Dear friends of ethics reform,
Utahns for Ethical Government today announced its support for the Count My Vote (CMV) Initiative Petition.
Knowing from experience how difficult it is to reach the required 102,000 signatures distributed across 26 of Utah’s 29 state Senate Districts, we encourage all those who supported our UEG ethics initiative to sign the Count My Vote initiative petition. For information on where to sign, go to the CMV website at www.countmyvoteutah.org
The purpose of the CMV Initiative is to encourage better participation by all registered voters in the selection of candidates to run for state and federal office. The direct primary system established in the CMV Initiative will accomplish this far better than the current caucus & party convention system that is outdated and exclusionary. Through Count My Vote, Utah’s citizens will have a greater voice in the political process.
Currently, our governors, attorneys general, county commissioners, members of Congress, U.S. Senators, state legislators—all our elected officials—are not really selected by most Utahns in November elections. That conventional view is wrong, according to David Irvine, UEG co-counsel. As Irvine puts it, “The real election—the one that currently counts—is whatever day in March the party insiders gather at places for 2 or 3 hours of caucuses, i.e., neighbor-inflicted litmus tests, to see if someone is sufficiently “right-thinking” to be selected as a convention delegate in a problematic caucus voting process.” He cautions: “To be perfectly blunt, the only Utahns our elected officials deeply, whole-heartedly need to care about are the relative handful of Utah voters who hold the literal power of life or death over political careers—the fewer than 1% of the voters who know enough about politics to become delegates at the archaic system of neighborhood caucuses and nominating conventions.”
Kim Burningham, UEG chair emeritus, states: “Why place the future of our state into the hands of fewer than 1% of the voters who have their own agendas? We should instead give the power of candidate nomination to all who want to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. Involving more voters will help to ensure that candidates attune their campaigns to a much broader voter base—one that puts voters as a whole back in charge of public policy.” Continuing, Kim adds: “We’ll get better policy decisions when candidates have to appeal to the broad majority, not a tiny slice. If Count My Vote passes, issues that the public cares about, such as ethics reform, air quality, and education should have a much better chance of being addressed in a positive way by our legislature and other elected officials.”
UEG also observes that other reforms are needed to encourage a more balanced political process and a more competitive two-party system that will help to keep elected officials honest and responsive to the public at large. An impartial, nonpartisan process for redistricting to reduce gerrymandering is at the top of our list. Examples of other reforms that are needed to enhance voter participation are statewide ethics reforms, a truly independent and empowered Ethics Commission, and consideration of online voting and election day registration. Count My Vote is an important beginning step in improving Utah’s electoral processes. Please give serious consideration to their initiative.
Utahns for Ethical Government Executive Committee
UEG graph of State Integrity data.
According to research done by StateIntegrity.org, states with unregulated campaign contributions have a higher risk of corruption in political financing. A state’s overall risk is based on laws in place and the potential for corruption.
Four states (Missouri, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia) do not have laws limiting campaign contributions, and consequently registered poor scores on the study’s scale for potential corruption.
Because actualized corruption is not possible to accurately gauge, State Integrity created a scale which measures the potential for corruption in government. This is based on laws in place, their effectiveness, and the public’s access to information and ability to be a check on government.
On a scale measuring corruption in all 50 states from least corruption potential to most, here is how the states that allow unlimited contributions rank: Oregon: 14th, Missouri: 16th, Utah: 36th, and Virginia: 47th
While overall scores don’t provide much correlation, the Political Financing category shows poor scores for these unlimited contribution states. Oregon earned a D-, Missouri an F, Utah an F, and Virginia an F as well.
It was not only their lack of campaign finance limitation that earned these poor scores.
The calculation of corruption risk for the Political Financing section takes into account any and all regulations in place for the financing of political parties and individual candidates, the effectiveness of those regulations, and citizen access to the regulations.
These states provide little oversight and transparency in these categories, which the study deemed important in its scale of overall state corruption.
While some may suggest the study incorporates a tough grading scale, this may not be the case.
California, which ranked 4th on the corruption scale overall, earned itself a B- in political financing. It did so by earning stellar scores in citizen access and regulations in place, but still had F marks in terms of the effectiveness of those regulations.
Even if stifling the potential for corruption is difficult, a state can gain a B- on this scale for simply showing effort.
Regardless of personal belief on money in politics as it pertains to the ethos of democracy, there appears to be a direct connection between regulation on campaign contribution and the ensuing probability for corruption. This issue presents itself not only in state legislatures, but on the national scale as well.
Transparency International’s survey of global corruption perception, and their subsequent summation, notes that the 2012 spending in the United States elections, as well as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, dropped America below comparable nations in the developed world.
The nation’s 74 percent on the global scale ranked the US at 19th in corruption; a score lower than countries such as Australia, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Japan, and Denmark.
Even if these studies are merely measuring perception and potential, are Americans willing to accept scores of mediocrity in something as important as the nation’s legislative firewalls to prevent corruption?
Tribune’s Rolly reports on FBI investigation of forged electronic signature on UEG petition. Read more.
The older I get, the more I am convinced of the truth of the oft-repeated maxim suggesting money is at the heart of much evil.
World and state headlines today provide vivid examples of this problem:
Too often, leaders are more intent on securing their next campaign dollar than in fighting for noble reform.
We, the public, must speak up, insisting this malignant reign of money be stopped. If it continues unabated, not only do the abusers deserve fault, but we who watch passively must also share the blame.
“While it remains to be determined whether Utah’s Attorney General, John Swallow, was part of a scheme to bribe a U.S. Senator, or was unethical in accepting money for consulting work performed outside his official duties, or inappropriately put Jeremy Johnson in touch with a lobbyist who could help push dismissal of a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Johnson, it is clear enough that huge amounts of money were funneled to former AG Shurtleff’s campaign accounts and then to Swallow’s, some of it through Jeremy Johnson. It is not idle speculation to wonder whether the desire to obtain large campaign contributions may lie behind the trouble that Mr. Swallow is in,” stated David Irvine, attorney for Utahns for Ethical Government
“From all appearances, it seems that the desire to attract campaign money, on the magnitude of the more than $200,000 that Jeremy Johnson and his associates contributed to former Attorney General Shurtleff, likely prompted Mr. Swallow, Shurtleff’s chief fund raiser at the time, to begin his unfortunate involvement with Mr. Johnson. During Swallow’s recent campaign, Shurtleff’s Utah’s Prosperity Foundation then contributed close to $300,000 to Swallow’s campaign. At the least, these events should lay to rest the notion that visions of big contributions do not have a corrupting influence on otherwise honest men and women,” stated Irvine. “Our top law enforcement officers should be above reproach but do not appear to be so.” Kim Burningham, UEG Chair, added that “UEG is interested in following the Alliance for Better Utah’s exploration of the usefulness of an investigation by the Utah State Bar.”
Burningham also observed that “legislators who opposed our initiative petition argued that there were no problems that would not be remedied by ‘transparency’ of contributions, but nothing has been done to make the donation process genuinely transparent either.” An example of the problem with this lack of transparency is the enormous $250,000 contribution to Swallow’s campaign from a Washington, D.C. PAC labeled Republican State Leadership Committee, whose donors remain totally anonymous. “Our laws are so lax that it’s impossible to determine where all of the money is coming from. No one knows who is footing the bill for many Utah politicians or what private agenda is driving these huge, untraceable contributions. Limiting the size of campaign contributions would greatly alleviate this troublesome situation,” Irvine added.
Kim Burningham announced UEG’s position: “In response to the current scandal, Utahns for Ethical Government reiterates its position in favor of campaign contribution limits and for meaningful disclosure of contributors. We call upon the 2013 Legislature to enact into law the campaign contribution limits recommended by Governor Huntsman’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy. Those limitations ($10,000 for statewide races and $5,000 for legislative races) are eminently reasonable. The mandatory reporting of contributors to PACs, proposed by the Commission, should also be adopted, and extended to out-of-state PACs that seem able to flood Utah races with untraceable cash.”
Utahns for Ethical Government has become used to the Utah Legislature throwing up barriers every time the UEG attempts to make lawmakers, well, more ethical.
When UEG tried to get an initiative on the ballot to pass a voter-approved ethics law, the Legislature made it harder to reach the necessary number of signatures for ballot approval.
When the UEG petition prompted the Legislature to pass its own ethics reform law as a pre-emptive strike, it turned out the lawmakers had a number of loopholes in the bill so they wouldn’t have to become, well, too ethical.
So now, when UEG sent a questionnaire to legislative candidates asking them to answer specific questions on ethics issues, most of the lawmakers responded with the metaphorical middle finger.
The questionnaire asked the candidates three yes-or-no questions:
About 50 percent of the nearly 200 legislative candidates responded to the questions, but most of the respondents are challengers, and most of those are Democrats.
There are 75 House races and 16 of the 29 Senate races up for grabs this year. Republicans hold 13 of the 16 Senate seats in play and 58 of the 75 House seats. Eleven Democratic incumbents answered the questions while 14 Republican incumbents responded.
Notable non-responders were Republican Sens. Mark Madsen, John Valentine, Curt Bramble, Allen Christensen, Lyle Hillyard, David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Reps. Wayne Harper and Evan Vickers, who are House members running for open Senate seats.
The Republican senators who did respond were Aaron Osmond and Todd Weiler, who answered yes to all three, and Scott Jenkins, who answered yes to the first question and no to the others.
The only Democratic senator on the ballot, Luz Robles, answered “yes” to all three questions.
On the House side, most of the Democratic incumbents answered the questionnaire, while a relative few Republican incumbents bothered. Notably, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Majority Whip Greg Hughes did not respond, while Majority Leader Brad Dee answered “yes” to all three questions.
*=incumbent but some are in new districts
Yes, No, Uncertain (?), or No Response
DeLoy W Mecham
State Rep 1
Ronda Rudd Menlove *
State Rep 1
State Rep 1
Gage Froerer *
State Rep 8
Dixon M. Pitcher *
State Rep 10
State Rep 10
Brad Dee *
State Rep 11
State Rep 11
State Rep 12
Richard Greenwood *
State Rep 12
YY Y (if over $20)
K. Bradley Asay
State Rep 13
Paul Ray *
State Rep 13
Curtis Oda *
State Rep 14
State Rep 14
Brad R Wilson *
State Rep 15
Gibbs M. Smith
State Rep 15
Douglas M. Sill
State Rep 16
State Rep 16
Steve Handy *
State Rep 16
Bonnie Peterson Flint
State Rep 17
Stewart E. Barlow *
State Rep 17
State Rep 18
Roger E. Barrus *
State Rep 18
Jim Nielson *
State Rep 19
“I Don’t do surveys”
State Rep 19
David E. Lifferth
State Rep 2
Becky Edwards *
State Rep 20
Daniel N. Donahoe
State Rep 20
Need to see specific legis.
David Lowe Swan
State Rep 21
Douglas V. Sagers *
State Rep 21
William R. Bodine
State Rep 21
State Rep 22
Susan ‘Sue’ Duckworth *
State Rep 22
Jennifer ‘Jen’ Seelig *
State Rep 23
Richard DM Barnes
State Rep 23
J. P. Hughes
State Rep 24
Rebecca Chavez-Houck *
State Rep 24
YYY (nuanced conditions)
Joel K. Briscoe *
State Rep 25
State Rep 25
State Rep 26
State Rep 26
State Rep 27
State Rep 27
Brian S. King *
State Rep 28
State Rep 28
State Rep 29
Lee B Perry *
State Rep 29
Jack R. Draxler *
State Rep 3
State Rep 3
Fred C. Cox *
State Rep 30
Not easy yes/no (qualified comments)
Janice Fisher *
State Rep 30
Fred C Johnson
State Rep 31
Larry Wiley *
State Rep 31
State Rep 32
LaVar Christensen *
State Rep 32
State Rep 33
State Rep 33
Celina L. Milner
State Rep 34
Johnny Anderson *
State Rep 34
Casey R Fitts
State Rep 35
State Rep 35
Mark A. Wheatley *
State Rep 35
State Rep 36
Patrice Arent *
State Rep 36
State Rep 37
Carol Spackman Moss *
State Rep 37
Elias S. McGraw
State Rep 38
Eric Hutchings *
State Rep 38
State Rep 39
Jim Dunnigan *
State Rep 39
State Rep 4
State Rep 4
State Rep 40
Lynn N. Hemingway *
State Rep 40
Dan McCay *
State Rep 41
Jim Bird *
State Rep 42
State Rep 43
State Rep 43
State Rep 44
State Rep 44
Y Probably Y
Tim M. Cosgrove *
State Rep 44
Gary T Forbush
State Rep 45
Steve Eliason *
State Rep 45
Supports all 3 principles
Marie H. Poulson *
State Rep 46
Wyatt J. Christensen
State Rep 46
State Rep 47
Ken Ivory *
State Rep 47
Joseph S. Huey
State Rep 47
Keven J. Stratton
State Rep 48
State Rep 49
Derek Brown *
State Rep 49
State Rep 5
R. Curt Webb *
State Rep 5
Billie Gay Larson
State Rep 50
State Rep 50
Russell G. Hatch
State Rep 50
State Rep 51
Sonja L. Jorgensen
State Rep 51
Aaron M. Davis
State Rep 52
State Rep 52
State Rep 52
Melvin R. Brown *
State Rep 53
State Rep 54
State Rep 54
John G. Mathis
State Rep 55
Kay J Christoffer-son
State Rep 56
Leslie M. Dalton
State Rep 56
Brian M. Greene
State Rep 57
Scott A. Gygi
State Rep 57
Spencer J. Cox
State Rep 58
State Rep 59
State Rep 59
State Rep 59
State Rep 6
State Rep 6
State Rep 60
Emmanuel D. Kepas
State Rep 60
State Rep 61
Robert C. Patterson
State Rep 61
State Rep 62
State Rep 62
State Rep 63
Becky Lockhart *
State Rep 64
Boyd Jay Petersen
State Rep 64
Francis D Gibson *
State Rep 65
Y ? ? (qualified comments)
State Rep 65
State Rep 66
State Rep 66
State Rep 67
Scott R. Parkin
State Rep 67
State Rep 68
Paul J. McCollaum
State Rep 68
Thomas E. Nedreberg
State Rep 68
Christine F. Watkins *
State Rep 69
Jerry B. Anderson
State Rep 69
State Rep 7
State Rep 7
Kay L. McIff*
State Rep 70
L. S. Brown
State Rep 70
Wayne Y. Hoskisson
State Rep 70
State Rep 71
Brad Last *
State Rep 71
State Rep 71
Barry Evan Short
State Rep 72
John R. Westwood
State Rep 72
State Rep 73
State Rep 73
Lee Ann Riddoch
State Rep 74
V. Lowry Snow *
State Rep 74
Don L. Ipson*
State Rep 75
State Rep 75
State Rep 75
Jared Paul Stratton
State Rep 8
‘Nick’ A. Velis
State Rep 8
Jeremy Peterson *
State Rep 9
State Rep 9
State Senate 1
Luz Robles *
State Senate 1
Aaron V. Osmond *
State Sen 10
Mark Benson Madsen *
State Sen 13
John L. Valentine *
State Sen 14
State Sen 16
Gregory C. Duerden
State Sen 16
Allen M. Christensen*
State Sen 19
State Sen 19
Peter C. Clemens
State Sen 19
Brent L. Andrews
State Sen 20
Scott K. Jenkins *
State Sen 20
State Sen 23
State Sen 23
Ralph Okerlund *
State Sen 24
State Sen 24
Lyle W. Hillyard *
State Sen 25
David P. Hinkins *
State Sen 27
Michael L. ‘Mike’ Binyon
State Sen 27
Evan J. Vickers
State Sen 28
Geoffrey L. Chesnut
State Sen 28
Steve Urquhart *
State Sen 29
Terence W. Moore
State Sen 29
State Senate 6
Wayne A. Harper *
State Senate 6
State Senate 7
State Senate 7
Brian E Shiozawa
State Senate 8
? Y ?
State Senate 8
* = current House or Senate incumbent, although some are running in new districts because of redistricting
Read the Trib’s August 12th editorial: ‘Initiative Petitions: Utah law guts right’
Read the Salt Lake Tribune’s latest response to the state legislature’s efforts to quell the people’s ability to pass laws by petition.
Read the Salt Lake Tribune article on the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists.
Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D) sponsored HB 119, which requires the LG to study electronic signatures for use on ballot propositions, candidate petitions, and petitions for political party organization and registration. The LG is to report back to the Government Operations Interim Committee by September 2013. The intent of the legislation is to require a careful examination of ways in which electronic signature gathering for political purposes can be made manageable and secure under state law.
UEG did not take a position on the bill because we believe that the LG’s refusal to certify our electronic signatures for the November 2012 ballot was contrary to the statutes and cases governing electronic signatures in our state at that time and, even without these violations, an unconstitutional act. Indeed, the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that electronic signatures could be used to qualify a gubernatorial candidate for the ballot. These pre-existing statutes and precedents, some of them on the books for nearly a half-century, were wiped out—peremptorily and without any study—by an amendment to our elections code that was enacted in the 2011 general session of the Utah State Legislature. UEG contends, in view of the fact that Utah law recognized the validity of e-signatures in the electoral context for so long, that further study is redundant and that, at a minimum, the legislature should be saddled with the burden of persuasion for reversing this long-standing rule of law in our state. Regardless, Representative Chavez-Houck’s bill is a positive step toward the day in which, once again, even the Legislature acknowledges in statute and regulation that electronic signatures can be secure and fraud-resistant and can take their proper place in the political life of our state.
Key specifics of the bill (to be codified at 20A-67-1a-2, subsection 14) are as follows:
3) The study shall evaluate:
(a) how to sign a petition on the Internet using a holographic signature that is in an electronic format maintained by a government agency;
(b) the security, development, ownership, management, format, and content of a secure Internet portal or website on which a registered voter may sign a petition;
(c) the security measures necessary to:
i) verify the identity of a registered voter who signs a petition on the Internet; and
(ii) insure the integrity of a signature;
(d) changes to the process of collecting, verifying, and certifying a signature, if the signature is collected on the Internet;
(e) whether verification is necessary for signatures collected on the Internet;
(f) which election official should be responsible for the certification of signatures collected on the Internet;
(g) whether signatures on a petition should be public information;
(h) the removal process of a signature collected on the Internet;
(i) what percentage of signatures should be collected on the Internet or in person, statewide or by Senate district;
(j) what information regarding the petition should be available on the secure Internet portal or website, including who may submit the information and by what deadline information should be submitted;
(k) the time the lieutenant governor, county clerk, or municipal clerk may spend certifying a petition if a registered voter is allowed to sign a petition on the Internet;
(l) the processes, if any, that exists in other states to allow a registered voter to sign a petition on the Internet; and
(m) any other issue related to allowing a registered voter to sign a petition on the Internet.
One hundred years ago, Montana’s state government was being smothered by corporate corruption. Standard Oil, owner of Anaconda Copper, controlled state lawmakers to the point of demanding and getting special sessions of the legislature called for their benefit.
Another copper baron, William Clark, literally bought Montana’s U.S. Senate seat three times by bribing state legislators who used to select those senators. Montana eventually passed campaign finance and anti-corruption laws that are now being challenged and reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will precipitate a revisiting of the court’s notorious Citizens United ruling allowing money to overwhelm our electoral process.
A century later in a state called Utah, the ghost of Montana-style corruption is being resurrected. Despite the Salt Lake Chamber publicly acknowledging a recent “come to Jesus” moment about the economic liability of our serious air-pollution problem, a powerful arm of the chamber, the Utah Mining and Manufacturing associations, are having their own “come to Satan” moment. They agree we have an air-pollution problem — we don’t have enough of it.
Using anti-environmental storm trooper Sen. Margaret Dayton (who thinks the Environmental Protection Agency’s existence is illegal), the mining and manufacturing “Empire” struck back at Utah’s environmental community for two successful challenges to industry permits. The death star emerged in the form of SB21, which “reforms” the DEQ’s citizen boards, if by reform you mean turning them into industry rubber stamps (a la the Montana Legislature of 1906).
Already, the chair of the state Air Quality Board, which is supposed to protect public health from air pollution, is an employee of Kennecott. Dayton’s “reform” eliminates guaranteed seats for physicians and environmental experts on the boards.
