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UEG News

Listed in Editorial Pieces

States with Unregulated Campaign Contributions Risk Corruption

June 27, 2013 (Joseph Avery, IVN)

  State Corruption Ranking

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?

Rolly: Most legislators don’t want to talk about ethics; Survey results below

Oct 10, 2012 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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:

  1. If you are elected, will you support legislation to prohibit a Utah legislator from simultaneously serving as a paid lobbyist?
  2. If you are elected, will you support legislation to establish a two-year waiting period before a legislator can become a paid lobbyist after leaving the Legislature?
  3. If you are elected, will you support legislation closing two major loopholes in the 2010 lobbying reform act that (1) allow lobbyists to pay for meals for groups of legislators and (2) require no disclosure of that fact?

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.



Name

*=incumbent but some are in new districts

Office/ District

Phone

Party

Email Address

Answers:

Yes, No, Uncertain (?), or No Response

DeLoy W Mecham

State Rep 1

(435)237-9117

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YesYesYes

Ronda Rudd Menlove  *

State Rep 1

(435)458-9115

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Becky Maddox

State Rep 1

(801)645-4548

Constit

 

———————

 

Gage Froerer *

State Rep 8

(801)391-4233

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Dixon M. Pitcher *

State Rep 10

(801)710-9150

Repub

 

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Christopher Winn

State Rep 10

—————————-

Dem

————————

 

Brad Dee *

State Rep 11

(801)479-5495

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Pamela Udy

State Rep 11

(801)458-2190

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Benjamin Pales

State Rep 12

(801)732-1207

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Richard Greenwood *

State Rep 12

(801)452-3113

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY Y (if over $20)

K. Bradley Asay

State Rep 13

(801)776-6503

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Paul Ray *

State Rep 13

(801)774-0624

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Curtis Oda *

State Rep 14

(801)773-9796

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Jon Christensen

State Rep 14

(801)231-4787

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Y?Y

Brad R Wilson *

State Rep 15

(801)425-1028

Rep

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

“thank you”

Gibbs M. Smith

State Rep 15

(801)663-1242

Dem

gsmith@gibbs_smith.com [?]

YYY

Douglas M. Sill

State Rep 16

(801)390-8875

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Kevin Bryan

State Rep 16

(801)726-2915

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Steve Handy *

State Rep 16

(801)546-1539

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YNY

Bonnie Peterson Flint

State Rep 17

(801)678-0299

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Stewart E. Barlow *

State Rep 17

(801)544-4708

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Doug Macdonald

State Rep 18

(801)451-5015

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Roger E. Barrus *

State Rep 18

(801)292-2266

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY  N/Y

Jim Nielson *

State Rep 19

(801)425-1737

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

“I Don’t do surveys”

Lynn Anderson

State Rep 19

(801)797-9955

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

David E. Lifferth

State Rep 2

(801)388-9124

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Becky Edwards *

State Rep 20

(801)295-2950

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YNY

Daniel N. Donahoe

State Rep 20

(801)294-5536

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Need to see specific legis.

David Lowe Swan

State Rep 21

(435)882-5448

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Douglas V. Sagers *

State Rep 21

(435)882-0931

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

William R. Bodine

State Rep 21

(435)850-3514

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

NNN

Marilee Roose

State Rep 22

(801)688-0228

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Susan ‘Sue’ Duckworth *

State Rep 22

(801)250-0728

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Jennifer ‘Jen’ Seelig *

State Rep 23

(801)519-2544

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY ?/Y

Richard DM Barnes

State Rep 23

(801)521-4400

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YNN

J. P. Hughes

State Rep 24

(801)558-6299

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Rebecca Chavez-Houck *

State Rep 24

(801)891-9292

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY (nuanced conditions)

Joel K. Briscoe *

State Rep 25

(801)583-2281

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Sinama Meli

State Rep 25

(801)463-1720

Repub

————————-

 

Andres Paredes

State Rep 26

(801)575-6330

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Angela Romero

State Rep 26

(801)973-2250

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Mike Kennedy

State Rep 27

(801)358-2362

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Scott Morgan

State Rep 27

(801)929-1023

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Brian S. King *

State Rep 28

(801)560-0769

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Rick Raile

State Rep 28

(801)583-9998

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Heidi Bitton

State Rep 29

(801)731-8932

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY N/Y

Lee B Perry *

State Rep 29

(435)734-2864

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY?

Jack R. Draxler *

State Rep 3

(435)752-2668

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Roger Donohoe

State Rep 3

(435)213-7760

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Fred C. Cox *

State Rep 30

(801)966-2636

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Not easy yes/no (qualified comments)

Janice Fisher *

State Rep 30

(801)250-2698

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Fred C Johnson

State Rep 31

(801)557-7849

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Larry Wiley *

State Rep 31

(801)487-8095

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Alain Balmanno

State Rep 32

(801)553-3513

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

LaVar Christensen *

State Rep 32

(801)571-8603

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Craig Hall

State Rep 33

(801)573-1774

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Liz Muniz

State Rep 33

(801)949-2192

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Celina L. Milner

State Rep 34

(801)671-3390

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Johnny Anderson *

State Rep 34

(801)205-7574

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Casey R Fitts

State Rep 35

(801)718-9817

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Chelsea Travis

State Rep 35

(801)859-1182

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Mark A. Wheatley *

State Rep 35

(801)264-8844

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Dana Dickson

State Rep 36

(801)440-6671

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Patrice Arent *

State Rep 36

(801)272-1956

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Anne-Marie Lampropou-los

State Rep 37

(801)232-3833

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Carol Spackman Moss *

State Rep 37

(801)272-6507

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Elias S. McGraw

State Rep 38

(801)577-6088

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Eric Hutchings *

State Rep 38

(801)963-2639

Repub

 

