "Unfortunately, given Michigan's lack of transparency and accountability, people are left wondering" if top officials are "looking at for their own financial gain" or gain for others close to them. That from House Minority leader Tim Greimel.
Obviously the newser hit a chord with the House GOP because within hours, its media office scrambled and trotted out this rejoinder entitled, "Increasing government transparency" as if to say to Democrats were are on this.
Item: House Republicans halted "unreasonably high Freedom of Information fees."
Item: Under GOP leadership, "a bill was passed requiring online database disclosure of all expenditures of state funds." In more common English, you can go to the Internet to peak at the state budget.
Item: Republicans have posted the salaries of employees.
Item: They passed bills "requiring the state to provide extensive reports to anyone who is audited for unclaimed property, and requiring Treasury to tell taxpayers the rules" used during the audit. Alright everyone impacted by that, please raise your hand.
To be charitable here, the critics might say, the House R's list of "transparency" stuff may be well and good but where was a discussion about the more meaty items the Democrats raised? Those were ignored.
And those same critics might add, before the Democrats get too high and mighty about all this, when Mr. Greimel was asked if his caucus would institute these reforms on their own, if none of this became law, what did he say?
His side could release all their financial data, they could sign a piece of paper promising to stay out of the lobbyist revolving door for a time, they could honor all FOIA requests, and they could promise, if they get control of the house, they will impose the anti-pay-to-play notion.
On the financial disclosure piece, the Oakland County Democrat said it would be unfair for his side to do this alone. Unfair.
If it is the right thing to do, do you need a law to force you to do it?