No attempt was made to hide the incestuous relationship between the polluters and Dayton. Industry lobbyists wrote the bill, sat on both sides of her as she presented it to the House Natural Resources Committee, then Dayton turned most of her time over to the lobbyists. They gave reasons why the bill was needed and how environmentalists had been invited to help craft the bill, if by “helping” you mean fought it tooth and nail.
Constituents of Dayton emailed her objections to the bill and received direct and immediate replies to their concerns — from those lobbyists — with nary a word from Dayton herself. Can you say brazenly incestuous? Why doesn’t Dayton abandon the last vestige of pretense and just have the DEQ move in with Kennecott?
Why not raise state revenue by selling advertising rights to the state Radiation Control Board? The EnergySolutions Radiation Control Board has a nice ring to it.
SB21 sailed through the Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert, despite his “commitment to clean air,” did nothing to stop it.
SB21 is just the latest of the state’s anti-environmental, anti-public health, anti-science milestones that have been achieved by blurring the lines between government and corporations. Salt Lake County already violates national air-quality standards, and our biggest polluter, Kennecott, got the green light to pollute even more. Numerous government officials testified on the mining giant’s behalf at the DAQ hearing.
EnergySolutions got the OK to take previously forbidden, “too hot” waste that is blended to be less hot, making a radioactive porridge that is “just right” — in that it makes EnergySolutions a lot more money. Don’t worry, we’ll find some science on that radioactive porridge that confirms it’s safe after we’ve already accepted it.
Alton Coal gave the governor $10,000 and within days Utah’s first coal strip mine, at the doorstep of Bryce Canyon, got permitted with an indignant denial of quid pro quo. Our congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson excepted, constantly rails about a dictatorial federal government. And without even a pause, they sponsored legislation to bypass local voters, using the federal government to force feed the sale of critical public watershed in our canyons to a foreign real estate corporation.
Montana’s reign of corporate corruption only ended when voters reclaimed their power with a citizen initiative passed in 1912. Last year’s citizen rebellion against HB477, which gutted the state’s open-records law, offered a taste of what is possible, even in Utah.
Warning to Dayton and the “Empire”: Citizens can strike back, too.
Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He teaches health and the environment at the University of Utah.
Jack Abramoff’s swing through Utah ended Friday morning at the Capitol, where he met with several lawmakers and warned them to be on guard — that corruption can be an insidious creep that quickly ensnares a politician.
The infamous lobbyist, who spent time in federal prison for fraud and bribery, said he was able to prey upon human nature and exploit it.
“A good lawyer needs to know their jury,” he said.
His message was for politicians to be wary — that corrupt lobbyists will look to gain advantage by identifying their needs, whether paying back campaign debt or knowing vulnerabilities.
He spoke for about five minutes to the rural caucus at the Capitol — introduced by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab — before doing a small book signing for several lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, and Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo.
“On the news, he seemed so much larger than life,” Dee said. “I guess he’s trying to show that he’s an ordinary guy.”
But he also provides a grim perspective about the influence of money in the system and when corruption begins.
“It starts the moment after they’re elected to Congress,” Abramoff said, “and their leadership helps them reduce their debt by introducing them to lobbyists who give them money — and that’s before they’re even sworn in.”
Abramoff is attempting to pay off about $23 million in restitution due to those he defrauded before his conviction in 2006. He is doing so partly by selling copies of his book and partly by collecting speaking fees, where he uses his tale to educate lawmakers on the dangers of bribery.
At one point, he had addressed the Kentucky Legislature as part of an ethics class, and Kathy Smith, who helped organize Abramoff’s trip to Utah, said she would like to see something similar in Utah and will help try to organize it next year.
“We should try,” Smith said. “At first, part of me was skeptical, but I think he has an important message to convey.”
Abramoff would like to repeal the 17th Amendment, institute term limits and curtail the influence of money in politics.
Cherilyn Eagar, who is running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, spent some time talking to Abramoff and said his message resonated. She said the cautions and warnings are very real on the campaign trail.
“It’s certainly difficult as a candidate to raise money from sources that aren’t tempting,” she said. “How do you get elected and stay away from that? It’s very tough. But there are very good people out there, and we have grass-roots donors.”
Abramoff’s Utah visit was a short stop on a West Coast swing of lectures and book signings.
Utah law prohibits elected officials from using campaign donations for personal purposes. However, it allows politicians to spend those funds “for a political purpose” or “to fulfill a duty or activity of an officeholder.” As a Salt Lake Tribune report shows, that language gives officials too much opportunity to blur the line between campaigns and personal use. The Legislature should tighten the law.
Otherwise, elected officials will continue to spend campaign funds for rent, gym memberships, dry cleaning, travel souvenirs, computers and iPads, greens fees, clothing, luggage, wedding and Christmas gifts, church tithing. Some even pay relatives for campaign work in years in which there is no election. Indeed, the Tribune report showed that about one-third of so-called campaign spending last year, an off-year in the election cycle, went to things that can easily be construed as a personal benefit to the officeholder.
The reason for the ban is to prevent campaign donors — often lobbyists who represent special interests — from bribing lawmakers with campaign money that they can easily convert to personal use. But a prohibition that is full of holes is no prohibition at all.
Admittedly, every case is a judgment call. An official who buys a computer with campaign funds has a point when he argues that in the digital age, he’s got to keep up with email, text messages, tweets and the Legislature’s website to stay in touch with constituents and run a campaign.
But gym memberships and golf fees? Sorry. Luggage? Nope. Dry cleaning, rent, gifts? No, no, no.
Rent for a campaign headquarters? Sure.
Face it. “Political purpose” and “activity of an officeholder” are language that is simply too broad and too easily abused.
That is particularly true because in Utah there are no limits on campaign contributions. Anyone can give a candidate any amount. If a company or labor union wants to buy a legislator, it is free to do it.
That’s why campaign contributions should be limited. Politicians who claim that they are not influenced by campaign gifts are either self-deluded or lying.
We would suggest a limit of $2,500 to legislative candidates per individual donor during an election cycle, and a $5,000 limit for political action committees. Further, candidates should not be permitted to create leadership PACs to donate to other candidates, thereby buying their allegiance in elections to become the top dogs in the House and Senate.
And tighten the ban on spending for personal purposes.
Read the story in the Jan 23rd Salt Lake Tribune re large loophole in Utah’s ethics law, which supposedly stopped the use of campaign contributions for personal use.
Utah law prohibits donors from giving campaign contributions to state legislators while they are in session. Lt. Gov. Greg Bell’s office has interpreted that to ban contributions during sessions even when a state legislator is a candidate for federal or local office. That was the right call, even though it may cause some sitting legislators to resign their seats while they pursue other offices.
Admittedly, the law puts some legislators in a bind. Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, is one. He has declared his candidacy for Utah’s seat in the new 4th Congressional District. Because the state Legislature will meet in general session from Jan. 23 to March 8 next year, that would mean he could not accept campaign donations on the eve of Republican caucuses on March 15. He has said he may resign his seat in order not to limit his fundraising ability for his federal campaign. That would leave his constituents without an elected representative in the Legislature, although a replacement would be appointed.
Still, that is not too high a price to pay for keeping campaign donors from influencing legislators when they are doing the public’s business. Because Utah has no limits on the size of campaign contributions to lawmakers, or who can give them, the prohibition on giving campaign gifts during the session is just about the only barrier to putting legislators up for auction.
One might argue that states cannot pass laws that limit fundraising for federal office. Courts in other states have upheld that argument. But unless and until some candidate challenges the Utah law in federal court and wins, the prohibition on gifts during sessions of the Utah Legislature should stand. Why? Because it is easy to foresee the possibility of a donor trying to buy a sitting legislator’s vote on a state issue with a contribution to his or her campaign for federal or local office.
In the meantime, the ban on contributions during the legislative session raises a larger question: Why should donors be allowed to buy influence at all? A contribution ban during the 45-day general session and any special sessions only removes the most egregious gifts. A donor still can buy influence on any other days of the year. But absent publicly funded campaigns and a total ban on private contributions — the best way to eliminate the pull of money on politics — Utah at least should enact contribution limits to campaigns for state offices.
Alas, that is something that state legislators repeatedly have refused to do.
The problem with doing something well is that you will be expected to do it again. The websites operated by the state of Utah have been officially recognized as among the top providers of online services, specifically the user-friendly voter registration portal.
So, may we expect that Utah will now make it possible for other actions consistent with democracy to also occur online? Such as, oh, signing petitions to place candidates, parties, initiatives and referenda on state and local ballots?
Don’t hold your cyber-breath.
Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, whose portfolio includes the state elections office, were deservedly proud the other day when the Center for Digital Government named Utah’s online voter registration service (vote.utah.gov) as one of the nation’s outstanding examples of digital government service to citizens. The state’s main online portal (utah.gov) was named the second-best overall government website.
The online voter registration service is not deserving of this honor just because it is easy for citizens to use, though it is simplicity itself for anyone who has any experience dealing with online banking and the like. It is worthy of such honors because it is highly secure.
Registering to vote online in Utah is an option offered to those who already have a Utah driver license, which the vast majority of voting-age Utahns do. Linking to that license database allows the would-be voter to prove with a couple of clicks that he or she already has identifying information, including a real pen-on-paper signature, on file with the state.
That backstop clearly does as much as any old-fashioned paper trail to prevent bogus or duplicate registrations. So the constant resistance of elected officials, in both the executive and legislative branches, to using the same technology for online petitions is an argument that holds no water.
The only difference between online voter registration, which we have, and online petitions, which we don’t, is that the petitions are much more likely to actually matter. Those are the processes by which candidates and parties other than establishment Republicans might gain ballot access, and through which state laws might be offered, or repealed, based upon the actual will of the people.
Voting, on the other hand, seems to mean little in a state where flagrant gerrymandering and an exclusionary caucus and convention system keep most people out of the loop. Turnout is woefully low because so few think it matters.
Utah will really be able to take pride in its online services when those services have been expanded to offerings that do not just serve the people, but actually empower them.
The September 28th Daily Herald editorial on the recent ethics investigation and resignation of a Provo City councilman underscores the need for a truly independent ethics commission and full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Read more . . ..
The person in charge of running elections in Utah told members of the Legislature the other day that a system to allow electronic signatures on petitions for candidates or ballot initiatives might be desirable, but could take years to create.
Or maybe it would take 0.12 seconds. That’s how long it took the Google online search engine to respond to a query for “online voter registration in Utah.”
The fact is, as state elections director Mark Thomas basically admitted last week, Utah already has a way of allowing its citizens to perform a key function of representative democracy while sitting at their computers. The recently upgraded site — elections.utah.gov — already allows eligible residents to register to vote electronically.
The need for a paper trail containing a voter’s actual signature is satisfied by a clever process in which the prospective voter can import his or her John or Jane Hancock from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s where almost everyone who meets the state’s age and residency requirements for voting already has a signed drivers license application on file.
The existence of this system seems conclusive proof that the objections the state has previously raised to the use of electronic signatures on petitions are bogus.
A more logical explanation is that the powers that be in Utah are not reluctant to allow us to register to vote online because, no matter how easy that process is, the risk of people actually voting in large numbers is not great enough to be a threat to entrenched interests.
Getting more than a third of the state’s voters to show up at the polls, at least in years where there isn’t a president being elected, has been more than we can manage.
And the state’s goofy system for nominating candidates, which requires a sort of multi-level marketing scheme of caucuses and conventions, also weeds out anything resembling democracy in the way we choose our leaders.
But allowing more people to shape the direction of government by allowing e-signatures on petitions for referendums, such as the one that would have imposed strict ethics reforms on members of the Legislature, is clearly a little more democratic than our masters wish to allow.
This is particularly maddening because, in so many other ways, the state of Utah has led the way in posting the functions of government online. Legislative sessions are video live-streamed and applications of all sorts are taken online
E-signatures should be allowed in Utah. The process is not that difficult. The state’s own websites prove it.
Most of us have driven a vehicle with wheels that need to be balanced. Unbalanced wheels cause vibrations as the wheel wobbles. This condition also causes wear and tear on the vehicle and its suspension.
The Mormon handcart pioneers knew the value of good, sturdy wheels, especially the Willie and Martin handcart companies of 1856. They set out with inferior handcarts that cost many of them their lives. The spokes and axles needed to be made of strong wood. Ever see a wheel with all the spokes on one half of the wheel and not the other? It doesn’t roll very well.
What does all this have to do with today’s world?
Fast forward from 1856 to 2001, when the Utah Legislature redistricted Utah in what the Wall Street Journal declared was “a scam perpetrated against the people of Utah.” The Legislature gerrymandered the state’s legislative and congressional districts, essentially creating a supermajority on Capitol Hill. It is a supermajority that can pass bills at will. Wobble!
Shortly after that first wobble came the infamous school voucher bill. The majority of Utahns were against taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. They joined in a state initiative that repealed the voucher law. Wobble!
Members of the Legislature then put their heads together and passed a law that made it more difficult to place a statewide initiative on the ballot. Wobble!
In 2007 a member of the current State Redistricting Committee was able to gain passage of a bill that allowed owners of the Powder Mountain Ski Resort to create their own city. This was against the wishes of the people who were incorporated into the new city. Wobble!
Add to school vouchers and taking away the people’s ability to make law, several scandals and rumors of scandals. Legislators were being offered $50,000 in campaign funds if they voted for or were absent during the voting for school vouchers. Wobble!
One member of the Legislature attempted to bribe his opponent in a statewide race. Wobble!
The president of the Senate got pulled over for driving under the influence. Wobble!
A member of the Legislature resigned after it was revealed that, prior to becoming a lawmaker, he had been naked in a hot tub with an underage female and had paid out hush money to keep it a secret. The 2010 Legislature gave him a standing ovation. Wobble!
During the 2011 legislative session, our legislators passed HB477, the Government Records Amendment. The bill made it more difficult to obtain government records. Every majority member of the House of Representatives cosponsored the bill. The news media brought the issue to the attention of Utah’s citizenry, which came out strongly against the bill. Under public pressure, the Legislature repealed the law. Wobble!
Another bill, SB44, ended the independence of the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission. Now the commission will function only if called upon by the governor, the Legislature or the Legislative Management Committee. Essentially, this meant that the Legislature can make amendments to Utah’s Constitution without expert, independent advice on their constitutionality. Wobble!
SB165 shortened to 45 days the amount of time after a law is passed to file a citizen initiative to repeal the law through a vote of the people. The legislation was filed on the tail of two initiative petitions, Fair Boundaries and Utahns for Ethical Government. The first would have set up independent commissions for redistricting Utah’s congressional, state Senate, state House and state school board districts. The latter would have established an independent ethics commission.
Both initiatives were supported by an overwhelming majority of Utah citizens and were ignored by the Legislature. Wobble!
Our state Legislature is once again in the process of redistricting Utah. Utahns have the opportunity to speak up at public Redistricting Committee meetings across the state. The schedule is posted on the Legislature’s Website: http://www.redistrictutah.com/ and various other places.
Several organizations are partnering to ensure that Utah’s government remains a government of the people and by the people. Attend the public meetings and voice your concerns before we lose Utah: Wobble! Wobble! Wobble! Crash!
Mark Sage is on the Fair Boundaries board and unsuccessfully ran for the Utah House from District 12 in Roy.
Check out the Utah Citizens’ Counsel’s 4 different congressional district maps and explanations on their website.
Also, on Thursday, May 19th at 7:00 p.m, the UCC will host an online meeting to present and explain its 4 different maps and provide a public forum for comment and questions. Interested participants can find more information on the UCC website under the May 16th press release.
Utahns get the best government money can buy. That’s because the Beehive State, through its Legislature, places no limits on campaign contributions. People and organizations who wish to influence politicians by bankrolling their campaigns can give as much as they desire.
The Tribune reported last week that donors gave $23.6 million to Utah political candidates in the 2010 election cycle. Not surprisingly, special interests were the top givers.
Leading the list was the Utah Association of Realtors, which kicked in $504,207. Second was the Utah Bankers Association, $472,561. Third was EnergySolutions, the outfit that buries nuclear and hazardous waste in Tooele County, at $282,400. Rounding out the Top 10 were the Utah Medical Association, Utah League of Credit Unions, Merit Medical Systems, APX Alarm Security Solutions, Reagan Outdoor Advertising, the AFL-CIO (organized labor) and Utah Consumer Lending (payday lenders).
Utah legislators often are offended by the suggestion that campaign contributions are bribes. They insist that they are able to separate donations from policy decisions, although the more candid among them concede that contributors do get ready access to politicians. That amounts to a tacit acknowledgment of human nature. A gift creates a sense of obligation in the person who receives it. That’s why donors get their phone calls returned. Politicians who claim that campaign donations don’t affect their decisions are not being honest with themselves or their constituents.
Clearly, campaign contributions should be limited. The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy recommended a $10,000 cap for statewide races and $5,000 for House and Senate races. The limits would apply to individual, corporate, union and political action committee donations.
A $10,000 cap on statewide races is a good starting point, but the $5,000 cap for House and Senate races is too high. Only 16 contributions to legislative candidates would have been prohibited by that limit during the last election cycle. The initiative petition sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government would limit individual contributions to candidates for the Legislature to $2,500 per election cycle. Political action committees would be limited to $5,000. Those limits are closer to the mark.
In this era of the Internet, technology should allow candidates to raise adequate funds for campaigns through smaller donations. Broadening the fund-raising base would strengthen democracy and reduce the influence of special interests.
Resolution for the Davis County Republican Party Organizing Convention held at the Davis County Conference Center, 22 April 2011. Resolution passed. Sponsor: Anthony Black, County Delegate, Precinct BO03
Whereas HB 477, an attempt to inhibit the ability of the electorate to inform itself, was repealed, but only under duress, and
Whereas SB 165 is an affront to government by the people, placing an unacceptable barrier to citizen initiatives, and
Whereas SB 165 is also an insult to those trying to inject ethics into he legislative process, and
Whereas these bills and actions of the Legislature have shaken the trust and confidence that the electorate should have in the Legislature, and
Whereas these bills and actions of the Legislature reflect poorly on the Republican Party:
Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Davis County Republican Party Organizing Convention condemns SB 165 and the closed meetings of the Republican caucus in the Utah Legislature.
Be it further resolved that the Davis County Republican Party Organizing Convention encourages the Utah Legislature to operate more openly and transparently, and to show more respect for its constituency.
Be it further resolve that copies of this resolution be sent to: Gary R. Herbert, Governor of the State of Utah; Michael G. Waddoups, President of the Utah State Senate; Rebecca D. Lockhart, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives; all Davis County delegates in the Utah State Legislature.
The conspiracy to undermine democratic government in Utah marches on. The state’s elected leaders are directing it.
Senate Bill 165, recently enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, outlaws the use of electronic signatures on petitions to qualify a referendum or voter-proposed law for the ballot. SB165 also prohibits the use of electronic signatures to organize or register a political party or to qualify a candidate for an election.
This particular bit of anti-democratic chicanery is the work of Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, the busy builder of some of the Legislature’s most controversial laws. The guy is a one-man erector set.
The casual observer might find a contradiction in that the Legislature, with one hand, provides itself the latest in electronic communications devices, while, on the other hand, it demands that the people use buggy-whip technology to gather signatures for petitions. But the reason for that inconsistency is obvious. The Legislature wants to make petitions as difficult as possible.
The law requires petition sponsors to gather at least 97,119 manuscript signatures of registered voters distributed across 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts, an almost impossible task. The new standard is at least 10 percent of the vote cast for president in the previous election in each Senate district.
The Legislature doesn’t want the unwashed masses, i.e., the people, enacting laws or turning thumbs down on the ones their elected lawmakers have written. This legislative attitude flows from arrogance and paternalism, the idea that elected leaders know best.
It also conveniently ignores the Utah Constitution, which reserves to the people the power to enact laws directly through the initiative petition process and to refer laws passed by the Legislature to the people for their approval or rejection. Those powers are meaningless if the Legislature is allowed to put up procedural barriers that prevent their use.
That is why the Utah Supreme Court should strike down SB165 at the first opportunity. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is about to provide that chance. It has filed an action against the bill, representing plaintiffs who are challenging the new ban on electronic signatures. The Legislature, by the way, passed the new law after the state high court had ruled in favor of electronic signatures on petitions to qualify candidates.