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Barbara Eubanks

State Rep 39

(801)706-9803

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Jim Dunnigan *

State Rep 39

(801)840-1800

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Doug Thompson

State Rep 4

(435)757-8343

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Edward Redd

State Rep 4

(435)752-3364

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Grace Sperry

State Rep 40

(801)824-5019

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Lynn N. Hemingway *

State Rep 40

(801)231-2153

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Dan McCay *

State Rep 41

(801)560-0400

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Jim Bird *

State Rep 42

(801)280-9056

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Earl Tanner

State Rep 43

(801)561-4594

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Jeff Bell

State Rep 43

(801)793-3908

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Christy Achziger

State Rep 44

(801)673-5550

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

John Jackson

State Rep 44

(801)566-4023

Unaffil

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Y Probably Y

Tim M. Cosgrove *

State Rep 44

(801)685-0673

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY ?/Y

Gary T Forbush

State Rep 45

(801)647-9302

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Steve Eliason *

State Rep 45

(801)673-4748

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Supports all 3 principles

Marie H. Poulson *

State Rep 46

(801)942-5390

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Wyatt J. Christensen

State Rep 46

(801)808-4679

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Chase Lantis

State Rep 47

(801)674-4037

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY N/Y

Ken Ivory *

State Rep 47

(801)694-8380

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Joseph S. Huey

State Rep 47

(801)230-2872

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Keven J. Stratton

State Rep 48

(801)836-6010

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Mark Quigley

State Rep 49

(801)999-8657

Dem

—————————-

YYY

Derek Brown *

State Rep 49

(801)703-1799

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Al Snyder

State Rep 5

(435)787-9551

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

R. Curt Webb *

State Rep 5

(435)757-3322

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Billie Gay Larson

State Rep 50

(801)254-9432

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Rich Cunningham

State Rep 50

(801)209-7966

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Russell G. Hatch

State Rep 50

(801)253-0882

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Greg  Hughes*

State Rep 51

(801)541-6127

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Sonja L. Jorgensen

State Rep 51

(801)548-0408

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Aaron M. Davis

State Rep 52

(801)556-0599

Unaffil

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Daniel Paget

State Rep 52

(801)860-9323

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

John Knotwell

State Rep 52

(801)230-1834

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Melvin R. Brown *

State Rep 53

(435)647-6512

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Chris Robinson

State Rep 54

(801)599-4397

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Kraig Powell*

State Rep 54

(435)654-5986

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

John G. Mathis

State Rep 55

(435)789-7316

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Kay J Christoffer-son

State Rep 56

(801)768-8914

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Leslie M. Dalton

State Rep 56

(801)492-9340

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Brian M. Greene

State Rep 57

(801)358-1338

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Scott A. Gygi

State Rep 57

(801)796-7853

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Spencer J. Cox

State Rep 58

(435)427-3678

Rep

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Benjamin Norton

State Rep 59

(801)850-7121

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YNY

Kenny Barlow

State Rep 59

(801)885-1910

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Val Peterson*

State Rep 59

(801)224-4473

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Gabrielle Hodson

State Rep 6

(801)735-8445

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Jake Anderegg

State Rep 6

(801)864-0790

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Dana Layton

State Rep 60

(801)226-1690

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Y? ?/Y

Emmanuel D. Kepas

State Rep 60

(801)226-6316

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY N/Y

Keith Grover*

State Rep 61

(801)319-0170

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Robert C. Patterson

State Rep 61

(801)374-2482

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Brent Holloway

State Rep 62

(435)319-0062

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Jon Stanard

State Rep 62

(435)229-8715

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Dean Sanpei*

State Rep 63

(801)372-1242

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Becky Lockhart *

State Rep 64

(801)361-5457

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Boyd Jay Petersen

State Rep 64

(801)471-0900

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Francis D Gibson *

State Rep 65

(801)491-3763

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Y ? ? (qualified comments)

Ken Bowers

State Rep 65

(801)669-4072

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Brian Hauglid

State Rep 66

(801)794-9387

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Mike McKell

State Rep 66

(801)836-7597

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Marc Roberts

State Rep 67

(801)592-2540

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Scott R. Parkin

State Rep 67

(801)754-3591

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YY N/Y?

Merrill Nelson

State Rep 68

(801)971-2172

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Paul J. McCollaum

State Rep 68

(435)864-3093

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Thomas E. Nedreberg

State Rep 68

(435)433-6634

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Christine F. Watkins *

State Rep 69

(435)650-1969

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Jerry B. Anderson

State Rep 69

(435)637-2548

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Y_Y

Linda Protzman

State Rep 7

(801)782-6616

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Ryan Wilcox*

State Rep 7

(801)334-7787

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Kay L. McIff*

State Rep 70

(435)896-4817

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

L. S. Brown

State Rep 70

(435)896-4864

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Wayne Y. Hoskisson

State Rep 70

(435)260-9045

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Billy Kehl

State Rep 71

(435)767-8726

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Brad Last *

State Rep 71

(435)635-7334

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Paul Sevy

State Rep 71

(435)272-3321

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Barry Evan Short

State Rep 72

(435)865-7369

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

John R. Westwood

State Rep 72

(435)586-6961

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Michael Noel*

State Rep 73

(435)616-5603

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Ty Markham

State Rep 73

(435)491-0230

UT Justice

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Lee Ann Riddoch

State Rep 74

(435)669-7323

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

V. Lowry Snow *

State Rep 74

(435)628-9110

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Don L. Ipson*

State Rep 75

(435)673-8216

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Randall Hinton

State Rep 75

(435)258-6339

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Cimarron Chacon

State Rep 75

(435)674-7342

Dem

 

—————————————-

YYY

Jared Paul Stratton

State Rep 8

 

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

‘Nick’ A. Velis

State Rep 8

(801)479-1972

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Jeremy Peterson *

State Rep 9

(801)390-1480

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Neil Hansen

State Rep 9

(801)393-1514

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Chelsea Woodruff

State Senate 1

(801)232-4560

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Luz Robles *

State Senate 1

(801)953-0905

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Aaron V. Osmond *

State Sen 10

(801)897-8127

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Mark Benson Madsen *

State Sen 13

(801)361-4787

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

John L. Valentine *

State Sen 14

(801)224-1693

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Curt Bramble*

State Sen 16

(801)226-3663

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Gregory C. Duerden

State Sen 16

 

