Some Detroit City Council members fail to file campaign finance reports

Transparency is a word you hear a lot in politics these days but actions mean more than words. But some Detroit City Council weren't quite willing to be transparent about their campaign finance reports.

Detroit City Councilman George Cushingberry is back at it. This time, FOX 2 Problem Solver M.L. Elrick discovered an issue with his failure to file his campaign finance reports. In fact, Cushingberry owes state and local authorities nearly $30,000 in penalties for failing to let the public know where he gets his political loot. 

He was shy when Elrick and company showed up but he's not alone. Councilmen Gabe Leland and Scott Benson also kept Detroiters in the dark about their dough. 

Bankole Thompson, the editor of the Michigan Chronicle, said these three should know better.

"These candidates are not rookie candidates," Thompson said. "They're veteran candidates who have been in politics for decades - for years - in this city. They know what the rules are, they just have to play by the rules." 

Failing to file campaign finance reports may sound like the nerdiest issue ever, but you know who else didn't file his campaign finance reports after joining the city council? Charles Pugh. 

Long-time political consultant Steve Hood says campaign finance reports can help the public figure out who has clout in city hall.

"It's a huge deal because there are only two ways to buy an elected official," Hood said. "One, you give them straight cash, as you reported so eloquently during the Kilpatrick mess, or two, you make campaign donations that give you access."

So yes, it IS a big deal. In fact, it's so important that Leland, one of the council members who hasn't filed, agrees that it's important.

"Transparency is very important," Leland said. "So, in terms of dollars coming in and out. this is something that I think is something that is a concern. Residents should have the expectation for transparency and I intend on showing that in my campaign filing of the annual which I'll be doing very, very immediately."

He delivered on that promise. Shortly after speaking with Elrick, he filed his overdue report.

Councilman Benson also filed some delinquent campaign finance reports after Elrick caught up with him outside city hall.

"There's been a lot of things going on. sometimes those things fall by the wayside, and I'm glad that you've been able to remind me to do them," Benson said.

He said he filed the ones for his state campaign even though the Secretary of State says they're still open. The Secretary of State says Benson owes more than $3,000 in fines.

He said he'd look into them but as of 4:00 PM on Monday April 20, he had not done so yet.

It seems like everyone in Michigan is after the honorable Mr. Cushingberry.

The Secretary of State sent Cushingberry numerous requests demanding his missing campaign finance reports. 

The Wayne County Clerk sent Cushingberry a stack of warnings about his missing paperwork. Now the County Treasurer, State Treasurer and Attorney General have been asked to help get Cushingberry to pay his fines and finally follow the rules.

"It's significant and especially when you have the spot on you. These same candidates have already come up for other unpleasant things. I think it would make good for the public that they take care of this business," Thompson said.

Ignoring the law isn't cheap, either. The Wayne County Clerk has fined Cushingberry nearly $2,000. That's chump change compared to what he owes the state. 

The Secretary of State has charged Cushingberry nearly $23,000 in fines and late fees. His delinquency could lead to criminal charges.

So is it hard? Not according to Hood.

"I taught a person with no campaign finance knowledge how to do it years ago, and they did it right away," Hood said. "It's simple. the instructions; an eighth grader could do the instructions."

If Cushingberry doesn't get his act together soon, his dereliction could even get himself tossed off council. 

The city charter that Cushingberry took an oath to uphold says failure to file reports is a violation. A commentary published with the charter says "failure to remedy an identified charter violation by an elected or appointed official is grounds for forfeiture of office."