Utahns use electronic signatures to file their taxes, to apply for licenses, to register to vote. They should be able to use them to sign petitions.
The group, Utahns for Ethical Government has waited a very long time for the office of Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell to decide whether it will certify the 120,000 or so signatures UEG has gathered to place an ethics reform initiative on the 2012 ballot in the state.
See the Ogden Standard-Examiner’s editorial and cartoon.
At the end of the day yesterday, Utah’s Lieutenant Governor released a tabulation of paper and electronic signatures on UEG petition packets. Although the LG has declined to recognize the legality of UEG’s electronic signatures, the totals indicate that, if electronic signatures are included, UEG obtained enough signatures in the required 26 of 29 Senate districts for its initiative to deserve placement on the 2012 ballot. The LG’s count of paper signatures indicates at this point that inclusion of e-signatures may be necessary in 4 Senate districts, depending on results of judicial resolution of the paper signature count.
Earlier in the day, UEG had filed a legal complaint in state court, asking for judicial interpretation of the timelines in Utah’s initiative statute, a judicial order requiring the LG and county clerks to release complete tabulations of our signature drive, and judicial recognition of the validity of our electronic signatures.
Responding to the LG’s count, Kim Burningham, UEG Chair, observed: “It is curious, to say the least, that after seeking the count for seven months, UEG finally is given a tabulation on the evening of the same day that we filed our lawsuit. Does that office, like other offices of state government, respond only when the public outcry reaches high decibels?”
“Of course, we are pleased to see that, with e-signatures, we have enough signatures to qualify for a place on the 2012 ballot,” stated Alan Smith, UEG attorney. “As to the LG’s tally of our ‘paper’ signatures, given the history of the LG’s discriminatory treatment of our ethics initiative, we’re skeptical of his count. Our pending litigation in state court will explore the methods and means used by county clerks and the LG to disqualify signatures. We believe that illegal tests may have been used in some instances to disqualify some of our signatures.”
In a February 2011 letter to the LG, UEG stated that “We must have your office’s completed tabulation, provided by each county, and broken down by Senate district. Required within that tally will be the number of packets and signatures submitted, the number of packets and signatures qualified, and the number of packets and signatures disqualified, with the reasons, in each instance, for disqualification of any packets and signatures.” All the LG sent yesterday was the total of presumably qualified paper signatures in each Senate district, plus the total of presumably qualified electronic signatures in each Senate district (if e-signatures prove to be legal).
“Preliminary UEG analysis of the Senate district tallies,” noted Burningham, “reveals that the percentage of disqualified paper signatures differed significantly from Senate district to Senate district. For example, although most Senate districts (for the August 12 submission) had disqualification rates in the range of 2 to 11%, two districts in Utah County had disqualification rates between 20-24%.” “If clerks were not tabulating according to a uniform procedure, the statute would have been violated as well as the basic American constitutional right to equal treatment under the law. UEG will be investigating this possibility as our law suit proceeds.”
On another legal front, yesterday federal district court judge Clark Waddoups ruled in UEG’s favor that names of petition signers must remain protected from disclosure for now. The Judge stated “that disclosure of the UEG Petition signatures, at this time, will not further Utah’s interest in electoral integrity. Without a legitimate governmental interest, the Government has no justification for burdening Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.” UEG believes that the injunction will stay in place at least until a definitive ruling is obtained from the Utah Supreme Court on the issue whether the Ethics Petition will go on the 2012 general election ballot.
At a press conference held at the Law and Justice Center of the Utah State Bar, Utahns for Ethical Government announced the commencement of a law suit in state court against Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell and Utah’s 29 county clerks.
At the press conference, UEG attorney Alan Smith explained that “the law suit seeks a court order that would require the county clerks to certify the signatures on UEG’s ethics petition and that would then require the Lieutenant Governor to count those certified signatures in order to determine whether they are sufficient in number to gain a place on the 2012 general election ballot.” “To ultimately determine sufficiency,” Smith continued, “the court may be forced to decide whether actions taken by the Lieutenant Governor in relation to UEG’s effort, such as his rulings on e-signatures, are unlawful or even unconstitutional.”
Co-attorney David Irvine added: “We hope for a straightforward, quick ruling that our ethics petition satisfies the electoral time-line for processing initiatives under Utah’s election code. But we are prepared to question whether Utah’s initiative statute is constitutionally sound, especially in view of the burdens which the Legislature continues to place upon citizenship rights for direct democracy and in light of the unfair, discriminatory fashion in which the Legislature and Lieutenant Governor have singled out and attempted to thwart our ethics initiative.”
Providing additional context to the law suit, Kim Burningham, UEG chair, chronicled what UEG views as continuing obstructionism from the LG’s Office. “We have been waiting for over 7 months for the LG to report the number of registered voters who signed our ethics reform petition. Such a delay is inexcusable and is a continuing sign of the deliberate attempt to burden UEG’s ability to pursue its initiative as well as its legal options in a timely fashion.”
UEG Communications Chair, Dixie Huefner, added that “the repeated reporting delays are consonant with the action taken at the end of the current legislative session to thwart future initiative and referendum efforts in the state. The legislative and executive branches of state government seem bent on keeping all power to themselves, denying the people of the state their legitimate constitutional right to participate in the governance of the state.” She queried: “What is happening to our democracy when elected officials exhibit such scorn for the citizens they are supposed to be serving?”
UEG had submitted close to 120,000 paper signatures to county clerks by the end of the one-year period allowed in the initiative statute for signature gathering. Some of these have been or will be disqualified. 94,533 must be valid signatures of registered voters, and UEG believes that the final count will exceed that minimum and that its initiative is entitled to be on the 2012 general election ballot.
The UEG initiative goes beyond current legislation in establishing a stricter code of ethics for state legislators. Among other things, the initiative requires fuller disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, prohibits transfers of campaign funds from one legislator to another, caps campaign contributions, sets limits on legislators and former legislators serving as lobbyists, and sets stricter limits on lobbyist gifts to legislators.
A federal injunction remains in place for now, protecting the privacy of the names submitted.
The House and Senate have passed substitute SB 165 (tightening the requirements for citizen initiatives and referenda) without allowing a hearing on the substitute bill or any thoughtful deliberation. House leadership pulled a fast one by bringing the bill from the Rules Committee to the top of the debate board without any notice to legislators themselves. The bill makes it more difficult for any citizen initiatives and referenda to make it onto the ballot in the future.
The bill was no doubt sold to legislators as a bill clarifying ambiguity in the current election code. Clarifying the ambiguity about signature deadlines was fair enough, but the legislation did so in a way that shortens the time available for signature gathering. And the bill goes far beyond that. Especially onerous were also the following provisions:
The passage of this bill is offensive for two primary reasons. First, because of the surprise tactics employed to rush this bill through both Houses of the Legislature. Once again the legislative leadership shows its disdain and distrust of the public and of their own members who might like the opportunity to discuss the bill in committee and gather public input. Second, because portions of the bill increase the difficulty of gaining the required number of signatures on initiatives and referenda. It is extremely difficult already for grass roots groups to organize and collect the required number of signatures across the state.
What is absolutely clear from the passage of this bill is the Legislature’s intent to make it virtually impossible for initiatives and referenda to be on the ballot without seeking professional signature gatherers and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Is this really the way democracy is supposed to work, even in a constitutional republic? If so, then we need to elect new legislators who understand that they are servants — not manipulators — of the people.
Dixie S. Huefner is chairwoman of Communications Committee for Utahns for Ethical Government.
UEG is a supporting organization of the repeal of HB477. UEG is not, however, the actual organization that is spearheading the effort. Steve Maxfield is chairman of the SaveGrama organization.You can get more information and sign up to volunteer and donate at http://www.savegrama.org or http://www.thepeople-voices.org The latter source indicates that for more information in the Salt Lake County area you can call
On Monday, March 7th, UEG urged Governor Herbert to veto HB 477. On Tuesday, the Legislature recalled the bill and changed the effective date of the legislation to July 1, 2011, supposedly to allow time for public input and to allow changes to the bill in a June special session. The public must make sure that the changes are not superficial and that the bill’s bad substance is defeated. Here is our position statement:
HB 477, amendments to GRAMA (the Government Records Access and Management Act), is a bill that severely restricts public access to legislative information. For a Legislature that keeps saying that disclosure and transparency are enough to ensure good ethics, HB 477 is the height of hypocrisy.
In short, this bill is a severe restriction on the public’s right to know and reduces the concept of freedom of information to a mere shell of its former self. It deserves a quick veto.
Utahns for Ethical Government announces its position on two new bills that have emerged in the waning days of the 2011 legislative session: SB 165 and HB 146. The former is a bad bill that would further hinder the people’s constitutional right to initiatives and referenda. The latter is a good attempt to prohibit conflicts of interest on public transit boards. Here are summaries of the bills and UEG positions:
UEG opposes. This is one more attempt to reduce the likelihood of successful citizen legislative initiatives. The requirements are already onerous and this bill would make them more so. The Legislature has consistently shown its disdain for citizen initiatives that are provided for in the Utah Constitution. This is another example of their dislike of any interference with their control over legislation.
UEG supports. This bill is consistent with avoiding corruption or the perception of corruption by public officials. Transit board members in particular (for instance, UTA board members), should not be benefitting directly or indirectly from public contracts awarded on their watch.
Most of the constructive attempts to deal with ethics issues have been circled, tabled, or defeated in this year’s legislative session. UEG will be providing its assessment of legislative action/inaction after the conclusion of the session.
To urge the defeat of Bramble’s bill, contact your legislators by going to http://le.utah.gov and checking for your legislators emails on the House and Senate rosters. If you don’t know who your legislator is, you can find out at http://le.utah.gov/GIS/finddistrict.jsp
UEG opposes. “There is no justification for this loophole except to favor certain state legislators who decide to run for federal office. It fails the corruption or appearance of corruption test,” according to Kim Burningham, UEG Chair. “Conducting a campaign behind the scenes while the Legislature is in session divides a legislator’s time, and money paid to the legislator to advance a federal campaign will be seen as influencing that legislator’s votes on state matters of interest to the donor,” added Alan Smith, attorney and UEG Executive Committee member. “Conversely, it also gives the legislator the wherewithal to pressure contributions from lobbyists while key votes are being taken on state legislative matters,” he added. UEG believes that this is a very bad bill, designed to favor only a few legislators.
UEG supported. UEG was disappointed that this bill was defeated in the House Ethics Committee on a partisan 4-4 vote. Kim Burningham, UEG Chair, observed that “Memers of the majority party on the Committee seemed reluctant to give authority to the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission to offer advisory opinions, preferring to keep more control within the Legislature and the House Ethics Committee itself.” “Floor debate would have illuminated the issues more fully,” noted Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Committee Chair. “To kill the bill at this early stage seemed to indicate that some legislators on the Committee did not trust the ability of their newly created Legislative Ethics Commission to provide sound or helpful guidance to the Legislature.”
UEG supports. It is reasonable to introduce financial penalties (and ultimately, license suspension) for those who do not take the training. (UEG believes that the training itself, to be developed by the Lieutenant Governor, should be followed closely, however, to ensure that the training material is well developed and strong.)
UEG supports. UEG is a Political Issues Committee [PIC] so these requirements would apply to UEG. This bill is meant to ensure that PACs and PICs do not spend contributions for uses that do not relate to the reasons for creating the PACs and PICs.
In politics, as in life, money talks. If a donor gives a campaign contribution to a candidate, the recipient feels beholden. The bigger the gift, the bigger the sense of obligation. That’s Psychology 101.
So you might be surprised to learn that a committee in the Utah Legislature bottled up a bill the other day that would have set limits on donations to political candidates. Or, because this was the umpteenth time a legislative committee in Utah has done this, maybe you are not surprised.
The Beehive State is, after all, one of only a handful of states with no contribution limits whatsoever. Anyone, or any corporation, labor union or political action committee, can give any amount to any candidate for state office.
Did we mention, by the way, that it was the House Ethics Committee that voted 5-3 to hold the bill in committee? We do love irony.
Some members, most notably Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, took great offense at the suggestion that lawmakers listen more to their contributors than they do to others. We don’t doubt that most legislators will give ear to any constituent. But if she does not believe that gratitude to a donor creates a sense of obligation, then she is denying human nature.
A more serious objection came from Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland. He said that the proposed caps would be meaningless because few legislators get donations as large as the proposed limits. HB164, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, would have set limits of $10,000 on single donations to candidates in statewide races, and $5,000 to candidates for the Legislature. The limits would apply to individuals, corporations, labor unions and political action committees.
Dougall has a point. Only 16 contributions to legislative candidates would have been prohibited by those limits during the last election cycle. Chavez-Houck chose those limits because they were the consensus recommendation of the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy. The limits for legislative candidates should be lower, for example, $2,000.
The $10,000 limit for the governor’s race would have dramatic effect, however. At one point it would have affected $520,000 in contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert’s campaign last year and $309,000 in gifts to his opponent, Peter Corroon. The influence of campaign donations was an issue in that race.
So long as the size of donations remains unregulated, so will be the amount of influence a donor can attempt to buy.
Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) is tracking several bills introduced at the 2011 session of the Legislature, specifically those that relate to legislative ethics. House Bills (HB) and House Joint Resolution (HJR) measures are listed below, with the sponsoring representative’s name listed beside the bill. Each bill can be accessed on the legislative website through http://le.utah.gov/session/2011/bills.htm. UEG takes a position on the following bills:
UEG supports. If it passes, legislators-elect (as certified by the Lieutenant Governor) would be subject to the Legislature’s Official Code of Conduct. At the moment, only sitting legislators are subject to the Code.
UEG supports. This current revision extends campaign and financial reporting requirements to county political parties.
UEG supports. This measure prohibits campaign contributions during special sessions that occur after July 1st of an election year. The measure closes a loophole that currently allows such contributions during special sessions held after that date.
UEG supported. This measure established campaign contribution limits on corporations, PACs, and individuals. The measure followed the limits recommended by the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy but was defeated in the House Ethics Committee. We continue to support the need for campaign contribution limits and expect to support efforts in subsequent legislative sessions to enact limits.
UEG supports. If it passes, this measure would add to the Joint Legislative Rules a section that enumerates redistricting principles to guide the Legislature when it divides the state into congressional, legislative, and other districts. Among other things, the measure requires an open and transparent process, with contiguous, reasonably compact districts having substantial equality of population. It urges “to the degree reasonably achievable” keeping municipalities and townships intact, respecting existing city and county boundaries, maintaining communities of common interest, and promoting meaningful competition between political parties. It is an excellent statement of principles.
UEG has reservations. This measure proposes a couple of changes to the Legislative Code of Official Conduct. UEG has two primary concerns with the 3rd substitute:
Including statements in the Code that address these provisions would give credence to the Legislature’s claims that these proposed measures addressed ethical issues. Failure to include them does the opposite.
UEG does not support. This measure proposes a constitutional amendment prohibiting a “registered lobbyist” from being a member of the Legislature. Although we too believe that a legislator should not be a paid lobbyist, we believe this prohibition belongs in statute alongside other restrictions on legislators, not in the Utah Constitution. Furthermore, the term “registered lobbyist” is a term not found in the Utah Code and putting it in the Constitution could well have unintended consequences. For instance, what if a lobbyist, defined by statute basically as one who is employed or paid to lobby, fails to “register”?
Utahns for Ethical Government applauds the Utah Citizens’ Counsel’s significant work to frame guiding principles in support of the state legislature’s redistricting responsibilities. We join with the Utah Chapter of AARP and fully endorse the principles announced today.
The work of the Citizens Counsel reflects the constitutional responsibilities of state citizens. As legislative power is co-equally vested in the citizens of Utah, their elected representatives act as trustees; governmental officers, therefore, should be at all times amenable to them (George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776).
The legislative redistricting principles represent the best of ‘equal representation’ for all Utahns, regardless of their political affiliation. We encourage Utahns to review the redistricting principles, contained within the Citizens’ Counsel website http://www.utahcitizenscounsel.org, then to ask their appropriate state representatives to support those measures.
It’s important for voters to know who is paying for political campaigns. In the case of county political parties in Utah, however, that has been impossible because the law that requires the parties to file financial reports is defective. Fortunately, that is about to change.
Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, has filed a bill in the upcoming Legislature to fix the problem. HB32 would require county political parties that receive contributions of at least $750, or spend at least $50, to file reports. One would be an annual summary due in January. Others would be interim reports due a week before the county convention, a week before a regular primary election, a week before a general election and on Aug. 31.
The finances of county political parties may seem like small potatoes. But Salt Lake County, to cite just one example, has the second-largest government budget in the state, and its officials who are elected at-large represent more people than a member of Congress.
In politics, money talks. Campaign contributions pay for everything from conventions to consultants to yard signs. The people who fork over that money have influence with candidates and party officials. If party finances are a black hole, they are open to abuse, especially in a state where there are few limits on contributions. So voters should be able to keep an eye on the money, and where and to whom it flows.
When The Tribune reported earlier this year that few county parties filed financial reports with the lieutenant governor — the state’s chief election official — a controversy arose over whether the state law actually required the reports. Some arithmetic in the law made the matter dubious.
Grover’s bill, which was recommended by a legislative committee on government operations and political subdivisions, should eliminate the ambiguity. That’s a good thing, because without required reports there can be no transparency in campaign finance, and money could be laundered through county parties.
The next job, of course, would be to create contribution limits, at least for candidates for state offices that are filled by statewide elections. Utah is one of the few states that has no contribution limits for donors to these campaigns, which can lead to suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that major contributors are buying political favors or state contracts. That issue arose during Gary Herbert’s campaign for governor.
Restrict the size of individual donations, and place limits on bundles of donations from related donors, and that problem would be reduced, and with it, the comparative influence of any one benefactor.
A governor’s commission called for it and Utahns consistently favor it in polls. So Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill Monday that would cap campaign donations — but she openly doubts that it will go far.
“I’m doing this to further discussion on it,” she said. “But many of my colleagues view campaign contributions as a form of free speech, and oppose this. ... Frankly, I don’t know if it will ever get out of the Rules Committee” for debate.
Her bill would limit donations to candidates for statewide office, such as governor or attorney general, to $10,000 per donor; $5,000 per donor to legislative candidates; $40,000 per donor to state political parties; and $10,000 per donor to state political action committees.
“Those are the same limits proposed by the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy” created by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Chavez-Houck said. “I was a member of that commission. I have been disappointed that most of the recommendations it made have been pushed to the side. I am doing this to try to keep the debate alive.”
The federal government imposes limits on donations in federal races, such as for the U.S. Senate and House. But Utah has none for state races — and also allows corporations to donate directly to candidates, which federal law bans for federal races. (Chavez-Houck’s bill would still allow corporate donations.)
Chavez-Houck said the current system — with no limits at all and contributions of $50,000 or more common to gubernatorial candidates, for example — has led to allegations and belief that state officials sometimes do favors for big donors. She said limits would help restore confidence in government.
An example of the controversy that can erupt came last year when a company was awarded a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild Interstate 15 in Utah county after it and its leaders donated $87,500 to Gov. Gary Herbert — and another company alleged that the state improperly tweaked bids to award that contract.
Herbert’s democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, made the contract and donations a central campaign issue.
UEG has heard rumors that the completed count of our petition signature drive may be reported soon by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Several possibilities loom:
We have acknowledged from the outset that the courts will likely have to resolve the obstacles that opponents keep raising. We will be pursuing our initiative regardless of the nature of the LG’s announcement.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - ABC 4 News has uncovered what appears to be a very cozy relationship between Utah’s top legislators and health care lobbyists, a relationship taxpayers might find troubling.
Several weeks ago, Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups had a Steak Fry at his house.
But, it seems, you had to be a legislator or maybe a health care lobbyist to get an invite.
Unless, like ABC 4, you simply crashed the party.
Among those ABC 4 taped at the get- together was a former Utah house speaker who’s now a health care lobbyist.
We also saw a former senate president who lobbies for big pharmaceuticals.
ABC 4 News was told the dinner is called the, “Pharmaceutical Steak Fry.”