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Allen M. Christensen*

State Sen 19

(801)782-5600

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Courtney White

State Sen 19

(801)389-4645

Libert

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Peter C. Clemens

State Sen 19

(801)782-8064

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Brent L. Andrews

State Sen 20

(801)773-6775

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Scott K. Jenkins *

State Sen 20

(801)731-5120

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

YNN

Breck England

State Sen 23

(801)231-2215

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Todd Weiler*

State Sen 23

(801)599-9823

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Ralph Okerlund *

State Sen 24

(435)527-3370

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Trestin Meacham

State Sen 24

(435)896-1948

Constit

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Lyle W. Hillyard *

State Sen 25

(435)753-0043

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

David P. Hinkins *

State Sen 27

(435)749-2828

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Michael L. ‘Mike’ Binyon

State Sen 27

(435)259-1633

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Evan J. Vickers

State Sen 28

(435)586-4399

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Geoffrey L. Chesnut

State Sen 28

(435)704-1566

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Steve Urquhart *

State Sen 29

(435)668-7759

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Terence W. Moore

State Sen 29

(435)634-1369

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

John Rendell

State Senate 6

 

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

Wayne A. Harper *

State Senate 6

(801)566-5466

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Aaron Davis

State Senate 7

(801)376-5626

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Deidre Henderson

State Senate 7

(801)787-6197

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Brian E Shiozawa

State Senate 8

(801)942-2958

Repub

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

?  Y  ?

Josie Valdez

State Senate 8

(801)264-8844

Dem

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

YYY

* = current House or Senate incumbent, although some are running in new districts because of redistricting

Right to initiative

Aug 21, 2012 (Salt Lake Tribune)

The latest Tribune editorial hits the nail right on the head! Read “Right to Initiative: Legislature has gutted it.”

Initiative Petitions: Utah law guts right

Aug 13, 2012 (Salt Lake Tribune)

Read the Trib’s August 12th editorial: ‘Initiative Petitions: Utah law guts right’

Dayton and polluters: An unsavory union

Feb 28, 2012 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Campaign spending

Jan 27, 2012 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Money in politics

Nov 11 2011 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Online democracy: Time to allow online petitions

Nov 03 2011 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Conflict of Interest

September 29, 2011 (Daily Herald)

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 . . ..

Campaign gifts

May 14 2011 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Right to petition: Online signature ban denies right

Apr 02 2011 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

A legal pursuit of ethics

March 26, 2011 (Ogden Standard-Examiner)

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.

Campaign gifts

Feb 23 2011 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Follow the money

Jan 18 2011 (Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Top Utah legislators get catered steak dinner thanks to lobbyists

November 15, 2010 (ABC 4 News)

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.

Jowers says,

“…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?

Campaign gifts

Oct 7, 2010 (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial)

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.

OUR VIEW: A ridiculous e-petition rule

July 18, 2010 (Ogden Standard Examiner)

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.

Initiative petitions

Jul 15, 2010 (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial)

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.

Signing petitions

Jul 12, 2010 (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial)

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.

Ethics commission

Jul 7, 2010 (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial)

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.

Petition hurdle

June 3, 2010 (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial)

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.

Initiative law too restrictive

April 23, 2010 (Deseret News editorial)

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.

Strict initiative rules could deny Utahns their rights

April 16, 2010 (Deseret News)

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.


Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

A bar too high

Updated: April 19, 2010 (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial)

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.

No vetoes - Herbert signs three outrageous bills

March 30, 2010 (Tribune Editorial)

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.
Some check.

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.

Signature removal

March 5, 2010 (Tribune Editorial)

Gov. Gary Herbert could not use his veto pen in a better cause than striking down SB275, which makes it easier for signers of initiative petitions to withdraw their signatures if they change their minds. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the bill. But the Legislature has gamed its effective date to make it easier for opponents of the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative to defeat it. Not by coincidence, those opponents include most members of the Legislature.

The state constitution reserves to the people the right to make laws through initiative petitions that place proposed laws on the general election ballot. That power is equal to the Legislature’s power to make laws. But the constitution allows the Legislature to set the procedural ground rules for how initiative petitions are circulated and how many signatures must be gathered. The Legislature has wielded this power repeatedly in recent years to hamstring the people’s initiative power with rules that are difficult to follow. SB275, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is the latest in this line of procedural hurdles.

SB275 would repeal a requirement in current law that a voter submit a notarized statement to a county clerk to have her signature removed from a petition. Instead, the voter could simply sign a statement requesting removal and including the name, address, last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number, a driver license or identity card number and the voter’s signature.

For a petition to qualify for the ballot, it must include a number of signatures equal to 10 percent of the vote cast for governor in the previous general election. That number is now 95,000. In addition, that 10 percent requirement must be met in 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts.

Petitioners must submit signature packets to county clerks by April 15. By May 15, the clerks must verify that each signature belongs to a registered voter. That gives initiative opponents from April 15 to May 15 to identify qualified signers and convince them to withdraw their names. Republican Party leaders already have said that they may join such a campaign if the signature count on the ethics petition is close.

Meanwhile, SB275 provides that unless Gov. Herbert vetoes it, the bill will become effective immediately upon his signature, or April 1 at the latest. The bill passed by two-thirds majorities in both houses.

If legislators want to change the rules, they at least should have the grace to wait until after the current election cycle to do it.

Campaign finance

Tribune Editorial, March 5, 2010

The only people opposed to reasonable limits on campaign contributions in Utah are those who make big donations, and those who take them.

The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy recommends caps. The people of Utah—74 percent in a recent public opinion poll—demand them. And 45 states see the obvious wisdom in having them. But not Utah.

A provision to cap annual contributions at $10,000 for statewide races and $5,000 for House and Senate races was stripped from a campaign finance reform bill last week. The limits would have applied to individual, corporate, union and political action committee donations. HB329 now focuses on tightening disclosure laws.

Many lawmakers claim campaign caps are unnecessary, that they cannot be swayed by contributions. But to deny that giving imparts a sense of entitlement, and receiving a sense of obligation, is to deny human nature. And to claim that transparency alone will erase the perception that politicians are bought and sold is to deny common sense. When citizens read the lists of contributors, it will confirm, not refute, their belief that contributions drive government spending and public policy.

Campaign cap foes in the Legislature claim that limiting donations will make politics the exclusive domain of the well-to-do. If that’s the case they should limit campaign spending, an option employed to varying degrees by at least 20 states.

