Sen. Shirkey secretly profits from China while posing as a hawk and fighting transparency

Jun 3, 2021 at 12:31 pm
click to enlarge Michigan Sen. Mike Shirkey. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Michigan Sen. Mike Shirkey.

After Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey recovered from COVID-19 in January, he blamed the pandemic on China.

“The Chinese flu army sent in one of their best soldiers,” the Clarklake Republican said on “The Bart Hawley Show” on Jackson-based JTV. “His name was Rona. I’m not as young as I used to be, so he and I wrestled for nine days, but I finally pinned him.”

The tasteless quip drew strong criticism from Democrats and Chinese Americans, who admonished Shrikey for fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia. Over the past year, anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by nearly 150%, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

It’s not the first time Shirkey criticized China. He also praised former President Donald Trump for imposing tariffs on the country.

Tough talk on China is nothing new for Republicans, who have adopted harsh rhetoric by blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak and the loss of manufacturing jobs.

But as Shirkey poses as a China hawk, he’s quietly profiting from the country, Metro Times has learned.

Shirkey is the founder and owner of Orbitform, an engineering company that builds assembly machines for manufacturers.

The machines are sold in China by OCS Automation Technologies Co., which registered as a limited liability company with the Chinese government in 2018. According to the company’s website, OCS stands for Orbitform’s China Sales. The company exclusively sells Orbitform machines and equipment to Chinese manufacturers. The equipment is used for auto parts, medical supplies, and industrial automation, according to a translated version of the company’s website.

OCS Automation has multiple locations in China and describes itself as a “leading company in the press fitting industry and riveting industry.”

Shirkey’s office initially denied any ties between Orbitform and OCS Automation until Metro Times provided a link to the Chinese company’s website.

Shirkey's spokeswoman Abigail Walls equates OCS Automation to a “distributor in the bar and wine industry.”

“It’s not Mike’s company. It’s just a distributor,” Walls tells Metro Times.

Walls says it’s a “positive” that Orbitfrom is selling American-made goods to China.

“That’s the direction that you want the manufacturing order of operations to go,” she says.

But Shirkey’s company also imports shipments from China, Thailand, India, and Mexico, according to data from the global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.

Shirkey is under no obligation to disclose his financial ties to China because Michigan has the only full-time Legislature in the country that does not require lawmakers to divulge their financial interests.

As the Senate majority leader, Shirkey has been one of the primary obstacles to bipartisan proposals to require such disclosures, allowing him to effectively conceal his connection to OCS Automation. It’s one of the reasons Michigan ranks dead last among states in a 2015 national study of state ethics and transparency, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit government watchdog organization.

At a press conference in January, Shirkey said he opposes a bipartisan transparency bill that would require lawmakers to divulge their finances, saying it gives him "heartburn."

“It’s fodder for (the media) to go after people, and it’s unnecessary,” Shirkey said. “We already have rules in place for eliminating conflicts of interest, and I haven’t had anybody show me where those rules were spoiled or breached in my tenure, frankly.”

Other Republicans disagree.

“This is something that has to be done,” Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, told WXYZ in February. “People are getting sick and tired of this kind of garbage.”

Republicans have made ethics reforms a top priority for 2021 and proposed several bipartisan measures to require financial disclosure.

“We must do better and hold ourselves to a higher standard,” House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, said in a statement last month.

He said ethics reform will “make our entire system more open, honest and accountable to the people we serve.”

Walls insisted Shirkey’s business interests in China have nothing to do with his opposition to financial disclosures.

“You’re looking for a connection that isn’t there,” Walls tells Metro Times. “His main concern is it could discourage people from running. … If you’re asking people to disclose a lot about themselves personally, it can intimidate people from running.”

Democrats disagree.

“Spewing racist language in an attempt to be tough on China while secretly profiting off of the distribution of his company’s products in the country reeks of the default hypocrisy we’ve come to associate with how Republicans do business in Lansing,” Rodericka Applewhaite, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party, tells Metro Times. “Even worse, Shady Mike Shirkey is blocking financial disclosure legislation that allows him and other politicians to keep potential conflicts of interest a secret. He should immediately come forward and inform Michiganders of which interests he and his ilk are prioritizing above their own.”

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