Invited, in addition to several lobbyists, were top Utah legislators.
Now, with ABC 4 taping the guests arriving, it wasn’t long before the host and senate president himself came out to pay his respects.
ABC 4 asked, “What’s the topic of discussion?”
President Waddoups told us,
“Well, it’s mostly social, but health care.”
He also added, “It’s a good excuse for a party.”
One lobbyist attending the dinner, Miles “Cap” Ferry, later told ABC 4 that the dinner was paid for by PHRMA, a trade group of pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Ferry is married to one of the registered Utah lobbyists for PHRMA.
ABC 4 News was also told that the senate president’s lobbyist dinner began about a decade or more ago and is held every year.
But if you’re a member of the Utah public - good luck finding out about it.
ABC 4 News could not find a lobbyist disclosure form for the meal and neither could the Lt. Governor’s office which oversees them.
In fact, Miles Ferry told us a disclosure form wasn’t filed because the dinner was covered by an exception in Utah’s new ethics law.
This loophole says lobbyists don’t have to report certain expenditures if an event has been approved by the senate president or house speaker.
A senate spokesperson told ABC 4 that President Waddoups did approve the dinner.
Kirk Jowers is the head of the Hinckley Institute of Politics and also served on the governor’s ethics commission.
He told us,
“Disclosure, I think, is important. It does change lobbyist and lawmaker behavior.”
Jowers didn’t seem surprised when we told him about the dinner we uncovered,
“Even in the economic downturn, there’s one industry that’s still growing and that’s lobbyists.”
Now, just before dinner was served, President Waddoups actually invited us to take pictures of the catered meal.
We saw steaks, a lot of the fixings and no shortage of lawmakers hanging out with lobbyists.
“…lobbying dollars pay off better than any other investment they make.”
Now, there’s no indication any laws were broken at this dinner.
But it certainly does seem to raise questions about the relationship between Utah legislators and lobbyists and, perhaps, about whether Utah’s ethics laws really work?
About $1 of every $5 that legislative candidates spent this year was on items that personally benefited themselves or friends, despite passage of a new law designed to restrict that, according to an analysis of spending by The Salt Lake Tribune.
That means that campaign cash — which mostly comes from special interests — doesn’t just help elect lawmakers but is converted by some into perks. Read the rest of this story at the Tribune’s website.
Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, says he has never asked for a campaign contribution during his eight years in office. He hasn’t had to, thanks to generous special interest groups.
“It just comes on its own,” he says about the donations. Even though he ran unopposed this year and had few campaign expenses, corporations and political action committees still gave him $16,556. So Morley says he never needed to ask constituents for money.
Morley isn’t alone.
A Salt Lake Tribune analysis of campaign-disclosure forms shows that 33 of the 100 incoming legislators who reported raising money this year (four did not report any donations) did not collect any money from their local constituents.
Instead, it all came from corporations, PACs, lobbyists, other politicians, parties, people outside their districts or their own pockets.
An additional 17 lawmakers received less than 1 percent of their money from constituents, essentially a pittance. The most that any lawmaker received from constituents was 22 percent, meaning that 78 percent of contributions still came from outside interests.
Read the full story at The Salt Lake Tribune’s website.
Utah Republicans, like their counterparts throughout the nation, had a stellar election year in 2010, but the conservative armada failed to slay one of its most coveted targets — Utah State School Board member Kim Burningham.
The fact that the right-wing arm of the Republican Party spent so much time and resources trying to defeat a school board member — who used to be a Republican legislator — in a nonpartisan race says much about the priorities and the agenda of that cabal. The fact that all its might could not defeat the incumbent board member speaks to the disconnect between that conservative wing and rank-and-file Republicans when it comes to education issues.
Burningham has been a target of the Republican Party power base since, as school board chairman, he opposed the Legislature’s attempt to give tax-credit vouchers to parents who enroll their children in private schools. He supported the citizens referendum that repealed that legislation in 2007.
But there are other reasons not related to education that made the GOP want Burningham’s scalp.
He is hated by the right wing in the Legislature for his leadership role in Utahns for Ethical Government, which is attempting to put an initiative on the ballot to create an independent ethics commission. To counter that effort, the Legislature passed its own ethics reform legislation that voters approved Nov. 2 as a constitutional amendment.
And he supported an initiative to take the authority to create legislative and congressional districts out of the hands of the Legislature.
Burningham represents Bountiful’s District 5 on the school board, and his opponent, Nicole Toomey Davis, benefited from the vast resources of the Republican Party and its right-wing auxiliaries such as the Eagle Forum and Parents for Choice in Education.
He earlier survived an attempt by that right-wing coalition to keep him from even appearing on the ballot through the state’s flawed nominating process.
Then, shortly before the election, a memo went out to Republican legislative chairs in Davis County ordering them to distribute a meet-the-candidate invitation to all the precinct chairs with Davis as the guest of honor.
The call to battle was sent by Dalane England, vice president of the Utah Eagle Forum. She also hosted the event at her home.
Davis also was a guest on the Saturday morning Red Meat Radio program on K-TALK. The show’s conservative co-hosts, Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Greg Hughes, both R-Draper, lavished praise on her and heaped vitriol on the despised Burningham.
Davis also was the beneficiary of an e-mail sent to Davis County constituents by Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, urging them to vote for the challenger against Burningham. Because the e-mail was sent just two days before the election and Liljenquist was actively campaigning among his Republican Senate colleagues to replace Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, as Senate president, the last-minute endorsement was seen by some as an attempt by Liljenquist to endear himself to the GOP’s right wing.
Davis’ campaign received $1,000 from House Speaker David Clark, $500 from Arena Communications, run by long-time Republican Party operative Peter Valcarce, and $2,500 from the Utah Tech PAC, whose board members include former Republican legislator and Eagle Forum darling Jeff Alexander and former GOP State Chairman Stan Lockhart.
Despite all that, Burningham won with nearly 60 percent of the vote in a county that elected Republicans by a wide margin in every partisan race. The voters, just as they did in the voucher referendum three years ago, rejected their own party’s position on education, choosing instead to stick with those, like Burningham, who argue for ways to increase revenues to bolster public education.
Position Statement on proposed constitutional amendment D by the Legislature, which establishes its own ethics commission.
Utahns for Ethical Government is not opposing the proposed constitutional amendment (Amendment D on the November ballot, formerly referred to as House Joint Resolution 15) that enshrines an independent legislative ethics commission in the Utah State Constitution. The plain language of the proposed amendment merely provides, in broad outline, that such a commission shall be constitutionally required, leaving to future legislative enactments the details respecting the make-up and operation of the commission, as well as the ethical rules which the commission would apply to legislative conduct. This plain language is entirely consistent with UEG’s proposed initiative and, in fact, that initiative easily could be just such a future legislative enactment, the “legislative oil” which would fill this “constitutional vessel.”
Some have accused the legislative leadership of having an ulterior motive in proposing the amendment, a motive to use the amendment to block enactments respecting legislative ethics through a people’s initiative. The proposed amendment may have been born as a political gimmick to forestall signatures on UEG’s petition. Or it might be viewed as superfluous window-dressing, since it does no more or less than can be achieved by legislative rule-making. But the amendment’s plain language belies an ulterior motive permanently to debar ethics legislation through the initiative process and the legislature as a whole voted to approve the amendment based upon this plain language. In any case, the legislature’s collective intent in passing the proposed Amendment D can’t be defined by whatever motives may be obscured or hidden in the minds of a few members of that body. The public also will vote for or against the amendment in light of this plain meaning, and, as noted above, that plain meaning is compatible with UEG’s initiative.
Rather than drastically change the Legislature’s code of ethics for its 104 part-time members, some leaders of a special study committee say it would be better to allow the new Independent Ethics Commission to issue “advisory opinions,” which, over time, would build up a record of the dos and don’ts for lawmakers.
The Interim Ethics Committee had to cancel its afternoon meeting last week when a special legislative session ran long. The committee was supposed to discuss ideas about how to change the code of conduct for lawmakers – a code that is admittedly so vague that when the House Ethics Committee had to rule on serious charges made against several members two years ago representatives on the committee said they really couldn’t properly decide those issues. All charges were ultimately dismissed.
Those unpleasant days ultimately resulted in a number of ethics changes in the Legislature – culminating with creation of the Independent Ethics Commission made up of three retired state judges and two former legislators. The IEC started meeting this past summer.
Now, says Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, a member of the Interim Ethics Study Committee, she wants to pursue the idea not of making wholesale changes to the code of ethics, but to allow the IEC to hear and issue advisory opinions on fact-sets brought to the five-member commission by individual legislators, caucuses or committees of the state House and Senate. No formal ethics complaint need be filed, nor any member charged. A legislator would just put forward a set of facts, perhaps made up, perhaps close to an actual case, and the IEC would consider those and issue an advisory opinion.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, co-chair of the Interim Ethics Committee, says that’s a good idea – with a few modifications that he and the majority Republicans likely would want to make.
Chavez-Houck’s idea, backed by the other House Democrats on the committee, could make the committee’s work much easier. Trying to define in detail what would be an ethics violation by a House or Senate member wouldn’t be in legislative rule – which could run hundreds of pages long – but instead lawmakers would keep the general (some would say vague) code of conduct with few, if any, changes. And in a piecemeal process, the IEC would be asked to issue advisory opinions on any number of scenarios put before it. Over time, those opinions would in effect build case law – for lack of a better term – and lawmakers, citizens, lobbyists and others would see what is and is not acceptable legislative behavior.
In conjunction with Chavez-Houck’s idea, attorneys in Legislative Office of Research and General Counsel have written up several dozen scenarios of possible legislative conduct, then asked if the reader believed the conduct was or was not ethical.
If you know the Legislature well – and I’ve covered it for more than 30 years – you may notice in the examples of a few cases very close to what a couple of legislators have done over the years – like contacting a judge complaining about a decision he made in a case involving a lawmaker’s friend.
If you get a bit bored over the upcoming holidays, you may want to play a game with yourself and circle the scenarios you think have really happened and compare those with some of your fellow legislative-watchers guesses.
In any case, Chavez-Houck’s idea – if it can get the backing of Republicans in the House and Senate – could well lead to changes in how the IEC operates.
In fact, Chavez-Houck says to do what she wants would take an IEC rule change, something to be considered in the upcoming 2011 Legislature.
In previous interviews with several members of the new IEC, UtahPolicy asked if they would be willing to issue advisory opinions. They said yes, as long as those opinions would be helpful to lawmakers and not just a time-consuming effort that was later ignored.
Urquhart said it must be made clear in any changes to the IEC’s rules of operation – set up by the Legislature itself – that ultimately it is lawmakers who adopt the advisory opinions. In other words, the IEC by itself couldn’t bind the ethical conduct of lawmakers.
The Legislature, as the Utah Constitution makes clear, is the final judge of its members’ actions – with the sole authority to discipline or remove members, said Urquhart.
And that could make the advisory opinion route a bit cumbersome. For each opinion, at some point, would have to come before the House and Senate in general or special session and be voted up or down by the 75 representatives and 29 senators.
Such action could become routine, or it could be a lengthy process, with committee and floor amendments changing the rulings of IEC commissioners.
“This is a starting point,” said Chavez-Houck, who was a bit concerned that after a summer of study no other members of the Interim Ethics Committee were prepared to offer some ideas on how the code of conduct should be changed, or the ethics review process improved.
Admittedly, the road to government ethics reform in the Legislature has lost some steam.
First, eight bills on government reform were passed in the 2010 Legislature. And some lawmakers believe that is enough – perhaps even too much – ethics change.
While all the bills made strides, as a recent ABC4 News report found there are still loopholes in the new processes.
The TV station reported that a steak-fry at the home of Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, was officially exempted by the president under a new lobbyist gift reporting law. Under that exemption, the Senate president or House speaker can exempt from public reporting any lobbyist-paid-for activity under certain conditions.
Secondly, a citizen initiative petition by Utahns for Ethical Government failed by an April deadline to get the number of signatures required to put it on the ballot. Thus, that measure – which lead to the reform activity in the 2010 Legislature – no longer has the political clout it would have had, thus quenching the reform fervor.
Finally, House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, a reform advocate, lost his bid to be speaker for the next two years. Without Clark as speaker, and a few other Republicans pushing code of conduct reform – which Clark said was the next step – any further ethics changes may just die in the 2011 Legislature.
However, for reformists the efforts may continue in another venue: IEC members have told UtahPolicy that because Utah voters changed the state Constitution in the Nov. 2 elections to enshrine the new Independent Ethics Commission in that top document, the IEC now has new powers – as does any body created in the Constitution.
And the IEC itself may decide to hear and rule in advisory cases. If it does, then while the Legislature may not ultimately adopt those opinions as binding, politically speaking it would still be tough at some later date for a legislator to violate such an opinion’s guidelines and not face some kind of action – either through the formal ethics review process or in facing re-election.
But all that is down the road.
Says Chavez-Houck of her proposal: “Other states have ethics commissions that issue advisory opinions. And it seems to work well. (The opinions) let legislators know (in a concrete way) what is acceptable or not – giving examples.”
Under Chavez-Houck’s first-draft recommendation, only legislators, individually or in groups, could ask the IEC for an advisory opinion – citizens couldn’t. Chavez-Houck said at some point the Legislature might want to allow citizens to put forward ethical scenarios. But considering the IEC is a volunteer body, not paid for its work, the commission could be swamped with advisory opinion requests by citizens who may have political or other motives.
And there is always the possibility of game playing by lawmakers themselves.
For example, would it be proper to allow a lawmaker (who suspects a colleague of some improper action) to ask for an IEC advisory opinion detailing the alleged conduct of a nameless lawmaker. And then getting a guilty decision, come back later with a real ethics complaint against that person citing the exact same circumstances. Automatically, the legislator would be in a tough spot – in essence having to change the IEC members’ previous ruling to get a not-guilty verdict.
“We would have to look at that” to see if that double jeopardy was fair to legislators, said Chavez-Houck.
Still, both Urquhart and Chavez-Houck said that allowing for IEC advisory opinions would be a good way to get around the very difficult task of trying to define in rule all the possible cases of ethical misconduct.
“The current code of conduct is good, but it is general,” said Urquhart. Allowing the IEC – with legislative approval later – to issue advisory opinions would allow for real-world ethical behavior examples to be considered and ruled upon.
For 25 years, Utah has been in the vise-like grip of one political party: ours. If that were characteristic of the Utah-BYU football rivalry, it would be one thing, but whatever your party affiliation, if you care about good government, the mostly noncompetitive nature of Utah politics should be alarming.
No political party has a monopoly on virtue, and in theory, parties should be a check and balance on each other. But 25 years of veto-proof legislative majorities and the gerrymandered stranglehold that comes with them mean that voters sleepwalk through elections at their peril.
The I-15 bid debacle should be a wake-up call. To his credit, Gov. Gary Herbert asked the state auditor for a thorough audit of the Department of Transportation. But when queried by the Deseret News, the state auditor, another good Republican, said, “Am I going to look at the campaign relationship? No. We don’t audit political accusations, political claims, political problems.”
The few facts that are publicly known show a problematic sequence of discussions in the governor’s office at the Capitol between a candidate and contractors, thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, lucrative contract awards, a $13 million secret payoff to a losing bidder, and a bid process that was altered after the bidding had closed in order to give the winning edge to the big contributor. When that state agency head says, “I just never really anticipated this sort of attention to our little department,” that obliviousness suggests incompetence; and in any other environment it would be a résumé-producing event.
Let’s be clear. While these facts came to light in a political campaign, that doesn’t change their fundamental nature. The heart of the issue is whether campaign money improperly influenced the contracting process and whether campaign fundraising is being run out of public facilities. These aren’t partisan questions: They’re honest government questions, and if it isn’t the state auditor’s job to follow these issues, whose is it?
Utahns for Ethical Government has asked Herbert if this episode has prompted some recommendations that would boost our D-minus in ethics laws to an A. So far, he’s offered none. We’ve asked if he would agree to a mutual, voluntary limit on campaign contributions. He has responded that he believes contribution limitations are a violation of free speech. Curious. The U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld the constitutionality of contribution limits, as recently as the Citizens United case.
We’ll continue to ask these questions, and lest this seem a gotcha game, here are some recommended answers. First, it’s time to stop pretending that there is no relationship between big campaign contributions and the expectation of big favors, and it’s time to stop pretending that contribution limits undermine free speech. They’re a legitimate protection against election corruption, as courts have held over and over. The two gubernatorial candidates should be examples of ethical leadership and agree to voluntary contribution limits in the current campaign.
Second, adopt the Illinois rule: If you contract with state government, you may not contribute more than $100 to a state campaign.
Third, if any state agency doesn’t like the bids it receives, the director’s staff should not be permitted to jigger the bid to favor any bidder. Start the process over and stay fair.
Fourth, no state property should be used for political campaigning or fundraising, and no state employees should be involved in political campaigning or fundraising on government time. Not even Congress tolerates this, and that’s saying something.
Fifth, no state employees should be taking lobbyist or contractor-funded “fact-finding” trips.
Sixth, stop ignoring the election law already on the books, and enforce the prohibition against running political campaigns through political action committees. It’s hard to be the enforcer when the governor’s campaign is also a violator.
The $13 million payoff may have been entirely justified to avoid more expensive litigation, but there was no litigation in progress. Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that a public administrator worth his salary would fail to tell his boss, in an election year, of a $13 million glitch that would be embarrassing to explain in front of a TV camera. The only thing more inconceivable is that a boss would tolerate it.
It shouldn’t take stronger ethics laws to prevent the kinds of lapses which have recently come to light. No doubt, all involved are “good” people. But the cozy system that has evolved over 25 years of one-party government, on autopilot, is not serving taxpayers well.
Karl N. Snow is a former Republican majority leader in the Utah Senate and a retired professor of public administration and management at BYU. David R. Irvine is a former Republican member of the Utah House and a Salt Lake City attorney. Both are members of the Executive Committee of Utahns for Ethical Government.
Salt Lake Tribune Reporter, Lee Davidson, analyzes campaign contributions given to state legislators.
Utahns for Ethical Government applauds Mayor Corroon’s invitation for the gubernatorial candidates to voluntarily limit their campaign contributions to donations of not more than $10,000 and return to donors the amounts any contributor has given in excess of that. We also applaud Governor Herbert’s willingness to at least consider a joint agreement to that effect and not to rule it out.
“This is an opportunity for all of the candidates to take a very positive step that most Utah voters have long supported, and we believe it will show real leadership on each candidate’s part,” said Dixie Huefner, speaking for UEG’s Executive Committee. “While a $10,000 limit is higher than the ceiling UEG has proposed, it’s a major step, because Utah is one of only four states with no campaign contribution limits at all.”
David Irvine, one of the initiative petition’s drafters, said, “Obviously, this can only work if all the candidates agree, but it can be a huge win for Utah, for the candidates who’ll together show real leadership by a joint agreement, and it will send a powerful signal to the Legislature that it’s time to act on moving Utah out of the D- category for ethics laws.”
Kim Burningham, UEG chair, noted that, contrary to the Governor’s concern that contribution caps might violate free speech, “a voluntary cap is just that—voluntary on the part of the candidates, no different from a fair campaign pledge. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court continues to specifically uphold the principle of campaign contribution limits because they do not impinge on free speech. Instead, they help keep elections honest.”
It is time for a reasoned look at the recent news of the $13 million payout to the loser in a $1.7 billion highway building project. I take Gov. Gary Herbert at his word, that he both accepted large donations from the winning construction firms and did not exert any influence on the outcome of the competitive bid.
Gov. Herbert says that he intends to run a transparent administration, and I want to believe him.
I have been in a state agency leadership position in a neighboring state. In that department, every single dollar was appropriated for a specific program or purpose. And we were accountable for spending that money exactly as anticipated by the state budget passed by the legislature.
Had we fouled up a contract bid process, any compensatory amount paid to a losing bidder would have required a supplemental appropriation by the Legislature. A large settlement would be grist for the political mills. Heads would have rolled.
So how is it that the Utah Department of Transportation had 13 million disposable dollars not otherwise appropriated for a legislatively intended purpose? Where did that money come from? How was it shifted from the appropriated budget to this payoff without many people within state government knowing about it?