They also maintain that campaign contributions are a form of free speech that should not be limited. That argument seems to confirm the belief that money talks in politics. It’s time that it plays a lesser role in the conversation.

Utah officeholders, candidates and political action committees collected $4 million in campaign contributions in 2009, a nonelection year. Gov. Gary Herbert gathered $1 million at a single event. It’s little wonder, considering that money can buy elections and incumbents have a decided fundraising advantage, that there’s no stomach for campaign contribution caps on Capitol Hill.

But there appears to be an appetite among citizens, who are floating a pair of ballot initiatives that include campaign contribution limits far more restrictive than the ones lawmakers nixed. One would ban corporate and union donations and cap individual contributions at $1,000 per year.

Many observers claim the citizen initiatives are driving ethics reform in the Legislature this year, as lawmakers try to prove to the public that they can police themselves. If that’s the case, the decision to forgo caps was a big mistake.

OUR VIEW: Utah House nixes spending limits

Standard-Examiner Editorial, March 5, 2010

We’d describe the latest effort by the Utah House’s majority party to strip away campaign spending limits as weaselly, but it would be an insult to compare weasels to campaign cash-grubbing pols.

Suffice it to say that earlier this week, House Bill 329 was sufficiently gutted to allow Utah to remain one of the handful of states that allows candidates to beg, borrow and gobble campaign cash without limits. The Utah House’s vote to change HB329 is a direct slap in the face to the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy, which last year recommended spending caps.

This is why the Utah Legislature should not be trusted to enact ethics reform: Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar City, a member of the governor’s commission who had supported the campaign limits, publicly changed his mind and urged the House to reject limits.

Frank said the issue was one of freedom of speech. That must be news to the 45 states that have campaign limits, as well as our federal government, which also has campaign cash limits.

House Republicans also claimed that HB329 was flawed in its language and had to be changed. They point to new reporting rules involving electronic filing as evidence the bill is still ethics reform. If that’s the least that can be done, we guess HB329’s changes could be construed as “ethics reform.”

However, legislators had a chance to adopt the commission’s recommendations. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, proposed capping donations at $40,000 for parties, $10,000 for state offices, and $5,000 for legislative offices. Needless to say, King’s proposal was defeated.

The legislative leadership is doing everything it can do to defeat legitimate ethics reform in this state. The fate of HB329 is just the latest example. It will be a travesty if the citizens legislative ethics initiatives fail to qualify for voter approval this fall. We urge people to sign the petitions. Information is at http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org/index.php/ueg/petition/

If the Legislature’s leadership defeats this grassroots effort to promote decency in government, we really have to ask ourselves, why do we keep electing these people to high office?

Polticians shouldn’t shy away from push for ethics commission

Glenn Mesa | Posted: JANUARY 22, 2010 (St. George Spectrum)

What do you do when there is a fast-approaching election with two candidates? Candidate A has an undistinguished past with little public service or involvement, has been a lobbyist and may have a shady past. Candidate B is squeaky-clean, regularly attends local and county political meetings, and promotes high moral values. Give up? If you live in Southern Utah, obviously, you vote for the Republican!

Now, before the truth begins to offend you, consider that during the last general election 79 percent of Washington County residents voted straight Republican Party. Clearly, there has to be some sort of political discernability. That is why several recent proposals for independent ethics commissions and code-of-conduct overseers for Utah legislators seem so logical and practical.

The commission should do what non-discreet Utah voters typically do year-in and year-out: Check to see how the politicos are behaving, hold them accountable, and then make their actions transparently public. As The Spectrum has reported, this move has made current politicians quite nervous. But it shouldn’t. If politicians are acting appropriately, and if they are honest, they should welcome scrutiny.

Three groups heading in this direction and gaining momentum are the Peoples Right LLC, Fair Boundaries Initiative and Utahns for Ethical Government. UEG takes aim at eliminating conflicts of interest while in office, especially the giving and receiving of money from lobbyists during and after office. Their efforts strive to keep citizens at the forefront of legislative decisions rather than being puppets for big business or other causes.

Political oversight appears to have overwhelming support from former/retired politicians. Most of these aforementioned folks have little to gain, yet, they appear to see the need to encourage current politicians to always act responsibly.

Here’s another compelling reason.

Energy Solutions (the same basketball arena sponsors of the Utah Jazz) is in the business of disposing depleted uranium. Currently, they are attempting to bring in more of it from Italy and are getting strong objections from the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and legal challenges from a federal appeals court in Denver. Depleted uranium is already buried here in Utah. But why ship it here? Why not bury it in Italy?

Presumably, because of the nuclear fallout fiasco of the 1950s, Utah Reps. Jim Matheson and Jason Chaffetz have co-sponsored legislation to ban most radioactive waste. Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Tribune reports, “Rep. Rob Bishop, a former lobbyist for (Energy Solutions) has not supported the legislation.” Morally, Bishop should be recused from debating and, especially, voting on this issue. An ethics commission on the federal could ensure that this happens.

I don’t, necessarily, support any particular oversight committees. However, I do strongly support the notion that elected public officials need to have a constant vigilance over their political actions.

Regardless of your political party affiliation, putting political oversight into place like this is a solid idea.

Glenn Mesa is a resident of St. George and a member of The Spectrum & Daily News Writers Group.

OUR VIEW: Hear petition appeal quickly

Standard-Examiner Editorial, Feb. 15, 2010

A legal resolution to the dispute between organizers of an ethics initiative and Republican state office holders over whether online petition signatures are legal needs to be resolved quickly. If the Utah Supreme Court needs to make the final call, the procedure must be hurried in order to allow those who have signed online petitions adequate time to sign paper petitions.

In our opinion, online petition gathering should be legal. The method has been used for a decade in state government business and it is easy to check the online signatures with voting records. In January, several groups seeking to put various initiatives on the ballot started gathering online signatures. One of those groups was Utahns for Ethical Government, which is seeking 95,000 signatures to enact ethical reforms on the behavior of Utah lawmakers. The Republican leadership in the Legislature strongly opposes these ethics reforms, which include a ban on gifts and an independent ethics commission that has some teeth.

