LANSING, Mich. – House Democrats on Thursday called for the creation of a special bipartisan committee to investigate whether former Speaker Lee Chatfield committed financial improprieties while leading the chamber.
Chatfield, a Republican who was speaker in 2019 and 2020 before leaving office due to term limits, has been under scrutiny since his sister-in-law alleged he began sexually assaulting her when she was a minor. Police are investigating her complaint, and her attorney has said there also are unspecified financial allegations involving Chatfield.
Democrats pointed to news reports about his frequent travel while in office, how his top government aides also ran a consulting firm that was paid handsomely by his and other Republicans' campaign and political action committees, payments to Chatfield's family members and other practices.
“The most generous reading of this convoluted network depicts at the very least an abnormal set of arrangements. The facts of the matter are we don't know the facts of the matter,” House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, a Democrat, said at a news conference. “We have the authority and tools within the House of Representatives right now to begin unearthing the truth.”
Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth opposes a resolution to form the panel of three Democrats and three Republicans, saying the police and state attorney general are looking into what happened.
“The House is staying focused on cooperating with the Michigan State Police and the Lansing Police Department, assisting with their investigations and getting them whatever they need,” spokesperson Gideon D'Assandro said. “Partisan press releases won't change that.”
Democrats acknowledged that Chatfield possibly did nothing illegal financially but said there are ethical questions that could spur the need for changes to rules governing lawmakers.
They noted the House has no ethics committee to stop potential corruption and pointed to the creation in 2015 of a committee to investigate two representatives' fitness for office after they had an extramarital affair and were accused of misusing public resources in an attempt to cover it up.
“It goes beyond party lines. This is about the integrity of the chamber,” said Rep. Joe Tate, a Detroit Democrat.
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