Whoever those people were, didn’t they clearly subvert the budget appropriation process prescribed by Utah law? Why have they not been called to account? (Going to the proverbial woodshed is not the same as being held accountable, nor does that provide transparency for the public.)
If Herbert is to make a plausible assertion of running a transparent administration, he needs to open the records about this episode. The attorney for the construction companies that lost the bid and received the $13 million payout has said that there is a tale to tell related to the bid process.
The governor should release all parties from the confidentiality clause related to the $13 million settlement and hold a press conference with all parties and documents present. Let the chips fall where they may. Because I believe what the governor has said, I am confident that his integrity will be upheld by whatever is revealed in the documents or at the press conference.
More important, the public will learn whether their tax dollars have been managed well by UDOT.
Joseph Q. Jarvis is a physician, chairman of Republican Legislative District 24 and a member of the Republican State Central Committee.
When Peter Corroon first tried to forge a link between contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert’s campaign and the awarding of state contracts, we noted that Utah wouldn’t be having this discussion if it had limits on campaign donations. It is past time for the Beehive State to put caps on donations and, with them, on the political influence that money can buy.
One might argue in opposition to this proposal that, having established what politicians are, all that donation limits do is set the price. But proportionality applies. A candidate for statewide office is going to feel less beholden to a donor who gives him $5,000 than to one who gives him $87,500. If a candidate has to raise money from more sources, he will be less in the pocket of any single giver.
Politicians who claim that they are not influenced by campaign contributions are not being honest with themselves. It is basic human nature to feel an obligation to someone who gives you a gift. Donors know that, which is why they contribute.
Today, Utah is one of a handful of states with no contribution limits. A single financial backer — an individual, corporation or labor union — could fund an entire campaign without violating the state’s election laws.
Candidates who argue for the status quo say that it enables someone of modest means to compete against a wealthy office-seeker or incumbent. While there is some truth in that, there can and should be a middle ground between the funding free-for-all that Utah has now and limits that are so low that they would enable only the well-heeled to run for statewide office.
So where does that middle ground lie? The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy recommended a $10,000 cap for statewide races and $5,000 for House and Senate races. The limits would apply to individual, corporate, union and political action committee donations.
The initiative petition sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government would limit individual contributions to candidates for the Legislature to $2,500 per election cycle. Political action committees would be limited to $5,000.
A $10,000 limit for statewide races and a $5,000 cap for legislative offices is reasonable.
Gov. Herbert has raised more than $2.6 million so far, about half from donations larger than $10,000. Corroon has raised more than $2 million, and he also has accepted contributions larger than $10,000. Corroon proposed a $10,000 voluntary limit, but Herbert refused.
Politicians aren’t going to limit themselves. It’s time to draw the line in law.
Click here to see the results of our survey of legislative candidates’ positions on the ethics initiative.
Find out how the candidates in YOUR Senate and House districts responded. The responses were collected between September 7th and 28th.
“Leadership Begins with ‘Follow Me.’” That’s a phrase plastered everywhere at the Infantry Training Center at Fort Benning, along with the admonition for would-be officers that “the commander is responsible for all his unit does or fails to do.”
The person in charge sets and enforces the standards for the organization. How well a boss succeeds is the difference between being a leader and being a placeholder.
A 2008 Pew Center report gave Utah an A-minus for being a well-managed state, but little has been said about the D-minus for our deficient ethics laws. There are headlines about a possible “pay-to-play” linkage between contributions to the campaign of Gov. Gary Herbert and multi-million dollar contract awards. The state paid $13 million to settle an unsuccessful bidder’s complaint — a settlement the governor says he didn’t know about.
More surprise headlines followed about a $231,000 loss to taxpayers from a UDOT employee’s ethics lapses and the failure of many political party entities to file required financial reports with the lieutenant governor.
Herbert insists that there have been no trades of cash for favors, but to focus only on that is to miss the real issue, which is a systemic failure by the executive and legislative branches to guard against the appearance of corruption. No one set or enforced the kinds of ethical standards that public officers owe the citizenry. This disdain for “how things look” is as corrosive of public trust as payola, and that’s what translates to a leadership failure.
It’s inexcusable that companies seeking lucrative state contracts are permitted to make unlimited campaign donations to the governor and legislators. It’s also inexcusable for these state officers to be requesting businesses and individuals to make donations in excess of the federal election law limits.
It’s inexcusable that donors aren’t required to identify their occupation or employer. It’s inexcusable that a state contract can be awarded to any bidder who has made a large campaign contribution to a state officer within six months prior to submitting a bid, or that a contribution is allowed to be made within six months of receiving a contract award.
Until the Legislature adopts those kinds of basic reforms, politicians and contractors will play the game for all it’s worth; there will be more of what was reported last week, and public confidence in politics and politicians will sink ever lower.
It’s no coincidence that voter participation in Utah is now down to 48th in the country. People perceive that their vote doesn’t matter — and the perception of “you scratch my back with money and I’ll scratch yours with favors” has as much to do with voter disgust as anything else.
Our D-minus in ethics is well-deserved. A recent poll showed 78 percent of Utahns favoring limits on campaign contributions. Herbert obliged by voluntarily limiting donations to his campaign to $50,000 per donor, and not a penny more. Our Legislature invites the appearance of a government for sale: 46 states limit campaign contributions, but not Utah.
Some will pish-posh the idea of any connection between the timing of large campaign contributions and the award of largesse, or they’ll claim that a challenger does the same thing. However, challengers don’t typically have the loaves and fishes which an incumbent can dispense, and therefore it’s not the same thing at all. It’s also unrealistic, and unfair, to expect any candidate to operate under a different standard than the law allows for all candidates. That leads to the problematic question of who should go first.
Clearly, the Legislature has no intention of going first. That’s why 115,000 of us signed an ethics reform initiative petition to give voters a chance to pass a meaningful reform law.
However, there’s an opportunity here for a real leader to step up to the plate and show real leadership. It won’t work if only one candidate agrees to a voluntary contribution limit, and it won’t work if one can diss the others by claiming grandstanding.
A real leader knows the importance of making a serious issue an equal win-win. The guy in charge of loaves and fishes would take some risk by going first; but if following the federal election contribution limits is OK for our federal candidates, who also run statewide, why aren’t those same limits acceptable for those who would be Utah’s chief executive?
David R. Irvine is a Salt Lake City lawyer, a former Republican legislator, and one of the drafters of the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative petition.
In light of recent revelations of apparent “Pay to Play” donations from businesses to the Governor, Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) calls on the Governor to demonstrate his leadership and immediately establish stringent campaign contribution limits for elected executive branch officials. Obviously, such limits should apply to current office holders and candidates for those offices as well
A major feature of the UEG ethics reform initiative establishes strict campaign contribution limits for legislators based on the limits for all federal congressional (House and Senate) candidates. However, the Utah Legislature has not seen fit to establish any limits on its campaign contributions. The Governor now has a chance to take the lead in this most important matter. UEG also calls upon all candidates to support the adoption of strict campaign contribution limits and applauds those who do so.
When groups doing business with the state contribute large sums of money to the Governor, it raises the same issues as when large sums are contributed to legislators. “Whether illegal or not, accepting large sums of money and then awarding benefits such as contracts or tax credits to those same businesses creates at the very least the appearance of corruption,” stated Kim Burningham, UEG Chair. “It’s the appearance of favors for cash that results in voter distrust of politicians and loss of confidence in government integrity,” added David Irvine, UEG Executive Committee member. “Respect and trust for government is indispensable to its effective functioning, and much of today’s voter apathy in Utah can be laid to the failure of Utah to put its ethical house in order,” emphasized Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair.
The UEG initiative calls for specific legislative campaign limitations of $2,500 per individual and $5,000 for a PAC for a two year election cycle. If the same limits were applied to a four year gubernatorial cycle, then equivalent limits would be $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per PAC. Under the UEG initiative, corporations and unions would be prohibited from making direct contributions. If those limits were imposed, larger contributions could not be made, minimizing potentially unethical influence on state officials. The recent KSL coverage cited an Illinois decision to cap contributions from anyone doing business with the state at $100. “That would be a significant and welcome change in Utah!” says Burningham.
Legislative leaders from both political parties have stated that they favor transparency as a way to facilitate ethical government. UEG calls on the Governor to make good on his belief in transparent government by making public his campaign office communications, including emails, to the Governor’s office and executive branch offices and to also disclose those who have requested meetings with the Governor and those who have actually met with him.
Although UEG focused its ethics reform initiative on the legislative branch, the so-called “Pay to Play” concerns are the same with respect to both branches. “If our initiative were to be passed by the voters, we expect that campaign contribution limits would soon be extended to the executive branch,” said Irvine. Constitutional separation of powers issues compelled UEG’s focus on legislative ethics in its initiative statute. The executive branch, however, could demonstrate its ethical leadership by 1) immediately implementing executive orders and administrative rules that limit the size and timing of donor contributions or 2) adopting voluntary limits on who can give to a gubernatorial campaign similar to what UEG recommends. Certainly any gubernatorial candidate of leadership caliber would follow suit. “We repeat: We want the Governor to demonstrate his ethical leadership, just as over 110,000 Utahns have voiced their demand of the legislative branch to demonstrate ethical leadership,” concluded Burningham.
In a Salt Lake Tribune editorial, UEG chair Kim Burningham explains why the Lieutenant Governor’s office’s speculative dismissal of signatures gathered in recent months may contradict petition law.
The Tribune’s Aug. 19 editorial (“Ethics initiative: Lawmakers should follow lead”) says that while our initiative contains needed substance, it can’t go on this year’s ballot and Utahns for Ethical Government should trash more than 115,000 signatures we’ve submitted, starting over to guarantee “freshness.”
That won’t happen because of a politically tinged decision by the lieutenant governor. The same issues will still be around in two years.
Paul Neuenschwander of the lieutenant governor’s office claims it is “clear” if we don’t meet the April deadline we “have to start over.” We disagree. Readers don’t need to take our word. Read the statute [UCA 20A-7-202(4)(a)]: “the sponsors shall qualify the petition for the regular general election ballot no later than one year after the application is filed.”
Utahns for Ethical Government announced in April that we would require our full statutory year to qualify for the ballot and so advised the lieutenant governor. Our application was filed on Aug. 12, 2009. The necessary signatures were submitted by the one-year deadline.
Neuenschwander pretends that the one-year part of the statute doesn’t exist. He only likes to cite subsection 202(4)(b), which indeed says that if the sponsors fail to qualify for “the regular general election ballot” after circulating the petition and gathering names for a year, they must start over.
The April 15 deadline is provided in a different subsection, UCA 20A-7-206(1), but only as to the general election year in which the initiative, after qualifying, may come up for a vote.
When it became clear that we couldn’t get on the November ballot by April 15, some in that office encouraged us to pursue signature gathering for a year. What changed? The statutory language did not, and there were no intervening court decisions interpreting that language.
The political amperage of the initiative, however, has gone through the roof. Why? I suspect the underlying fear is that our initiative is a real threat to Utah politics’ money culture. Frankly, money is power. Our initiative prohibits corporate and union contributions to legislative campaigns — currently the source of more than 80 percent of what legislators receive. We also propose to limit campaign contributions by political action committees and individuals to the same levels ($5,000 and $2,500, respectively) allowed in federal elections. Presently, Utah has no limits on campaign contributions.
The prohibition against using campaign funds from lobbyists to buy support in legislative leadership elections is vital to the initiative. In a state of mostly single-party and not terribly competitive legislative districts, this intersection is where good people can easily begin to rationalize their moral compasses away from true north. It’s where private interest really starts to overpower public interest — because the pockets that put up the money (and legislators typically do not) want something in return.
A year ago, it appeared the lieutenant governor was poised to determine that our petition was “patently unconstitutional” and to decline to approve it for circulation. Following a meeting with us and our lawyers (after which that direction was reversed), a highly placed individual in that office said, “You would not believe the pressure we have been under from legislators to spike this thing.”
Actually, we do believe the pressure has been intense. We believe, as do 115,000 Utahns, that our petition is the means for much-needed reform in the Legislature; however, we doubt the Legislature will ever adopt the campaign finance restrictions we propose. If the corrosive influence of money in Utah politics is to be limited, the voters must do it themselves.
Initiative is a constitutional right; but some legislators hate it and will obstruct it to death wherever possible. Our volunteers have slogged through a very hard year, gathering signatures in the nigh-impossible jumble of Utah’s badly gerrymandered state senate districts. It wasn’t as though they lacked for other, more interesting things to do with their time.
Easy for Neuenschwander to say, “Oh, just start over.” We wonder if another obscure part of state law lies beneath his smile. Does he know that failure to qualify within the 12-month window also means that a similar initiative cannot be run for another four years [UCA 20A-7-202(5)(f)]?
This is an issue to be decided in the courts.
Utahns for Ethical Government has announced that it has collected over 110,000 signatures to qualify for the 2012 election ballot. For more information, read our press release.
Utahns for Ethical Government today announced that it has collected over 110,000 signatures to qualify for the 2012 election ballot. Announcing the results was UEG chairperson, Kim Burningham, who explained that UEG is confident that it has met the overall state goal of 94,552 qualified signatures as well as the proportionate number of signatures in 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts. Noting the challenge of the effort, Burningham thanked dedicated supporters and stated that “we accomplished this, thanks to nonpartisan support from across the state, including support from former governor Olene Walker, current gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon and running mate Sheryl Allen, former U.S. congressperson Chris Cannon, many former legislators, and multitudes of Utahns interested in higher ethical standards for the Utah Legislature.”
Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair, observed that “because of the stringency of the initiative requirements, it is extraordinarily challenging for a grass-roots, nonprofessional group to gather the required signatures, and we are proud of our efforts.” David Irvine, UEG co-counsel stated UEG’s view that “the current initiative requirements unreasonably burden the right of the people to participate in the legislative process through an initiative. Thus, we are doubly proud of those who helped UEG surmount the signature-gathering challenges and barriers put up by the Legislature itself, the Attorney General’s office, and the Lieutenant Governor’s office.”
UEG submitted signatures gathered since April 15th to county clerks’ offices throughout the state yesterday and today. According to August 11 instructions from the Lieutenant Governor’s office to county clerks, the signatures are to be “processed and counted, but not certified” for placement on the 2012 ballot. Litigation is expected to follow.
“When well over 100,000 citizens have expressed their desire to have our initiative on the ballot, the public deserves an opportunity for fuller debate and a chance to vote on our initiative,” concluded Burningham. “The Legislature has a long ways to go to become a leader rather than a follower in terms of ethical standards in state legislatures across the country.”
JOIN UEG AT A PRESS CONFERENCE, THURSDAY, AUGUST 12th AT NOON IN THE ROTUNDA OF THE STATE CAPITOL FOR THE ENCOURAGING RESULTS OF OUR YEAR-LONG SIGNATURE GATHERING EFFORT. Please give us the benefit of your presence at this important event.
Utahns for Ethical Government today announces the status of its signature drive for its legislative ethics reform initiative petition.
As of Monday, August 2nd, our statistics indicate that we have or will have obtained by Monday, August 9th the number of qualified voters to meet the required number in the state overall and in 22 of Utah’s Senate districts.
As Kim Burningham, UEG chairman, explained “That means that we have 4 more Senate districts in which we need to make our goal. For the days remaining, we will particularly be concentrating on Utah County—Senate districts 13, 14, 15, and the portion of Senate district 27 that is in Utah County. We have already made our goal in Senate district 16 in Utah County.”
“Our ethics reform petition is important to Utah voters, and we believe that the misinformation being circulated by opponents about the contents of the initiative does a disservice to all Utahns and to our form of democratic government,” added David Irvine, UEG co-counsel.
“Opponents are ignoring the need for real reform of legislative ethics and an enforceable, clear code of conduct,” says Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. “Much remains to be done that the Legislature has not begun to address.”
“The public deserves the opportunity to vote on our initiative, and we urge all registered voters to help in the final days of our signature drive so that the opportunity can become reality,” concluded Burningham.
We need only approximately 500 more signatures. We can do it! Please volunteer now and help us finish the job today.
In a video interview, UEG attorney David Irvine discusses the UEG petition and electronic signatures with California-based Etopia News.
Correction: Utah has had no more than 20 initiatives over the years, rather than the 100 that Dave indicated.
The best leadership results when people of high integrity demonstrate an impressive example of skill. Followers are eager to have such people take the lead. Unfortunately, in many instances leadership instead has been bought by favoritism, family relationships and money.
The Utah Legislature has had all kinds of leaders. Some of these rose to the top through excellence. Others have risen to the top by other means. When such is the case, the people pay the real price.
One former speaker of the Utah House, Greg Curtis, served in that position for two terms using strategic placement of money to assure election.
Curtis amassed a bank account in excess of $300,000 largely contributed by lobbyists. According to Bob Bernick Jr. in the Deseret News (Jan. 8, 2008) Curtis “gave much of his campaign donations to fellow GOP house members…hopefully, endearing them to vote for him as speaker one more time.”
Sen. Sheldon Killpack was a leader in the Utah Senate before his resignation was prompted by a drunken driving charge. Many expected that he would run for a leadership position again. He gathered nearly $200,000 in contributions, coming heavily from lobbyists. As the 2008 election approached, Killpack contributed to many fellow senators or candidates who were up for election including $5,000 to Dan Liljenquist; $5,000 to Steve Urquhart, $3,000 to Mark Madsen, $5,000 to David Hinkins, $5,000 to Carlton Christensen, $3,000 to Alan Christensen, $10,000 to Carlene Walker, and $5,000 to Scott Jenkins. Alliances cemented by money have become commonplace in the Utah Legislature.
House Speaker David Clark intends to run again for speaker. May that explain why Clark is currently giving donations of money to potential Republican members who will later vote for their leader? Or is he simply generous? (In any event, he’s not spending his money; it comes from lobbyists and special interests.)
Even before the primaries were held, Clark had started peddling dollars to potential members of the House. Clark’s June 15 financial report indicates that since the first of the year, he has received more than $120,000, the majority from special interest groups. He has contributed between $1,000 and $3,000 to at least a dozen other men who were running for office.
The candidates were located throughout the state from Logan to Murray and from Draper to Kanab. Most of them have never served before, and for some reason Clark was eager to help them get elected.
Some recipients cover the bases. They accept donations from legislators who may end up vying against one another in election competitions. For example, Kenneth Ivory, who is running for office in the West Jordan area, accepted a $3,000 contribution from Clark, but also accepted a smaller contribution of $250 from “Friends of Carl Wimmer.” Wimmer has been mentioned as a potential challenger to Clark.
Verifying all the giving that has taken place from potential leaders to legislative candidates is not yet possible. Wimmer, for instance, reports zero campaign expenses or contributions. Although most legislators did file a report of campaign expenditures due on June 15, several others (usually highly visible legislators like Wimmer) report no campaign expenditures.
I doubt those reports are true. Likely they are accepting contributions or sharing money through political action committees. Such committees are not required to submit reports with the same frequency as candidates. This may be a deliberate effort to circumvent the current campaign reporting law.
Because of the Utah legislative session’s brevity, and also because the leadership assigns legislators to committee membership, legislative leaders control much of what happens in the Legislature. Where lobbyists supply money, and leaders use that money to increase influence, much power is transferred to a few leaders and the lobbyists who influence them.
Leadership candidates dismiss suggestions about “purchasing votes” by arguing that they are friends helping friends. Perhaps. However, the insidious nature of these transactions is that the recipients of leader largesse then are hooked — they dare not cross the givers of money, lest the spigot be turned off.
“Party discipline” comes at a real price to the public interest, especially where donors’ private agendas come up for a floor vote. Curtis made a very public show of absenting himself from discussions about a deal involving the St. George airport which stood to earn a good deal of money for his employer. He didn’t have to be in the room; everyone knew what he wanted — and the price of opposing him.
Contributions from one legislator to another cited above are not illegal under current Utah law. The law needs changing. The safest approach would be to prohibit such exchanges of money. The Utahns for Ethical Government initiative petition does precisely that. If would-be leaders want to help their friends, they should do so from their own wallets, not somebody else’s.
Leadership should be earned by capable performance, not purchased.
Kim Burningham is a former member of the Utah Legislature, chairman of the Utah Board of Education and chairman of Utahns for Ethical Government.