This year there have been several ethics-related measures moving through the Legislature sponsored by Republicans. While they are a small improvement on past years’ efforts, they are essentially cosmetic measures. For example, there is no blanket ban on gifts, a proposed independent ethics commission is essentially toothless, and a proposed ban on pricy meals has a loophole that would allow groups of legislators free meals. The UEG initiative would end these abuses. It would restore ethics to a Legislature that for too long has tolerated standards that most would shun in their personal or professional lives.

Last week, Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, acting on the advice of Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, rejected the online petitions. Both Bell and Shurtleff are Republicans. The state Republican Party has already officially opposed the UEG ethics initiative. This has become a battle between the status quo and a grassroots effort to bring reform to our state’s political system. Those currently in power will fight it every step of the way. In fact, if the initiative gets on the ballot and passes, we expect a court challenge.

The Utah Supreme Court is the right venue to decide whether online signatures are allowable. We hope the justices will make a quick decision.

Initiative Petitions

Tribune Editorial, Feb. 14, 2010

According to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Utah law does not allow people to sign initiative petitions electronically. While only a court can determine whether Shurtleff is correct, his analysis of the letter of the law is solid. What is missing from his opinion, however, is the spirit of the Utah Constitution, which enshrines the people’s ability to make law through initiatives as a constitutional right.

We believe that because the state allows people to use electronic signatures to complete legal transactions with government agencies, the state also should allow registered voters to sign initiative petitions the same way.

This is much more than a hypothetical question. It goes to the heart of our democracy. It is critical to the citizens groups that currently are circulating separate petitions to reform legislative ethics, redistricting and taxes. They are faced with the monumental task of collecting 95,000 signatures of registered voters statewide in 26 of 29 senate districts by April 15. The legality of signatures collected on secure Web sites could make or break their efforts to place proposals for new laws before the voters in November.
That’s what’s at stake here.

The attorney general is correct that the state constitution allows the Legislature to set the conditions in which citizens may exercise the initiative power, and the laws governing initiative petitions are all about collecting conventional signatures on paper. They do not anticipate or address electronic signatures.

However, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act allows state agencies to set up the means and rules to allow electronic signatures for transactions between two parties. Shurtleff argues that the act does not apply to initiative petitions because the state has made no effort to extend its provisions to initiatives and to make rules that would govern such a process. He’s right about that. A court would have to rule very broadly in defense of the constitutional right of the people to make law through initiatives for the current petitioners to carry the day.

That said, there is no technological reason why secure Web sites cannot provide protections against fraudulent signatures on petitions, and electronic databases could be easier for election officials to verify than reams of paper.

The Legislature traditionally has been hostile to initiative petitions. But in this Internet age, if the courts will not provide for the circulation and signing of petitions electronically, the Legislature should. To do otherwise unjustifiably hobbles an important constitutional right.

OUR VIEW: Ethical fantasies

Standard-Examiner Editorial, Jan. 29, 2010

Watching Republicans in the Utah Legislature try to enact ethics reform is a little like trying to get the family dog to stop chewing the cable wires in the backyard. They just don’t understand what we’re trying to tell them.

Watching these pathetic efforts to try to police themselves, we sincerely hope the citizen ethics proposals get enough signatures to get on the ballot this fall.

Senate Joint Resolution 3, sponsored by State Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is allegedly an effort at ethics reform by Republicans in the Legislature. It’s really a fantasy by a party so comfortable with its perks, legislative intimidation tactics and cozy relationships with lobbyists that too many of its members have ceased to understand that unethical behavior is repugnant to the rest of us.

Depending on your mood — laugh or cry at SJR3. It forbids the public from reporting that an ethics complaint has been filed against a lawmaker unless four of five appointees to a planned weak ethics commission decide a violation has occurred.

The ethics commission would have no disciplinary power. It could only forward the complaint on to a legislative committee. That committee would then make a recommendation for a full — Republican dominated — House or Senate vote.

All the ethics commission hearings and documents would be closed to the public unless the required 80 percent vote of members occurred. If word of a complaint was provided to the public, the complaint would instantly be dismissed by the ethics commission.

There’s more mirth: Only registered voters can file complaints, and at least two have to unite to file a complaint. Lawmakers who file complaints don’t need to provide knowledge of wrongdoing. If a complaint gets a legislative hearing, the media can inform the public, but no cameras or recorders are allowed.

And finally, here’s one more cover-your-rear provision: No ethics complaints would be allowed 60 days prior to a primary or election vote. In other words, that’s four months out of the year a corrupt lawmaker can escape responsibility.

Valentine’s ethics rule is a fantasy, and lawmakers in the Legislature should be ashamed to support it. Hopefully, proposals such as SJR3 are last-gasp enabling tactics by a legislative leadership sorely in need of ethics reform.

OUR VIEW: Ethics = open government

Standard-Examiner Editorial, Feb. 10, 2010

The Utah Legislature is trying to be a little bit more ethical. It’s a welcome shift from years past, when legislators have claimed that keeping or swapping campaign cash or accepting $49.99 gifts was as ethical as they were going to get.

Nevertheless, there has been some improvement, initiated by legislators’ real fears that a citizens ethics initiative — if it gets on the ballot and is passed this fall — will impose a level of ethics they don’t feel comfortable with. Such levels include a complete ban on gifts and an ethics investigation procedure that does not hinder public access to the investigation.

That brings us to Senate bills 136 and 138, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem. Valentine is the sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 3. SJR3 establishes an ethics commission and details how complaints can proceed. Not surprisingly, SJR3 is a very weak measure crafted, in our opinion, more to protect lawmakers rather than uncovering ethical violations. Our concern today is with Valentine’s companion measures, SB136 and SB138. Both are deliberate efforts to make sure the media, and the public, are hindered in their access to ethics investigations.

SB136, if passed, amends the state open-meetings law so that the ethics commission investigates complaints behind locked doors. SB138, conversely, makes sure that any documents related to an investigation that fails to get four votes in the commission are forever banned from public scrutiny. Unless four out of five ethics committee members agree that an ethics complaint moves forward, the matter dies a very silent death.

