A Violation of State Law’s Reporting Requirements

A similarly vague claim of "confidentiality" ultimately appeared in a report that the MFO was legally required to provide to members of the state Legislature. This annual report had to provide a number of pieces of information, including, according to the law, the "amount of money spent by each eligible production company" and a "breakdown of all production spending by all companies classified as goods, services, or salaries and wages" during the previous calendar year.[153]

On March 2, 2009, the Film Office submitted the report, which listed 35 films that had completed filming in 2008. The document — less than three pages of content — stated that "Film Industry refundable tax credits for 2008" were $47,992,000 and that "Total Michigan expenditures made by the 35 completed projects" were $125,000,000.[154] Both figures were useful, if delayed, information, but the report failed to provide a detailed breakdown of each film company's spending.

Hoekstra highlighted this violation of the state law's reporting requirements in an online video,[155] and she and Mackinac Center Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright issued a press release stating, "Michigan Film Office Report Violates Michigan Law. ..."[156] Ultimately, separate requests were made by the Film Office and state Senate Finance Committee Chair Nancy Cassis for an opinion from the Office of the Michigan Attorney General on the issue of the information's "confidentiality."

The Attorney General's Office subsequently issued a statement that the information in question had "not been granted confidentiality under MCL 208.1455 and thus, can be released to the public."[157] Pressed by two state lawmakers, and just two days before a scheduled Senate Finance Committee hearing at which the Film Office director was to testify, the Film Office released a spreadsheet with movie spending breakdowns by production company, total Michigan expenditures, goods, services, salaries and wages, and Michigan hires.

Film Office Director Janet Lockwood's comments on the report's missing data were unusual. In an e-mail sent in early April 2009, she explained, "When I wrote the annual report, I made a very clear note to all readers about why more detail wasn't included — the confidentiality that is allowed by law — and asked that anyone who wanted to know more simply call or email me. Unfortunately, when the document was sent, I was on vacation and a decision was made to delete that small section."[158]

If the numbers were confidential, it is unclear how a phone call or e-mail might change the information she could have provided. Nor is it clear why the MFO did not take more care to get a definitive legal opinion before withholding legally required information from members of the Legislature.

[153] "Public Act 77 of 2008."

[154] "Michigan Film Office 2008 Annual Report."

[155] Hoekstra, "The Scene and the Unseen: Act III," (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2009), http://www.mackinac.org/articlemedia.aspx? ID=10388#2812 (accessed August 11, 2009).

[156] Kathy Hoekstra and Patrick J. Wright, "News Release: Film Office Report Violates Michigan Law and the Spirit of Sunshine Week," (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2009), http://www.mackinac.org/10391 (accessed August 11, 2009).

[157] Mike Cox, "Michigan Film Credit Information correspondence with Nancy Cassis," (Office of the Attorney General, 2009).

[158] Janet Lockwood, Michigan film commissioner, e-mail correspondence with state Rep. Tom McMillin, April 7, 2009.