We’re closing in on the goal of 95,000 signatures, but in a number of crucial areas, we still have some important work to do, and we need more volunteers over the coming 2-3 weeks. In targeted areas, we can pay signature gatherers ($1.00 per signature of registered Utah voters). If you’re interested, contact Connie Watts. For more information, see our volunteer page.
It’s tough for Utah political leaders to associate democracy with petitions. We understand—they’ve spent so many years and crafted so many dense rules with the sole purpose of making it as difficult as possible to use the petition process to practice grassroots democracy.
However, the latest “rules” devised by the Utah lieutenant governor’s office to allow—on an interim basis—the use of electronic signatures for petitions to qualify a referendum or initiative for the Utah ballot are more cynical than clumsy.
Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell’s guidelines allow for e-signatures only if there is a witness in the same room, hovering over the e-petition signer’s computer. The guidelines read in part: “The person electronically signing the petition shall have done so in the circulator’s presence.”
That is ridiculous. Online petition gathering is designed for home or office access. It’s farcical to assume that a “circulator” is going to be in the home or office of someone signing a petition. In essence, the new rules make gathering e-petitions the same as going to a supermarket, library, or some other brick and mortar location to gather signatures. No convenience or relief is provided to the petitions gatherers, and that was the whole idea of e-signatures being allowed—to use security and technology advances to make it easier for the public, you and I, to effect change.
We agree with ethics in government advocate Kim Burningham, who stated the obvious regarding the lieutenant governor’s guidelines. He said, “(Forcing the online signer to have a witness in the room) ... makes it extremely difficult to accept e-signatures.”
We understand that the Utah Legislature’s leadership does want to make it very difficult to accept any petition signature, be it in writing or via the Web. The majority party in Utah doesn’t like the body public to intrude into what it regards as its sole business.
But we are disappointed in Bell. Our lieutenant governor has shown in the past an independent streak. He knows better than to unveil rules on e-signatures that effectively negate any chance of having e-signatures. It’s very disingenuous.
The Utah Supreme Court recently made it clear to Utah’s political establishment that e-signatures will be acceptable. It’s too bad our pols can’t accept that reality.
Some people are sore winners.
Last month, two initiative petitions fell far short of the 95,000 signatures necessary to qualify them for the 2010 general election ballot. One sought to reform ethics in the Legislature, the other to change the process for redrawing political boundaries.
Utah’s Legislature already has erected high procedural hurdles for initiative sponsors to climb. Yet even though most initiative efforts fail to overcome those obstacles, at least one lawmaker wants to set them even higher. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, would increase the number of required signatures if the courts decide that electronic signatures are valid on initiative petitions.
Such a ruling is a possibility. The Utah Supreme Court held last month that electronic signatures are valid to qualify unaffiliated political candidates for the ballot.
The Legislature already has stacked the deck against initiatives to the point that it has seriously undermined the right guaranteed to the people under the Utah Constitution to propose laws through the process. Any further effort in that direction should be resisted as unconstitutional.
Current law requires initiative sponsors to gather petition signatures equal to 10 percent of the vote cast for governor in the previous general election. That equates to 95,000 signatures now. In addition, this quota must be met in 26 of the 29 state senate districts, meaning the signature gatherers must travel the length and breadth of a state that is sparsely populated outside the Wasatch Front.
If the courts were to rule that electronic signatures are valid for initiative petitions, that would presumably make it easier to gather them. It would be possible to throw up a web site to encourage Utahns to sign a petition. But sponsors still would have to get people’s attention, not an easy task in today’s fractured and fractious world of Internet media.
The point here should be that a 10 percent standard is enough to demonstrate serious public support and weed out frivolous proposals.
Among the 24 states that allow the people to propose laws through initiatives, Utah has one of the higher signature requirements. In California and Colorado, it is 5 percent of the vote for governor. In Oregon, it’s 6 percent. In Idaho, the standard is 6 percent of qualified electors and there is no distribution requirement. Washington requires 8 percent with no distribution requirement. Nevada and Arizona have 10 percent standards similar to Utah, but Arizona does not have a geographic distribution requirement.
If anything, it’s time to relax Utah’s standard.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell has issued a rule explaining how election officials should treat electronic signatures on petitions for initiatives and referenda. The rule makes it impossible for a voter to read a petition online and then sign it electronically unless a “petition circulator” witnesses the electronic signing. This provision destroys the utility of electronic signature-gathering. Once again, Bell has placed himself on the wrong side of democracy and the people’s right to initiatives and referenda under the Utah Constitution.
We recognize that under the state constitution it is the prerogative of the Legislature to write the laws that guide the petition process. One could argue, then, that it is prudent for the lieutenant governor, a member of the executive branch, to issue rules that closely follow the laws enacted by the Legislature that govern the gathering of conventional written signatures on paper petitions. That’s what he’s done.
However, we believe that in this case, when a right reserved to the people by the state constitution is at stake, the lieutenant governor should err on the side of protecting and facilitating that right, especially when the Legislature has written laws that enable the use of electronic signatures in all kinds of business transactions with the state.
That is especially true after the Utah Supreme Court last month held that electronic signatures are valid for petitions that qualify political candidates for the ballot. In fact, it is because of that opinion that the lieutenant governor was obliged to issue an emergency ruling on how electronic signatures on other petitions should be treated.
Though the laws that control signature-gathering for those petitions are different than the ones for candidate petitions, many of the legal principles are the same. We would expect a court to construe the petition laws for initiatives and referenda liberally to protect the people’s constitutional rights. We would expect Bell to do the same. Unfortunately, he didn’t.
There are political reasons for that, of course. The Legislature traditionally is hostile to initiative petitions, and it has erected many procedural barriers to the collection of signatures in order to prevent laws proposed by the people from making their way to the ballot. The Legislature is particularly annoyed by the petition to establish ethics standards for legislators that is currently circulating.
But all public officials have a sworn duty to uphold the state constitution and the people’s rights guaranteed within it. Bell has failed that duty.
They’ve just slapped the wheels on, and already, the state may be taking its newly assembled ethics commission for a spin around the block.
Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, is mulling an ethics complaint against House Majority Whip Brad Dee, R-Ogden. Hansen claims that Dee, Weber County’s human resources director, attempted to silence Hansen’s brother, an employee of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office. Hansen said Dee threatened to “make life miserable” for his brother, who had criticized Dee over proposed changes to the state’s public employee pension system.
At this point, all we’ve heard are allegations. If they’re true, they should be treated as a serious offense by the law, the Legislature and Dee’s employer.
The law has already passed on the case. Hansen filed a criminal complaint but Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill declined to file charges, noting conflicting claims and a lack of corroborating evidence. Now, if Hansen chooses to file an ethics complaint and it’s deemed “technically compliant” by the leaders of the House Ethics Committee, we’ll see the legislative version of ethics reform in action. Well, actually, we won’t.
The Legislature, in an attempt to shield lawmakers from false charges, put a lid on ethics proceedings from start to finish. If a complaint is discussed publicly after it is filed, it will be dismissed and the person who leaked the information could be held in contempt. The only way a complaint becomes public is if and when the commission deems the allegation to have merit, and forwards a recommendation for punishment to the Legislature.
That’s unfortunate, particularly in cases like Dee’s, when the allegations are already out. If a complaint is filed and Dee is exonerated, he will still be under public suspicion unless he asks to have the record released to clear his name.
Make no mistake, the new system is better than the old closed-door system, when lawmakers tried lawmakers on ethics allegations, and only legislators could file complaints. Now, an impartial panel of three retired judges and two former lawmakers, who were appointed last week, will adjudicate complaints grand-jury style. The commission has subpoena powers, a staff and a $50,000 budget to conduct investigations.
But, until lawmakers allow a public airing of all ethics complaints and proceedings, this attempt to mend the Legislature’s reputation in the eyes of the public will fail, and cynicism surrounding the Legislature, as well as the ethics complaint process, will persist.
The Lieutenant Governor’s office announced a rule July 9th purportedly allowing electronic signatures on initiative petitions. The LG’s rule states that e-signatures would be allowed effective immediately only if witnessed by a petition circulator. Read the full press release for more details.
In response to the Lieutenant Governor’s announcement yesterday of a rule purportedly allowing electronic signatures on initiative petitions, UEG Chair Kim Burningham denounced the announcement as “misleading the Utah public and media outlets who announced the rule without having actually read it.”
For the LG’s office to announce that e-signatures would be allowed effective immediately and then to state in the rule itself that they will be allowed only when witnessed by a petition circulator is to “take away with the right hand what has been announced with the left hand,” added Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. Alan Smith, UEG attorney, referred to the announcement and content of the rule as “double speak.”
The primary purpose of electronic signatures is to allow a supporter of a citizen petition to sign electronically using the internet when the person does not have access to a paper petition. To require that a paper petition circulator verify the electronic signing by witnessing it to confirm its authenticity defeats the whole purpose of electronic signing. It also runs counter to the current ability of a paper petition circulator to both sign a petition and then verify the authenticity of his or her own signature on the same packet. Many other official and commercial transactions use e-signatures without the need for a witness. For instance, when you pay your taxes via email, no one needs to witness the signature.
The “interim rule,” announced yesterday by the LG takes effect immediately—prior to any comment period. As such, it presumably constitutes “an emergency rule,” prompted by a unanimous opinion of the Utah Supreme Court that electronic signatures are valid for purposes of a candidacy for public office. The Utah court also noted that electronic signatures may be less susceptible of fraud problems than are paper signatures.
Burningham asserted that “once again, the LG’s action demonstrates the lengths to which state officials will go to thwart UEG’s ongoing petition drive to place an ethics reform initiative on a future general election ballot.” UEG is continuing to collect signatures to meet an August 12th deadline. UEG’s previous e-signatures have already been rejected by county clerks under a ruling from the LG’s office, an action that UEG is currently preparing to contest in court.
UEG also intends to challenge this latest rule as an unauthorized exercise of authority by the LG.
In a letter hand-delivered today to Utah Lt. Governor, Greg Bell [copy attached], Utahns for Ethical Government requested that Bell’s office act immediately to reverse its earlier directive to county clerks that they should refuse to accept e-signatures submitted by UEG to qualify its legislative ethics initiative for ballot placement. UEG had collected approximately 10,000 such signatures as of April 15th, and will renew its online signature collection in light of yesterday’s Utah Supreme Court ruling in Anderson v. Bell.
The UEG letter asks for written confirmation not later than June 28th that instructions will issue by June 30th to the county clerks, directing them to disregard the Lt. Governor’s earlier instructions, and consistent with the reasoning of the Utah Supreme Court in Anderson v. Bell, to accept initiative e-signatures. The letter further requests confirmation that, once signatures are validated by the clerks as belonging to registered voters, the e-signatures, along with paper signatures, will be counted by the Lieutenant Governor toward the statutory qualification requirement.
UEG’s letter further stated that if the Lieutenant Governor declines to provide the written confirmation UEG is requesting by June 28th, the group will seek immediate legal redress.
Kim Burningham, UEG’s Chair, said, “The objections made by the Lieutenant Governor to the use of e-signatures by Farley Anderson’s petition to be a candidate are the identical objections that office has made to the use of e-signatures on initiative petitions. The Supreme Court very clearly held that all of those objections were without merit and that electronic signatures are valid under the election code.”
Applying the Anderson ruling to ballot initiatives, the UEG letter states, “the reasoning of the court’s opinion surely governs, and probably controls, any determination of those issues.”
Burningham noted that the group is continuing to gather signatures for submission by an August 12th deadline to qualify the petition for the 2012 general election, and that the online signature option is expected to be reinstalled within a week as an active feature of UEG’s website: http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org. He also said, “While the Court’s approval of e-signatures is extremely helpful, UEG will continue its very heavy focus on paper signature gathering. Face-to-face petitioning is really the only effective way we can ensure that we target our work to collect the necessary signatures by senate districts, and that effort is critical.”
Burningham also said, “We get mixed signals from the Lieutenant Governor’s office about the Anderson ruling. On one hand, Mr. Bell says that the office will quickly conform to the intent and spirit of the Court’s decision. On the other, his chief of staff says the office is ‘disappointed in the ruling,’ and Mr. Neuenschwander suggests that he might wait for further legislative direction before deciding how to treat our signatures.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature has already made the law on e-signatures incontrovertibly clear – they are valid under the election code – and we see any further dithering over them as a very pointed effort to undermine the opportunity of voters to conveniently and easily – and securely – take advantage of the technology the legislature has already approved for virtually every other business or governmental transaction except writing a will. We are calling on Mr. Bell to act quickly, and we hope he will match actions to words. But we cannot keep faith with our thousands of supporters and allow bureaucratic niggling to further jeopardize our success. If we have to go back to court, we intend to do so quickly.”
The court upheld the use of electronic signatures for gubernatorial candidate Farley Anderson. The court held that the Utah Code expressly contemplates the use of e-signatures and that a signature under the unaffiliated candidate filing requirements need not be pen put to paper. The court’s reasoning should result in the validation of e-signatures on initiative petitions too. Click here to read the court’s full opinion. For more details, see our press release.
The Joint Senate and House Interim Ethics Committee will conduct a hearing on June 23rd, at which the Committee will be addressing how to strengthen and improve its current code of conduct. UEG Chair Kim Burningham has been invited to present UEG’s suggestions in person at the June 23rd meeting. He will be accompanied by UEG Executive Committee member and drafting attorney David Irvine. Read the UEG press release.
Today Utahns for Ethical Government is releasing to the media a copy of the memorandum it sent to the Joint Senate and House Interim Ethics Committee. The memo was sent in anticipation of the Ethics Committee’s June 23rd meeting, at which the Committee will be addressing how to strengthen and improve its current code of conduct. UEG Chair Kim Burningham has been invited to present UEG’s suggestions in person at the June 23rd meeting. He will be accompanied by UEG Executive Committee member and drafting attorney David Irvine.
Said Burningham, “Many portions of the current code are widely recognized as so vague as to be unenforceable. If the Legislative Ethics Committee is intent on improving the code, we believe that it should take our suggestions seriously.” Added Irvine, “Adoption of UEG recommendations would help to build public trust in our Legislature, assuming, of course, that the code is then rigorously enforced and that appropriate and skilled training of the Legislature is conducted.”
“UEG is pleased that the Legislative Ethics Committee is interested in improving the code of conduct and we are happy to contribute our suggestions to the Committee,” stated Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. “We want to be supportive of their effort while also continuing to move forward with our own ethics reform initiative and our August 12th signature gathering deadline.”
The memorandum follows.
TO: Joint Senate and House Interim Ethics Committee
FROM: Utahns for Ethical Government
DATE: June 4, 2010
RE: Suggestions for Revisions to the Legislative Code of Official Conduct
In response to Senator Urquhart’s invitation for public comment on revisions to the current code of conduct, we offer a number of suggestions that we believe deserve consideration. We recognize the difficulty of capturing the appropriate balance between broad principles and explicit prohibitions and hope you will work diligently to do so. We feel strongly that the current Code is inadequate and recall that the House Ethics Committee itself found some of the provisions of that Code impossible of enforcement.
As a preliminary matter, UEG believes that caps on campaign contributions and certain restrictions on solicitation of contributions are needed and would go a long way toward assuring the public that special interest money is not dictating legislative outcomes. We have assumed, however, that the Interim Ethics Committee may believe that these issues belong in the Government Operations Committee, where campaign contributions were taken up during the last legislative session. Therefore, we have not made suggestions about campaign caps in this memorandum although we are not dropping our interest in such matters. We continue to see campaign finance reform as directly relevant to the ethical operation of the Utah Legislature.
The wording below, relating to changes to the current Code of Official Conduct, may be capable of refinement by legislative counsel, but we hope that the intent is clear and reasonably specific.
A few of the terms (e.g., family members, personal advantage, personal benefit, paid lobbyist, person, control person) may require subsequent definitions for clarity.
- No legislator shall engage in employment as a paid lobbyist while serving as a legislator or for two years after leaving office.Such prohibitions would have the salutary effect of reducing the risk of engaging in the kind of employment that would “destroy or impair” independence of judgment of sitting legislators. It specifies the kind of activity that is most likely to be perceived as compromising one’s ability to exercise independent judgment. It is narrower than the current code provision prohibiting employment or activity that would impair independent judgment, yet also more explicit. It recognizes the reality that part-time legislators naturally bring employment experience and knowledge that make totally independent judgment impractical and unrealistic.
- No legislator shall accept employment as a consultant, advisor, attorney, or employee of a paid lobbyist.Same rationale as above.
- A legislator shall not use confidential information acquired as a result of legislative status to gain a personal advantage for the legislator or the legislator’s family members, nor shall a legislator use the legislator’s office for such personal advantage.
- A legislator shall not accept a gift, as defined in [code provision]* from a paid lobbyist.
- A legislator shall not accept any campaign contribution that is given, explicitly or implicitly, with the expectation of a return governmental favor by the legislator to the contributor.
- Legislators shall not be control persons in a corporation (including labor unions and nonprofits) while serving as legislators unless legislative status was not a contributing factor to the appointment and does not serve to provide the legislator with any personal advantage or profit.
- A legislator shall not threaten or exact retribution for a person’s failure to comply with an inappropriate request or demand by the legislator that exceeds the legislator’s legitimate scope of legislative authority.
- A legislator is expected to obey the civil and criminal laws of the state and shall not engage in any illegal conduct that reflects negatively upon the legislator’s fitness to serve as a representative of the people.This would obviously require exercise of judgment by those given responsibility to judge the conduct. A parking ticket would probably not reflect upon a legislator’s fitness to serve, while multiple, unpaid tickets over a long period of time might so reflect, as evidence of disrespect for the law, unless there were extenuating circumstances.
- A legislator shall not attempt to discourage, by any means, the investigation or prosecution of any civil or criminal matter within the jurisdiction of another branch or level of government.
- A legislator shall not use government facilities or employees in furtherance of a purely personal interest.
- A legislator shall not attempt to unduly influence documents or opinions, including analyses and audits, prepared by public bodies and public officials in conjunction with any issue that is or proposed to be the subject of statewide initiative or referendum.
- A legislator shall not suggest that a lobbyist further the personal interest of the legislator or the legislator’s family members, by, for instance, suggesting that the lobbyist hire any of those persons.
- Legislators shall disclose any potential or actual conflict of interest on any legislation or legislative matter as provided in [code provision]*.
- Legislators shall not use their campaign money for personal use, as provided in [code provision]*.
- Legislators shall not give funds from their own campaign fund to other legislators, public officials, candidates for public office, political parties, or charities but shall keep the money for their own campaigns, as intended by the contributors.
- Legislators may seek an advance opinion from the Independent Ethics Commission with respect to any conduct that might be considered unethical. A written opinion from the Commission, when issued in advance of the conduct and which determines that the conduct is not a violation of the Code, would provide immunity from a complaint lodged against the legislator with respect to the specific facts addressed in the written opinion.
- A legislator who violates the Legislative Code of Conduct shall be guilty of an ethical violation and subject to procedures provided for in legislation or legislative rule and remedies as determined by the Legislature.We think it is important to state explicitly in the Code that Code violations are ethical violations. The Legislature’s current code also refers to the criminal code section which provides that a violation of the Code constitutes a class B misdemeanor.
We support continuation of the substance of provisions requiring legislators to follow the procurement code process, as specified currently in (j), (k), and (3)(a).
In this memo we have not attempted to suggest improvements to the related statutes enacted during the 2010 session—statutes regarding conflicts of interest and disclosure of assets, personal use of campaign contributions, and restrictions on lobbyist gifts. We do not think that these separate statutes are adequate as currently written. We assumed, however, that specific content related to these matters could be omitted from the Code of Conduct as long as the appropriate code citations are incorporated in the Code of Conduct. We further assumed that the Interim Ethics Committee would view the content of these statutes as outside the immediate scope of its concerns.
Thank you for the invitation to provide input. We would be happy to meet with members of the Committee and its staff to discuss and clarify any of the above recommendations. In a future memo, we would also be happy to offer our analysis of any relevant statutes, at your request.