Although the legislative majority doesn’t realize this, you cannot have strong ethics in government without an open government. Exempting a legislative ethics commission from the Utah open-meetings statute is by itself unethical. We agree with Linda Petersen, president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government, who says that at the very least, legislators should release ethics investigation findings after a commission is finished.

Valentine’s trio, SJR3, SB136 and SB138, are feeble half-measures. We wouldn’t even be getting this ethical gruel from lawmakers if there wasn’t the possibility of stronger ethics initiatives in the future. We urge readers to sign the Utahns for Ethical Government petition to get the citizens ethics reform initiative on the ballot. Voters can sign the petition online at http://ueg.utahpetitions.org/

Not the Holy Grail

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, Jan. 24, 2010

If it were the only proposal on the table, proponents of good government would probably be pleased with the ethics reform package unveiled by Utah House Republicans this week. Of course, if there weren’t other proposals on the table, GOP leaders would never have suggested such expansive change.

After decades of inaction followed by a few years of creeping ethics reform in the Legislature, a healthy dose of skepticism is justified. The knee-jerk reaction would be to label the Legislature’s bills as a way for lawmakers to cut their losses, and make it less likely that more restrictive measures contained in a pair of citizens’ ballot initiatives are approved. And that may well be the motive.
The Legislature’s ethics package would create an ethics commission, limit campaign contributions, broaden gift disclosure requirements, increase the frequency of filing campaign finance reports and require more information to be revealed on lawmakers’ conflict of interest forms. Majority House Republicans, meeting in a closed-door caucus session, agreed to back the bills. The GOP Senate caucus discussed the measures but took no position.

To say the package is a step in the right direction would be an understatement. These are solid measures that would bring Utah law more in line with other states, and should be approved. But to say it’s the giant leap that’s needed to restore the public’s faith in the Legislature, and hold lawmakers accountable, would be an exaggeration.

The measures fall far short of “far-reaching reform,” a phrase that better describes the citizen initiatives. Organizers are attempting to gather 95,000 signatures of registered voters by April 15 to place the proposals on the November ballot.
While we can’t yet speak to the particulars — House Republicans only released a summary of their ethics package — it’s safe to say that the scope of the citizen initiatives far exceeds the reach of the legislative proposal. There’s no ban on gifts from lobbyists or campaign donations from corporations. The contributions cap for individual donations is way too high. There are no restrictions on personal use of campaign donations by sitting lawmakers, and the votes of four of the five ethics commission members would be required to forward a complaint to the Legislature for disposition.

Worse, lawmakers will attempt to place their ethics commission plan on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, which means that if the initiatives and the amendment are all approved, the lawmakers’ weaker ethics commission proposal would become the law of the land. Lawmakers should simply enact the commission into law, then step back and let voters have their say in November.

House for sale

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, Jan. 17, 2010

The good news: At least somebody made money in Utah last year. The bad news: The people raking it in are state politicians.
Utah officeholders, candidates and political action committees collected nearly $4 million in campaign contributions in 2009. It’s a tidy sum for a poor economy in a nonelection year.

State lawmakers, who could cap campaign contributions but won’t, collected a combined $1 million. Senate President Michael Waddoups led the pack with $79,000, much of it unsolicited. It shows how ingrained the giving has become.

The Utah Association of Realtors was the biggest contributor with donations of about $148,000, and was joined on the podium by NuSkin ($120,000) and EnergySolutions ($96,550). Big corporations and special interest groups try to capture the ear and influence the votes of lawmakers by greasing their palms. And, as one of just five states with no limits on campaign contributions, Utah makes it easy.
That could change. As officeholders and candidates began filing their campaign finance reports earlier this month, The Peoples Right, LLC, was holding public hearings, part of the process to place a pair of voter initiatives on the November ballot.
The group’s timing couldn’t have been better. Its aptly named “anti-bribery” initiative would ban corporate and union donations, and cap individual contributions at $1,000 per calendar year. And its “anti-corruption” initiative would rightly prohibit candidates from converting campaign funds to their personal use. Supporters now must gather 95,000 signatures of registered voters by April 15.
It brings to three the number of groups filing ethics-related initiatives, including Utahns for Ethical Government, which is pushing a comprehensive legislative-ethics and campaign-finance reform package. The UEG proposal includes caps on contributions, a gift ban, a legislative code of conduct and an independent legislative ethics commission.

Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, said initiative applications have been filed “willy nilly,” and criticized ethics initiative organizers for not first discussing their concerns with the interim ethics committee that he chairs. “Government by initiative,” Dougall said, “is typically not the best way to go about things.”

But in this case, it’s the only way.

Despite numerous public opinion polls proving Utahns favor far-reaching campaign finance and ethics reforms, the Legislature has done far too little to address those legitimate concerns. Now, the people are taking matters into their own hands, as the state constitution allows, and the situation demands.

OUR VIEW: Gun supporters gone wild

Standard-Examiner Editorial, Dec. 23, 2009

This Christmas season, we wonder if some of the leaders of Gun Owners of Utah have enjoyed one eggnog too many.

How else to explain the interest group’s utterly bizarre fear that a grassroots proposal designed to make Utah’s lawmakers behave ethically could lead to a gun registry.

We understand readers may be confused at this point. One wonders: what in the blazes does a gun registry have to do with ending the unhealthy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Here’s the “reasoning” of Gun Owners of Utah. Because the citizens initiative would require lawmakers to disclose any property that might be subject to regulation, Gun Owners of Utah thinks that would lead to a gun registry. The organization has blasted out an e-mail to its members urging them not to sign a petition to get the ethics initiative on the ballot next year.

We await Guns Owners of Utah’s next e-mail warning that getting the ethics reform initiative on the ballot next year might result in an influx of black helicopters in Utah skies.

Seriously though, we understand that despite its title, Gun Owners of Utah does not represent the vast majority of Utah gun owners. Most Utah gun owners understand that the ethics initiative is only concerned with a lawmaker’s property that may result in a financial conflict of interest. Can we make this any clearer: If you own a gun, the ethics initiative next year is no threat to you. Unfortunately, because of the idiotic e-mail, a substantial number of residents are receiving hysterical false information from a silly organization.

Unfortunately, the Gun Owners of Utah hysteria impressed one Top of Utah legislator. Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, believes that there might be merit to Gun Owners of Utah’s claim. We’d like to think that Oda is just engaging in some political cynicism, that he is using the hysteria as an excuse to pile on the citizens initiative that most Republicans in our Legislature — for personal reasons — oppose. The alternative — that Oda actually believes the Gun Owners of Utah nonsense — is far more disturbing.

It’s long past the time necessary for Oda’s constituents to give him a reality check. And, Gun Owners of Utah could use one, too.

Ethics Reform

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, Dec. 18, 2009

Time and again, opinion polls have shown that a majority of Utahns favor far-reaching legislative ethics reforms. But time and again, lawmakers have failed to deliver all but cosmetic changes.

That disconnect, and the resulting disenchantment with democracy, is best reflected in the state’s abysmal voting rates, one of the signs that citizens are increasingly disengaged. Kirk Jowers, acting chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy, said Utahns are “less likely to cast a ballot than citizens in 47 other states.”

The 19-member commission, a mix of elected and community leaders, was formed to increase citizen participation and restore faith in government by recommending changes to state lobbying regulations, and election and campaign finance statutes. And it should be commended for its yearlong effort and common-sense proposals released last week.

But the commission’s recommendations and findings are not binding. Only the Legislature, or the people via ballot initiatives, can enact laws. And the commission did not address all areas of concern. Under pressure from legislative leaders, former Gov. Jon Huntsman removed legislative redistricting laws and ethics laws from the commission’s purview.

Topping the commission’s wish list is the creation of an Elections, Lobbying and Campaign Finance Enforcement Commission to ensure compliance with state laws, a sound idea. The governor’s commission also recommends that the state cap campaign contributions, but the proposed donation limits are too high to curb the influence of major contributors on the political process and remove the appearance of corruption.

Other common-sense proposals would strengthen campaign finance reporting requirements, streamline voter registration, remove a loophole that allows lawmakers to lobby the Legislature immediately after leaving office, and make it easier for overseas military personnel to vote.

Those are good ideas, but they hardly qualify as far-reaching reform that will restore trust in government. Better bets for Beehive State voters are a pair of proposed ballot initiatives. One would establish an independent redistricting commission to advise state lawmakers on redrawing legislative districts after each census. The second would force substantive ethics reform, including a gift ban, reasonable limits on campaign contributions, a strict code of ethics for lawmakers and an independent ethics commission to enforce it.

Even if state lawmakers embrace the commission’s recommendations and implement the suggested reforms, citizens would be better served by the ballot initiatives.

Utah ethics reform left to voting public

The Herald Journal, Dec. 6, 2009

If Utah residents don’t get behind the current voter initiative on legislative ethics reform, they’ll get what they deserve: a branch of government ripe for corruption. Actually, that’s what they already have. As things now stand, campaign contributions, conflicts of interest and perks from lobbyists are so loosely regulated that no legislative session passes without questionable conduct by lawmakers. But that’s all it ever amounts to — questions. No real accountability results from the annual ethics controversies plaguing the Utah Legislature. Since legislators themselves have shown no inclination to close the gaping regulatory holes, a voter initiative has become the only way to address the problem. It’s a risky step, however, because if voters don’t act now, they’ll send a message to Capitol Hill that the status quo is acceptable, virtually guaranteeing no reform for years to come. Here are the key elements of the proposed law:

  * It would ban gifts by lobbyists to legislators.
  * It would prohibit legislators and candidates from using campaign money for personal expenditures.
  * It would prohibit a candidate from giving his own campaign money to other candidates.
  * It would ban corporations from giving directly to candidates.
  * It would ban legislators from being paid lobbyists while serving in the Legislature and for two years thereafter.
  * It would establish an ethics commission to hear complaints of ethical violations by legislators and, where merited, recommend sanctions.

The annual showering of gifts, Jazz tickets, free meals and other perks on legislatures has caused a lot of grumbles from the press and the public over the years. Though shameful, this is really a minuscule ethical problem compared some of the other unchecked practices, such as allowing candidates to use campaign money for personal expenditures. If a candidate can spend campaign cash on a flat-screen TV, to send his kids to college or to make a down payment on a house, how is this any different from bribe money? With no current limit on campaign contributions and no restriction on corporate giving, the opportunity for abuse is enormous. The ethics initiative has won endorsements from several former legislators, including former state representative and governor Olene Walker. There’s a reason many of the initiative’s backers are former instead of current office holders. First, they no longer benefit from the perks and loopholes, and second, they no longer face political pressure to fall in line. Clearly, the only way something is going to get done is if voters take this bull by the horns.

OUR VIEW: Utah GOP fails ethics test

Standard-Examiner, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009

The Utah Republican Party is officially opposed to a legislative ethics initiative that will be on the ballot next fall if sponsors can get the required number of signatures.

The irony is that it’s quite likely most Utah Republicans support the initiative. Polls tab the initiative at about 85 percent support. Our former Republican state legislator and governor, Olene Walker, is a supporter.

We’re not surprised that the Republican leadership in Utah opposes ethics reform. Republican leaders in Utah’s Legislature have spent decades creating a legislative ethics cesspool that is simply an embarrassment. Even the most basic ethics standards are ignored in Utah. Advocates for ethical government have attempted each legislative session to implement standards but legislative leaders refuse to entertain serious ethics reform. The best “ethics reform” we get from the Utah Republican-dominated Legislature are feckless, timid proposals that protect the powerful and keep legislators smothered with freebies and campaign cash that they can spread around at will.

Here is what the ethics initiative would do. It’s straight from the Web site of Utahns for Ethical Government, the sponsor of the initiative. (http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org/ [1]) The initiative:

* Bans gifts by lobbyists to legislators

* Bans legislators and candidates from using campaign money for personal expenditures

* Bans a candidate from giving his own campaign money to other candidates

* Bans corporations from giving directly to candidates

* Bans legislators from being paid lobbyists while serving in the Legislature and for 2 years thereafter

* Places caps on personal and PAC donations to candidates

The initiative also sets up an independent ethics commission to investigate ethical complaints.

These are not radical proposals. Most states already have them. They are common-sense guidelines for ethical behavior in government. They promote honesty and integrity and keep our legislators accountable to their constituents, rather than lobbyists and others with lots of cash.