* [code provision] refers to statutes passed during the 2010 session of the legislature relating to personal use of campaign contributions, disclosure of assets, and restraints on gifts from lobbyists, as the case may be.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Doe v. Reed, soon will decide whether the names and addresses of those who sign an initiative petition must be disclosed to the public. State officials have defended compulsory disclosure of this information, arguing that citizens endorsing a petition for the ballot must be willing to accept the “consequences” for doing so. In their view, free speech shouldn’t be so free. We disagree.
Speaking anonymously is a venerable form of political expression, and a choice which enjoys First Amendment protection. Founding Fathers James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay understood that the freedom to remain anonymous was integral to the fundamental right to speak freely, and in fact exercised this right when they published The Federalist Papers under pseudonyms. They saw that their principles, however eloquently explained, might be eclipsed in a debate about who authored them. Writers such as George Eliot and A.S. Byatt have used pseudonyms or initials for names, so that their work will be valued on its merits rather than devalued on account of their identities as women. The Tribune‘s editorials contain no byline, giving them a collective, institutional force. They aren’t easily dismissed because “so and so, the publisher, is nothing but a lowdown” ... pick your epithet.
The “consequences” for those who have signed initiative petitions across the country have, in some instances, been dire. Signers have received death threats. Their homes and vehicles have been vandalized. They risk job losses or demotions when they will not conform to the political views of their employers, who have found their names by scouring the Internet. Because their addresses, as well as identities, are found on the petition, signers must accept the risk that they will be called at all hours of the day and night, or that picketers will appear on their doorstep—all because they exercised the right to be wrong in their political thinking.
If it is in the state’s interest that the public must know about our endorsement of a petition, so that these “consequences” can follow, then, by logical extension, all of our political choices—our votes in caucus meetings, at political conventions and at the ballot box itself—should be subject to disclosure and scrutiny. Never mind that, in 1896, the Utah Constitution guaranteed the right to vote in secret, and that, in 2003, the Utah Supreme Court equated the right to sign an initiative with the right to vote. Some of our state officials despise these constitutional protections and judicial precedents. Do they long for a darker age, when the test of civic virtue was how much harassment voters could endure for exercising their rights of conscience? After all, if you’re not willing to be badgered for your political thoughts, you must not be much of a real American.
It is said that citizens endorsing a petition can’t have any reasonable expectation of privacy, since in signing they know that their names will be public. The circularity of this argument is obvious. But for the state’s coercive disclosures, we could and might choose to exercise our rights of political conscience privately rather than publicly.
John Hancock was willing to be a martyr for his principles and signed the Declaration of Independence with a flourish that resounded through the ages. Of course, he was acting as his colony’s delegate to the Continental Congress and in a representative, rather than an individual, capacity, a fact which, where accountability is concerned, makes all the difference.
The choice for individuals, acting for themselves rather than others, to speak privately is all important. Justice Antonin Scalia, at oral argument in Doe v. Reed, had some fine rhetoric about the need for citizens who engage in politics to show “civic courage” by “standing up” and “being counted.” The good justice forgot, however, that we applaud acts of courage only because they are products of volition. Behaviors which are compelled by the state—as where citizens are forced to disclose their voting preferences—don’t reflect much if any virtue, civic or otherwise. (And speaking of “standing up” and “being named,” let’s not forget that, in Bush v. Gore, the most controversial decision of this decade, a majority of justices, including Scalia, chose to write anonymously, hiding the true author behind a per curiam opinion.)
Voting on an initiative is the purest form of political speech, and we protect it with secret ballots and private voting booths. Signing a petition to get an initiative onto the ballot requires privacy for all of the same reasons. Utah’s initiative statute, however, denies this most fundamental, original, freedom of choice to its citizens; and that is simply wrong.
David R. Irvine and Alan L. Smith are Salt Lake City attorneys and two of the drafters of the legislative ethics initiative.
Utahns for Ethical Government announces that it has received permission from the Utah Supreme Court to file an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the Farley Anderson case. The case challenges the Lieutenant Governor’s refusal to accept Mr. Anderson’s electronic signature submissions. Anderson is seeking to run for governor as an Independent, and the LG’s refusal to accept his e-signatures is keeping his name off the 2010 gubernatorial ballot.
Commenting on UEG’s forthcoming amicus brief, David Irvine, UEG pro-bono attorney, stated that ” We believe that UEG’s position and information on its own electronic signature gathering campaign will be useful to the Court in deciding the Anderson case.” “Our brief will demonstrate that the Utah legislature has mandated the legal recognition of electronic signatures for all purposes. By taking a contrary position, the lieutenant governor has defied the legislative branch and is out of bounds in doing so,” added co-attorney Alan Smith.
UEG also announces its satisfaction with yesterday’s order by federal district court judge Clark Waddoups. The order granted UEG’s request for a preliminary injunction that prohibits release of the names of signers of UEG’s ethics reform initiative petitions. Kim Burningham, UEG chair, stated that “UEG is especially pleased that Judge Waddoups recognized the irreparable harm that would accrue to UEG signers if the injunction were not granted at this point in time.”
A decisive ruling from the judge awaits the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Doe v. Reed, which deals with a similar set of facts from Washington state. Judge Waddoups stated that the decision in Doe v. Reed is expected to bear upon, if not directly control his ultimate ruling in the UEG case. A decision in Doe v. Reed is expected by the end of June.
The two initiative petitions that sought to reform ethics in the Legislature and the redrawing of political boundaries fell far short of the 95,000 signatures necessary to qualify them for the 2010 general election ballot. That again raises the question of whether that signature requirement is so high that it severely handicaps the constitutional power of the people to propose laws through the initiative process.
The answer, clearly, is yes.
In the wake of well-known scandals involving legislators and with the push of a highly organized signature-gathering campaign, the Utahns for Ethical Government were able to collect 73,244 signatures of registered voters. Yet that is some 21,000 less than the 94,552 that were required.
Not only that, but the petitioners also did not meet the geographical distribution standard. The law requires that sponsors collect signatures equal in number to 10 percent of the vote cast for governor in the previous general election. That’s where the 94,552 comes from. That standard must be met in 26 of the state’s 29 Utah Senate districts. UEG cleared that hurdle in only nine districts.
The story was even bleaker for the Fair Boundaries initiative, which collected 45,230 certified signatures and met the distribution standard in only two Senate districts.
But suppose, for example, that the law required signatures equal to 5 percent of the vote for governor, rather than 10 percent. That’s the standard in California and Colorado. It’s high enough to eliminate frivolous proposals. Under it, the Utah legislative ethics proposal would have qualified for the ballot. The Fair Boundaries petition, by contrast, would not.
Twenty-four states allow the people to propose laws through initiatives. In Idaho, the standard is 6 percent of qualified electors and there is no distribution requirement. Oregon requires 6 percent of votes cast for governor. Washington requires 8 percent with no distribution requirement. Nevada and Arizona have 10 percent standards similar to Utah, but Arizona does not have a geographic distribution requirement.
If the initiative power is to have any real meaning, the Utah Legislature must set the bar lower for total signatures. Otherwise, only those groups with enough money to hire professional signature gatherers will have access to the ballot. Or, the Legislature should allow collection of electronic signatures. By failing to do either, the Legislature is thumbing its nose at the Utah Constitution and the power reserved there for the people to propose new laws.
The final tally as reported by the Lieutenant Governor’s office shows that we exceeded the needed numbers in nine Senate Districts in Salt Lake and Davis counties and gathered considerably over half the needed numbers in thirteen other Senate Districts across the state. Seven districts remained more difficult, particularly Senate District 28, which includes Millard, Beaver, Iron, Garfield, Kane, and a corner of Washington County.
We are continuing to gather the balance of signatures necessary for placement on the next regular election ballot (2012) and are counting on dedicated volunteers to step forward and help put us over the top in the districts where we did not reach our goal by April 15th. We are also planning to arrange for a small group of paid signature gatherers to supplement the work of volunteers. We have until August 12th to gather the remaining signatures. (See our June 2 Press Release for more details.)
In response to the Lieutenant Governor’s release yesterday of Senate District counts for the UEG ethics reform initiative, UEG reaffirms that it is continuing to gather signatures toward an August 12, 2010 deadline for placement on the 2012 ballot.
UEG Chair Kim Burningham notes that “we have 73,000 signatures in the bank and are now going after the balance of signatures in areas of the state where we did not meet the required numbers.” “We are determined to make it,” he added, and “believe enthusiastically that we will.”
Dixie Huefner, Communications Chair, observed: “When we submitted petitions to the county clerk to meet an April 15th deadline, we estimated that we had collected about ¾ of the number of signatures that were necessary to be on the 2010 ballot, a good showing, given the burdens placed on the initiative process by legislators.” “This estimate did not include electronic signatures that we had also collected but that the LG had ruled were not acceptable” she added.
Examining the count, UEG signature-gathering chief, Vik Arnold, noted that “in some Senate districts, the figures released were higher than our estimates, indicating that in the final days before April 15, some petitions were delivered directly to the clerks rather than to our office.” Continuing, he said that “the actual counts released yesterday also allowed us to estimate how many names had been discarded as duplicates or otherwise considered ineligible by the county clerks.”
“In some instances, discrepancies between our estimates and the actual counts suggest some lack of uniformity across counties, an issue with possible significance for legal action,” observed Alan Smith, UEG pro-bono attorney. “Uniform application of the law is required to provide equal protection to all of Utah’s registered voters who signed our petitions,” he explained.
UEG interprets the June 1 release of the figures as the LG’s determination that he was required to do so in order to establish that UEG’s initiative did not gather enough signatures to be placed on the November 2010 ballot. “In no way does release of the figures establish that we cannot be placed on the 2012 ballot if we gather the balance of required signatures before the termination of the year allowed by the state Election Code,” asserted Burningham. In UEG’s case, the year-long effort must be completed by August 12th to ensure placement on the 2012 ballot.
Ethics reform remains high on the list of concerns of Utah voters. Yet news reports suggest possible new attempts by the opposition to thwart the ability of UEG to have its initiative placed on the 2012 ballot. “These would be cynical moves on the part of the opposition to deny citizens the ability to exercise their right to legislate by initiative. We strenuously reject these attempts and will fight them in court if they emerge,” concluded Burningham.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday to keep secret the names of Utah’s ethics initiative petition signers.
That injunction will stay in force until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a similar case from Washington state that would set precedent for subsequent legal decisions on the matter.
“The questions to be answered in John Doe #1 v. Reed bear upon and will very likely directly control the ruling to be issued in the present case,” Waddoups said in Wednesday’s court document.
He said it would be “presumptuous” for the District Court to rule before the Supreme Court decision is out.
At issue in the Utah case are 77,000 names submitted to county clerks on April 15 in support of comprehensive ethics reform that Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) had hoped to get on November’s ballot.
The citizen ballot measure was hotly opposed by most of Utah’s Republican-dominated Legislature and Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, successfully sponsored a law to streamline signature removal.
UEG supporters have argued petition signers would be subject to harassment, retaliation or unwanted pressure if their names became public.
The initiative organizers have since learned that their petition drive failed to clear the 95,000-signature threshold. The group, however, intends to continue gathering names until Aug. 12 in hopes of getting its measure on the 2012 ballot.
On Tuesday, June 1, 2010, the office of the Lieutenant Governor released the final count of signatures that UEG submitted by the April 15th deadline. For placement on the November 2010 ballot, 94,553 signatures of registered voters statewide were needed, plus signatures equivalent to 10% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election in 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts. UEG obtained 73,244 valid paper signatures (which does not include electronic signatures that were not accepted by the Lieutenant Governors’ office), not enough to qualify but more than 3/4 of the 94,553 required. Considering the many obstacles to a grass-roots effort such as ours, we believe that we did well. We’re planning to gather the balance of the signatures by August 12th. (Click here to see the final tally and additional comments on the tally by UEG.)
Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) today announces that it is planning to request permission from the Utah Supreme Court to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case of Anderson v. Bell. UEG supports the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Foundation, Inc. (“ACLU of Utah”) and cooperating attorney Brent V. Manning in their representation of Farley Anderson, an independent candidate for governor whose petition to be placed on the ballot was wrongfully rejected by the Lieutenant Governor in March 2010.
ACLU attorneys explain that, among other things, Mr. Anderson seeks a ruling from the Court that “e-signatures”—signatures collected on-line—should be treated the same as handwritten signatures for purposes of independent candidate nominating petitions. The Lieutenant Governor argued that those were not “signatures” under Utah State law.
Similar to Anderson’s contention, UEG believes that the Lieutenant Governor’s decision to reject UEG’s electronic signatures gathered in its initiative petition drive on legislative ethics reform is illegal. UEG has until August 12, 2010, to collect the 95,000 signatures required to place its ballot initiative on the 2012 ballot.” A Supreme Court ruling on the validity of “e-signatures” could play a significant role in whether UEG can meet its August deadline,” stated UEG chairperson, Kim Burningham.
“We look forward to supporting the ACLU’s arguments in the Anderson case,“observed Alan Smith, UEG co-attorney with David Irvine. ACLU attorney Darcy Goddard added: “We welcome UEG’s support of Mr. Anderson in this case. UEG has a significant, shared interest in establishing the validity of e-signatures in the electoral process, and its attorneys have a wealth of knowledge to share with the Court. We have every expectation that UEG’s support of Mr. Anderson, if permitted, will greatly assist the Court in reaching a fair and just decision in Mr. Anderson’s favor.”
After filing our request, the next step will be to await the response of the Utah Supreme Court.
State lawmakers make no bones about it, they don’t like citizen initiatives. They contend that the legislative process better serves the electorate because important proposals undergo the legislative hearing process, where members of the public can express their support or concerns for various proposals. Then, the legislation must pass both houses and be signed into law by the governor, who also has the option of a veto.
In concept, we agree with that argument.
On occasion, the Legislature is at loggerheads with public opinion on certain issues. Then, citizens can avail themselves of the initiative process. But the Legislature has set a steep burden for people to place questions on the state ballot — gather signatures equal to 10 percent of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, including 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.
This requirement, upheld by the Utah Supreme Court in 2004, appears to guarantee one of two outcomes: that citizen backers of initiatives cannot meet the threshold or that special interest organizations back efforts to pay workers to collect the needed signatures. Neither encourages true grass-roots, citizen involvement.
That was true for the Safe to Learn, Safe To Worship initiative effort. This was also the case for the recent Fair Boundaries initiative that failed to get the 95,000 voter signatures needed for the November ballot. The initiative sought to establish an independent redistricting commission to redraw the U.S. House, legislative and state school board districts after the 2010 Census. The commission would have made a recommendation to the Legislature, which would have had the final say.
Contrast that to the 2007 citizen initiative effort to repeal a school voucher law passed by the Legislature. The initiative effort was largely backed by the National Education Association. Its chief opponent, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, spent several millions fighting the initiative, which was ultimately approved by Utah voters.
Like the Fair Boundaries initiative, a second citizen initiative backed by Utahns for Ethical Government also failed to collect a sufficient number of signatures to make this November’s ballot. That initiative would set up an independent ethics commission for the Legislature, cap donations and adopt a stringent code of ethics requirements for lawmakers.
Utahns for Ethical Government has announced it will continue to seek to gather signatures to place the issue on the ballot in 2012. That move, which backers say is allowed under state law, could face a legal challenge.
If that weren’t sufficient intrigue, UEG obtained a temporary restraining order last week to keep the names of petition signees private. The GOP, which opposes both initiatives, has contemplated contacting signees to remove their names from the petition.
These events suggest that the bar may be too high for authentic, grass-roots movements to place issues on Utah’s ballot. Although the Supreme Court says the law is constitutional, it clearly puts ordinary citizens at an extreme disadvantage in collecting sufficient names or, worse, encourages special interests to hijack the process.
One of the oft-heard arguments against a lower threshold is that Utah does not want to become another California — a state where “citizen” initiatives are a dime a dozen. There is little danger of that under the current requirement. The greater danger is setting the bar so high that citizens are effectively squeezed out of this means to place important issues on the Utah ballot.
As of this column’s deadline, supporters of the citizens initiative petitions, Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries, don’t know if they met the high standard of 95,000 voter signatures to get their initiatives on the November ballot.
That petition turn-in deadline was 5 p.m. Thursday, April 15.
In fact, petition organizers may not know their fate for a week or more.
While reaching 95,000 signatures — 10 percent of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election — is tough to meet, the really hard part is getting 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.
Let me assume in this commentary that neither UEG nor Fair Boundaries reaches the requirements, set in law by the Utah Legislature. Then I say someone or some group should sue, seeking a ruling from the Utah Supreme Court on whether the current voter signature standards are unrealistic, and thus denying regular citizens their right under the state constitution to petition their government through initiative.
The high court, in a ruling several years ago on initiative standards, warned the Legislature that if lawmakers make the initiative standard too difficult, then in reality they are denying the citizens’ constitutional right.
You know what really gets me in all of this?
Conservative Utah legislators talk all the time about constitutional rights. They go on ad nauseam about them. But when there is a constitutional right they don’t like — like citizens initiatives — well, then, it’s a different story.
The best I can tell, both the UEG and Fair Boundaries efforts are just what the Utah Constitution-writers were aiming at — true grass-roots citizen efforts to address state law in areas that legislators, because of their own conflicts of interests, selfishness or otherwise bullheadedness, simply will not act on.
And if these petition folks, nearly all of them volunteers (Fair Boundaries is paying its top staffer a small salary) can’t make the signature-collection goals, then I think the law is too stringent.
Utah legislators, especially the dominant Republicans, don’t like either petition. They especially hate the UEG initiative, which would ban all gifts from lobbyists to legislators, cap campaign contributions, set up an independent ethics commission and adopt a stringent code of conduct for lawmakers.
Democratic legislators actually like the Fair Boundaries initiative. Republicans dislike that one, also.
Fair Boundaries would set up an independent redistricting commission that would recommend to lawmakers new boundaries in U.S. House, legislative and State School Board districts after each 10-year Census. Now, GOP lawmakers (as the majority party) draw the lines. (Yes, they hold public hearings to take comment, and legislative Democrats get a vote. But when push comes to shove, it’s the Democrats who suffer in the redrawing.)
If UEG and Fair Boundaries can’t gather the 95,000 signatures after six months of an organized volunteer effort, then Utah basically doesn’t have citizens initiative petitions — even if it is in the state Constitution. So if volunteer citizens can’t do it, who can?
The answer is a paid effort backed by special interests.
And is that what we want here?
Some well-backed special interest group — be it gun-rights opponents or public school teachers or anti-immigration groups or anyone else — coming in here and running an initiative with paid signature gathers?
Look at what happened with the public school voucher fight of 2007. On the anti-voucher side we had the Utah Education Association, which was financially backed by the National Education Association, which poured millions of dollars into Utah. On the pro-voucher side, Patrick Byrne, owner of Overstock.com, put in several million bucks.
So, what the failure of UEG and Fair Boundaries means (if they don’t make the ballot) is don’t waste your time and effort on a grass-roots citizens initiative. Go find yourself a really rich backer or a special interest group that will put up cash. Then hire professional petition gatherers to get the job done.
On the other side of the issue, make sure your initiative doesn’t anger some really powerful political groups — like the Utah Republican Party and majority legislators.
Otherwise, they will pass a new law to hamper your efforts in midstream — like they did this year.
(A quick aside here. I’m getting a kick out of Republicans crying foul that UEG attorneys are asking a federal court for a restraining order to keep petition signees’ names private — if that is granted it will thwart the GOP’s anti-initiative effort. Now you GOP legislators know what UEG supporters felt when you passed a law making it easier to get names off of petitions. Sweets to the sweet, I say.)
So, if the petition supporters fail to get the 95,000 signatures, it’s time for the Utah Supreme Court to weigh in on Utah’s high initiative thresholds.
If the justices say that’s fair play, fine.
But it’s clear you can’t trust the Utah Legislature to make that call.
It’s the political equivalent of pole vaulting over the Wasatch Front. The Legislature has set the bar way too high for citizen ballot initiatives, making it nearly impossible for the people to exercise their constitutional right to make laws.
This year, three determined efforts by energized citizen groups failed to pass muster. Utahns for Ethical Government, proponents of comprehensive legislative ethics reform, believes it fell just short of acquiring the book-load of signatures needed to place its proposal on the 2010 ballot. Fair Boundaries, which espoused an independent commission to assist with legislative redistricting and limit gerrymandering, and The Peoples Right LLC, which proposed campaign finance and spending reforms, didn’t even come close.
It’s hard to believe that the failures resulted from citizens refusing to sign the petitions. Public opinion polls have shown that Utahns, as a rule, support ethics reform, campaign finance reform and nonpartisan redistricting. It’s more likely that logistical problems—the need to hold seven public hearings and canvass residents across the entire state—led to the downfall of the petition drives.
The number of signatures required from registered voters to place an initiative on the ballot—an amount equal to 10 percent of the votes cast statewide in the most recent gubernatorial election—is onerous. This year, that worked out to 95,000 John Hancocks, a nearly insurmountable goal.
While a high standard should serve to winnow out frivolous proposals, 10 percent is too high. Five percent—in this case 47,500 signatures—seems sufficient.
Even worse is the signature distribution mandate. Not only are 95,000 signatures required, initiative supporters must meet the 10 percent mark in at least 26 of Utah’s 29 state Senate districts. That’s absurd, not to mention undemocratic. All signatures should count equally, and the residents of a handful of Senate districts shouldn’t be able to deny the rest of the state the right to sound off on proposed statutes. This requirement should be dropped.
But instead of making it easier for citizens to exercise their constitutional rights regarding initiatives, lawmakers made it more difficult. A new law approved this year makes it simple for citizens to withdraw their names from petitions, and thus makes it easier for initiative opponents to scuttle a successful petition drive by targeting signatories in districts where the minimum has barely been met.
These overly restrictive regulations undermine the right of the people to enact laws and, as such, they undermine the Utah Constitution. The Legislature needs to lower the bar.
We now have a new deadline for obtaining sufficient signatures to place ethics reform on the general election ballot. If we are able to obtain the required number of signatures in 26 of 29 Senate Districts by August 12, the question will be put before the public in 2012.
Previously, we had one goal in mind: to obtain the signatures by April 15. We came close and did very well, but we did not succeed in that immediate goal. Had we succeeded with our first goal, the public would speak in the 2010 election.
Some opponents question our ability to continue gathering signatures. Our lawyers are convinced we are on strong legal ground and the popular demand will be heard.
I now invite you to join me in making the final push. Your determination in gathering signatures in sufficient numbers in the necessary districts will move us toward greater accountability in the Utah State Legislature.
HOW FAR DID WE MISS THE GOAL?
State Law requires approximately 95,000 valid signatures across the State. This figure is based on the stipulation that we must obtain 10% of the number who voted for the governor in the last election. Those signatures must be distributed throughout the State with at least 10% in 26 Senate Districts.
We do not yet know if we achieved the first requirement. We did not achieve the second.
According to our calculations, 77,000 signatures were delivered by our volunteers to county clerks across the State. Additionally, workers—who could not get their completed packets to our central headquarters and back to the county clerks in time—were to take packets directly to the county clerks. There are several thousand of these, but do not know the exact number.
We also received many signatures electronically. None of these are included in the 77,000 figure. These could only be counted if legal action were taken to the State Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the procedure.
Actual numbers will shrink when some of signatures cannot be validated because the signer is not registered or for some reason does not match up with voter records on file in the county clerk’s offices. Past experience shows that number will range between 5 and 12 % of the total.
Using the 77,000 figure, signature counts in nine Senate district exceeded the required amount. Several of these have a large buffer margin. In addition to those, many others are close to the goal, while some have considerable distance yet to go.
Any way you look at it, our current goal is a whole lot less than it was in the Fall of 2009 when we began!
WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?
Our task is clear. We must gain additional signatures in specific locations to qualify not only in total number but also in the required distribution in 26 Senate Districts. We are committed to that goal.
Senate district leaders and volunteers throughout the state are being provided with exact figures, and they will know what must be done to qualify. If you do not know how you are doing in your area, ask. Your help is of great importance.
Some frequently asked questions with the answers follow:
DO NOT THROW ANYTHING AWAY. Save and put up your signs now. Any flyers or handouts you have may still be useful. Use, don’t discard, your current petitions.
Thanks so much for your work thus far. With your help, we can get the issue on the ballot in 2012. With a clear set of ethical standards, ethical improvement will happen!
Chair, Utahns for Ethical Government
UEG will continue to collect signatures through mid-summer to qualify its initiative for the ballot. Because the number collected by April 15 fell short of the 95,000 threshold needed for the 2010 ballot, UEG has until mid-August to make up the difference and qualify its initiative for the next general election. We welcome more volunteers to help us in various parts of the state.
Check back regularly for more updates. We are currently awaiting Judge Waddoups’ ruling on release of the names of petition signers.
Utah voters are fortunate. The Utah Constitution gives voters and the Legislature equal rights to initiate and pass state laws. This year it’s time for voters to use that right or lose it by signing two initiative petitions that put independent citizen commissions on the ballot. One commission helps legislators maintain good ethical practices.
The other helps legislators create compact election districts, keeping communities intact without protecting incumbents from fair competition.
The Legislature already has its own independent ethics commission proposal on the November ballot. It’s a constitutional amendment. Only the Legislature can propose constitutional amendments, so if it passes voters cannot initiate future changes.
This makes adding the citizen ethics initiative to the ballot especially important.
Many legislators are genuinely convinced they know best and are determined to protect their power. They have made getting initiatives on the ballot increasingly difficult for voters by requiring more signatures from more areas and unfairly giving opponents extra time to remove signatures before the final count.
We can overcome these roadblocks, but only if enough of us act by signing the ethics and fair boundaries petitions before April 15.
Sandy Peck Executive director, League of Women Voters of Utah
SALT LAKE CITY - Entering the final two weeks of its petition drive, Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) released information Thursday on the status of its petition to place an ethics initiative on November’s ballot.
By the end of the weekend, UEG anticipates reaching somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of its mandated 95,000 signatures of registered Utah voters, according to Kim Burningham, chair of UEG. Of the approximately 8,000 petition packets that have been distributed statewide - enough for 180,000 signatures - about one-third have been returned to UEG. Status of those “somewhere in the pipeline” and the intensity of signature collecting efforts during the next 10 days will determine the fate of UEG’s legislative ethics reform effort in Utah.
“If we stopped right now, we would not make it,” Burningham said. “But we are within reach. It is doable but it will take a big effort.”
Burningham cautioned that the numbers were UEG’s best estimates and should not be considered definitive because of logistical problems encountered in a massive drive conducted by volunteers in all 29 of Utah’s Senate districts. The number of signatures on petitions that have not yet been returned will be critical to UEG success, and electronic signatures still need to be tallied.
Other highlights of UEG’s grass-roots petition drive include:
“In these days of active distrust of government, it is more important than ever for the Utah Legislature to have a clear and stringent code of ethical conduct,” said Dixie Huefner, communications chair of UEG. “We are asking Utah voters to go the extra mile during these next 12 days: Help put our initiative over the top so that Utahns can have a say about the ethical standards, accountability, and openness of our Legislature.”
For more information contact:
Dixie Huefner, (801) 359-6705
Kim Burningham, (801) 292-9261
Alan Smith, (801) 521-3321 (on background)
David Irvine, (801) 949-6693 (on background)
Utahns for Ethical Government is a nonpartisan coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and unaffiliated voters who are committed to meaningful legislative ethics reform. UEG is working to obtain 95,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify its initiative on the November 2010 ballot. The initiative would establish a strict code of ethical conduct for the Utah Legislature and an independent ethics commission to advise the Legislature.
SALT LAKE CITY - Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) takes its campaign for honest, open and responsible government to the St. George Art Festival today and tomorrow.
With just under two weeks left to reach its deadline of 95,000 signatures on a petition allowing Utahns to vote on its ethics initiative in November, UEG is accelerating its regional Utah petition drive.
“Should Utahns be able to vote on creating a more ethical Legislature? Should citizens be in charge of their government instead of well-funded, narrow interests looking out only for themselves?” asks Kim Burningham, chair of UEG. “We believe thousands living in Utah’s Dixie would without hesitation say ‘Yes’.”
En route to St. George, Burningham said that was the reason UEG expects to collect hundreds of signatures at the region’s largest arts and crafts festival, which will be held in St. George’s new Town Square.
The effort is part of a two-week tour of Utah to ensure success of its petition drive. In addition to St. George, UEG volunteers will be collecting signatures at prominent locations in the following Utah towns:
There will never be a better time for Utahns to require their elected representatives to perform their duties according to values all Utahns can be proud of.
For more information contact:
Dixie Huefner, (801) 359-6705
Kim Burningham, (801) 292-9261
Alan Smith, (801) 521-3321 (on background)
David Irvine, (801) 949-6693 (on background)
Utahns for Ethical Government is a nonpartisan coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and unaffiliated voters who are committed to meaningful legislative ethics reform. UEG is working to obtain 95,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify its initiative on the November 2010 ballot. The initiative would establish a strict code of ethical conduct for the Utah Legislature and an independent ethics commission to advise the Legislature.
The governor’s veto is supposed to be a check on the power of the Legislature. When legislators pass an outrageous or unconstitutional bill, the governor can wield the veto pen to force them to reconsider. Yet, although this year’s Legislature passed some pretty outrageous stuff, Gov. Gary Herbert’s response so far has been to sign it all into law, with one exception.
In the category of outrageous, three bills come to mind. Two of them also share the distinction of likely being unconstitutional.
One, HB143, purports to assert the state’s eminent domain on federal land unless the property was acquired by the federal government with the consent of the Legislature. This bill supposedly would salve the still-festering wound of Bill Clinton’s designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. That the wound still is festering is largely because energy development satraps in Utah keep picking at it. They can’t get over that all that coal on the Kaiparowits Plateau will go unmined, so they want to use the state’s supposed power of eminent domain to get it. Ditto for some roads on federal lands and oil and gas leases near national parks that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has wisely withdrawn.
Trouble is, the legislators’ own attorneys have told them this is a losing proposition under the property and supremacy clauses of the Constitution.
Another bill, SB11, is based on the legal fallacy that federal gun laws can’t touch firearms if they are made in Utah and sold only within the state. This bit of loopy reasoning rests on a misreading of the jurisprudence of the Constitution’s commerce clause, something that the Legislature’s lawyers also tried to point out, again, to no avail.
Finally, there’s SB275. It’s not unconstitutional, just petty. It’s aimed at the Utah Independent Ethics Commission Act being offered in an initiative petition by Utahns for Ethical Government. Legislators loathe the act, and are doing everything they can to discourage Utahns from signing the petition, which would place it on the ballot in November. To that end, SB275 would make it easier for people who have signed the petition to withdraw their signatures and for opponents to encourage them for a month after the filing deadline. That’s changing the rules mid-game.
At some point, the courts will bring the power-drunk birds of the Legislature back to Earth from their Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. Apparently, Gary Herbert isn’t up to the job. Maybe he doesn’t have a net. Or maybe he’s one of the birds.
Why it’s news: UEG will be joined by the leader of a national citizen rights group in expressing disappointment regarding Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s signing of SB 275. The law’s sole purpose is to stymie efforts of citizens to enact statute by initiative, specifically UEG’s efforts on legislative ethics reform. Many petition signers will be targets of harassment in campaigns attempting to remove their names from petitions. In a state with one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, the law likely will further discourage participation in Utah’s political process.
When: Noon, Monday, March 29, 2010
Where: Capitol Rotunda, west staircase
Who: Representatives of UEG and Citizens in Charge
Winner of CPAC “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” Joins UEG News Conference
SALT LAKE CITY - Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) believes Utahns should be in charge of their state government - not lobbyists or well-funded special interests - and is disappointed Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed into law SB275. It was a clear demonstration of the governor’s unwillingness to stand up for initiative rights enshrined in the Utah Constitution.
“We believe Gov. Herbert tries to live by the basics of fair play and suspect he was personally uncomfortable with SB 275. But it’s just not fair to change the rules in the middle of a game as a way to win,” said Kim Burningham, chair of UEG. “The governor had an opportunity to put politics aside and demonstrate his mettle.”
The law, one in a series of moves by lawmakers to obstruct UEG’s effort to enact ethics reform, gives opponents of its citizen initiative an additional 30 days after the petition deadline of April 15 to persuade signers to remove their names. However, petition sponsors would not be allowed to solicit more signatures during that period.
“Now more than ever Utah needs bold, independent leadership,” said Dixie Huefner, UEG communications chair. “A veto would’ve sent a signal that our governor is willing to take the courageous step of standing up for the rights of Utah citizens, even against pressure from legislative leadership.”
Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, will join UEG representatives at Monday’s news conference. Citizens in Charge is a transpartisan national organization based in Virginia. It is dedicated to the belief that one of the best tools citizens have for enacting change is the initiative and referendum process.
Last year Jacob was awarded the “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for his commitment to citizen-led reform and his fight to uphold initiative rights in Oklahoma. The award is presented annually to an individual who has stood for principle, even when doing so put him or her at risk physically, politically or economically.
A little more than two years ago, in view of the capital’s iconic capitol dome, several Utahns sat around drinking cocktails and complaining about the Utah Legislature. Not about every single legislator; there are many who are sensible and well-meaning. Just the notorious ones, the ones with well-earned bad reputations.
It was after midnight and the blazing hot December day had finally given way to a balmy, pleasant evening. The palm trees moved hypnotically, sending a faint breeze across the swimming pool and among the lounge chairs we had arrayed near the outdoor bar. (I didn’t say we were in Utah’s capital.) A few Christmas trees winked from the windows of apartment buildings nearby.
Why on Earth in such wonderful circumstances so far from Utah would the conversation settle on what for many of us is just about our least favorite thing? What would possess a group of Utahns, on a tropical island on a December night full of rum and nice people, to arrive at what is probably Utah’s most embarrassing topic?
We were in Havana, the capital of Cuba, and its beautiful capitol, El Capitolio, bears a strong resemblance to Utah’s own capitol building.
Havana’s was built to house the country’s legislature, which it did until the Cuban Revolution changed everything. So since 1959 El Capitolio instead is home to the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.
Utah is facing a little revolution of our own right now, and if Utahns for Ethical Government has its way, our Legislature will become a lot less embarrassing as a result. The group is a nonpartisan coalition committed to legislative ethics reform. This group of Democrats, Independents, Republicans and unaffiliated voters wants to establish a code of conduct for legislators, set standards for contributions to candidates and create an ethics commission—a kind of nonpartisan citizens panel to keep our folks on the Hill out of the back pockets of corporations.
The nearly universally beloved Olene Walker, former Utah governor and former Utah legislator, endorsed Utahns for Ethical Government’s initiative, pointing out Utah is one of only five states with no limits on campaign contributions. Further, we allow corporations to make donations to candidates even though such activity is banned by most other states.
The Utah Legislature put on a big show this past session trying to demonstrate that it can police itself, but everyone knows it can’t. The Trib ‘s editorial board said recently that even though 74 percent of Utahns approve of a cap on campaign contributions to legislators, we still don’t have one.
Until now, even if a legislator saw a corporation’s semitrailer-truck drive to another legislator’s house and start unloading cash by the pallet-load, he or she would be hard-pressed to do anything about it. Forty-some former Utah legislators have signed on to the ethics petition, and I think it’s because they know it simply can’t be done from within. So this revolution is up to us.
We only have until April 15 to sign the petition to get a bill on the ballot this fall. Sign the petition and you will help stem the flow of loose cash and special interest groups on Utah’s Capitol Hill. You will break the revolving door between the Legislature and corporate lobbyists.
I don’t want to storm our capitol and turn it into the ministry of science, technology and the environment or anything else, although that would be ironic on so many levels, but let’s try to get the Utah Legislature to be a little more accountable to the people of Utah.
¡ Que vive, Utahns for Ethical Government (http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org)> !
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.
The 2010 Utah Legislature took only baby steps toward real ethics reform. Requiring disclosure of more potential financial conflicts and prohibiting personal use of campaign money were more than offset by narrow, self-interested actions to protect the status quo.
For example, legislators can still give their campaign money to other legislators or legislative candidates to buy influence, and there are no limits on campaign contributions.
Lobbyists can still be legislators. Legislators can still become paid lobbyists for many organizations when they leave the Legislature. Lobbyists are now required to report gifts worth $10 or more, but the exceptions are big enough to drive a truck through.
The Legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission is a clever attempt to prevent voters from ever passing an initiative on what kinds of ethical standards we expect from our Legislature.
The new procedures for a supposedly “independent” ethics commission ensure that complaints will seldom be filed, that commission hearings will be secret, that recommendations cannot reveal evidence, and that a supermajority must agree on the existence of misconduct.
The public cannot afford to sleep!
Dixie S. Huefner
Salt Lake City
And in the category for “best show” of the year, the winner is — “The 2010 Utah Legislative Desperadoes.”
The Wild West extravaganza broke all records with its portrayal of a band of tough guys who rode into town and with their bluster intimidated the locals, while the sheriff was nowhere to be found. They immediately began to take what they wanted and ignored the pleas of the people, who for years had been crying for real ethics reform, a return to civility and integrity to their state government. The people were hoping they could live in harmony with their neighbors and do what their pioneer predecessors did — look after each other.
The desperadoes exacted ransom in the form of campaign financing money. They promised transparency and instead mocked it by unabashedly passing legislation that would let them accept campaign money contributions without any limits, justifying it by saying they were making it transparent. That’s like the Sundance Kid saying, “I told you I was going to rob the bank, so it’s OK.” They didn’t want caps on campaign finance contributions because it limited free speech, when in reality the average citizen cannot afford to pay the asking price for so-called free speech. Free speech has become too expensive.
And the longer they stayed, the more brazen and frantic they became at imposing their will on the people and disrupting any civility folks had come to know. They told the people they wanted to protect them from the federal government. They wanted to have a town that’s free from government regulations, then went about imposing their own rules; claimed they believed in local control, then debated whether they wanted to prevent locally elected officials from passing ordinances to protect their gay constituents from discrimination in their communities. And while the town was undergoing tough economic times with longer food and unemployment lines, and empty food pantry shelves, desperadoes were receiving greater gifts for themselves and passing cosmetic ethics laws to stay in office, more concerned about getting gifts than for the more than 200,000 Utahns who depend on the Utah Food Bank for their food.
In previous years, the riders who came to town wanted longer school days; this band came in saying it wanted shorter school days/years and to spend less money, while the school-age population continued to explode. The desperadoes came in demanding that people live by the rule of law, yet they went around it and even railed against established laws such as civil rights.
They boisterously demanded the right to protest against the federal government and for their right to freedom of expression, yet residents who wanted to do the same with a petition aimed at ethics reform were labeled “hucksters,” “bamboozlers,” “deceitful.” And rather than embracing citizen participation, they circled the wagons and made it more difficult for people to voice their opinion, threatening retaliation, even undermining their legal, constitutional and legitimate right to free speech.
The show ended with the desperadoes riding off into the sunset praising themselves for the wonderful job they did.
Missing in this Western is the happy ending where the sheriff finally rounds up a posse and stands up to the desperadoes and tells them to mend their ways or leave town. One is left to wonder if the desperadoes will return with more money in their pockets to continue claiming squatter rights and keep on circling the wagons.
The old Western movies end when a couple of courageous folks stand up together and decent citizens take control of their own town — not a bad idea.
The Legislature’s effort to craft its own ethics bill in the face of the competing initiative put forth by Utahns for Ethical Government seems to be a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse (“Lawmakers working to win ethics reform war,” Tribune, Mar. 2). The fox says he is closest to the situation, understands the problems and has the best plan for guarding the henhouse. Does giving this fox the job make us feel comfortable at night?
We need a guard independent of the fox, like the initiative by Utahns for Ethical Government. Go to http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org and sign the petition.
Senate Bill 275, sponsored by a lobbyist/legislator who calls those of us gathering petition signatures for the ethics reform initiative “hucksters,” changes the rules of initiative petitions in the middle of the game. It is an unethical sabotaging of the democratic process. The Legislature has now changed the rules of the petition process to allow legislators to score points after the game is over.
Gov. Gary Herbert is now the referee. The public is waiting to see if Herbert sides with the team that quits at the final buzzer or the team that insists on scoring points after the game is over, when there is no opposition on the floor. Whose side are you on, governor? Are you with the public or the legislators?
I was just a “nutcake,” now I’m also a “huckster.”