The Legislative leadership likes their freebies. It’s apparent they’ll do everything they can to stop popular ethics reform, including a likely court challenge if we enact it via a popular vote. Utahns need to ask their Republican legislators why their party has a problem with good government. And please, sign the ethics initiative petitions. Don’t let the special interests stop this grassroots effort.

For those who wish to learn more about the initiative, there will be a debate Monday in Ogden at 11:30 a.m. at Weber State University’s Shepherd Union Wildcat Theater. Former Republican legislator Kim Burningham will speak in favor of the ethics intiative, State Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, will speak in opposition to it. The debate, open to all, is sponsored by the Richard Richards Institute for Politics at WSU.

Who wants ethics reform?

Deseret News, Friday, Nov. 27, 2009

Utah’s GOP says it opposes the ethics reform initiative currently in circulation. This, party leaders say, does not mean they oppose “meaningful measures to ensure ethical behavior.”

That position would be much more believable if the party, which has enjoyed control of the state Legislature and governor’s office for decades, had ever pushed for such a thing. If Republicans truly want meaningful ethics reform, nothing is stopping them.

Instead, some GOP legislative leaders are just now beginning to express support for campaign contribution limits, obviously spurred by hopes of heading off the initiative, whose backers hope to place it on next November’s ballot.

The party’s stance on the initiative became news this week at about the same time South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was in the news again because of charges that, among other things, he used campaign funds to reimburse himself for personal expenses related to an extramarital affair he was carrying on with a woman in Argentina.

That should be of particular interest to Utahns, because what Sanford did with campaign cash would not be considered a crime in Utah. Here, politicians are free to use the money people donate to their campaigns for anything they like. If nothing else, Sanford’s alleged use of such money for an affair that interfered with his duties as an officeholder makes a convincing case for the need for tighter rules.

This is not meant as a condemnation of all GOP lawmakers, nor does it let Democrats completely off the hook, either. But a party with as much power as Republicans have enjoyed in Utah must take responsibility for its inability to act.

During the last legislative session, new House Speaker Dave Clark made ethics reform an area of emphasis, marking the first time that had happened. His commendable efforts resulted in some reforms, but they did not go nearly far enough. Time and time again, Utah lawmakers make excuses for not enacting reforms that seem to work just fine in other states.

Earlier this year, the Center for Public Integrity in Washington gave Utah an F grade for its financial disclosure standards. Even if the ethics laws passed last winter were taken into account, the score would not improve that grade. Only Idaho, Michigan and Vermont scored lower.

The ethics initiative is not perfect. We believe strong reporting rules are more effective than limits on campaign contributions, which tend to favor incumbents. Other aspects may need some refining, should the measure become law. But it is clear that the initiative has prodded a move toward ethics reform that wasn’t going to happen on its own.

Ethics commission

Salt Lake Tribune, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009

Maybe Utah lawmakers have seen the light and simply want to hold themselves accountable.

Or maybe they’re hearing footsteps, as members of Utahns for Ethical Government pound the street gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to institute far-reaching legislative ethics reform.

Motivation aside, one has to view a proposed resolution that cleared the Legislature’s Interim Ethics Committee last week as a positive step toward ethical governance.

The measure, if approved by the Legislature, would establish an independent five-member ethics commission with subpoena powers. Composed of retired judges and former lawmakers, the commission would serve as a grand jury of sorts, gathering evidence, holding hearings and screening complaints filed against sitting state lawmakers. The bill would also allow private citizens to lodge ethics complaints against legislators.

It would be a better bill if the ethics complaint process were more transparent, if commission members were not handpicked by legislative leaders, and if the commission sat in actual judgment of accused lawmakers instead of just screening complaints and making recommendations to legislative ethics committees.

The commission would operate secretly. Complaints would be sealed, a gag order would be imposed on all participants and commission meetings would be held behind closed doors. And a complaint wouldn’t be made public unless, and until, it were forwarded to either the House or Senate ethics committees for formal adjudication. Punishment could include censure or expulsion from the Legislature.

Still, it’s good medicine for a sick system, similar in some ways to the independent ethics commission composed of citizens that the UEG’s ballot initiative would establish.

But, without the rigid code of legislative conduct that’s part and parcel of the ballot proposal, the commission proposed by the Interim Ethics Committee is not a cure for unethical government.

The ballot initiative includes a gift ban, limits on campaign contributions, a prohibition on spending campaign funds for personal expenses and other key provisions that would hold the Legislature to a high standard. It is supported by 35 former state lawmakers and former Gov. Olene Walker, but opposed by the Utah Republican Party and legislative leaders, who can’t seem to see the handwriting on the wall.

Lawmakers should adopt all of these common-sense proposals contained in the initiative into law, or risk having the electorate do it for them.

Ethical Conduct

The Spectrum, November 15, 2009

Constituents expect their lawmakers to act with integrity. Although most elected officials perform their duties in an ethical manner, the actions of a few and the contents of certain laws breed distrust.

Many Utahns have, at one time or another, questioned the ethics of people who hold public offices. Few have done anything about it – until now, that is.

A group known as Utahns for Ethical Government is pushing an initiative that would change the landscape of Utah politics. The question is by how much.

The group proposes several changes to Utah law that would create an independent review commission, limit who could contribute to campaigns and limit dollar amounts that could be contributed to campaigns. Some Utahns support the move. Others, including many lawmakers, don’t like the plan.

Utahns for Ethical Government wants to create an independent commission to review ethics complaints from other lawmakers or the public. The group would be politically independent, with Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature unanimously selecting a pool of people, of which five would be chosen at random to serve.

The commission would have subpoena powers but would only provide recommendations, with final authority still resting with the Legislature, which is required under the state Constitution.

The proposal would limit contributions to $2,500 from individuals, $5,000 from political action committees and would eliminate contributions from businesses. The plan also would close the loopholes for lobbying by preventing lawmakers from serving in such a role until after they have been out of office for two years.

The commission would screen complaints to eliminate frivolous claims. Its meetings would be subject to open meetings laws. And the documents it generates would be subject to the state’s open-records laws.

The proposal is a good first step toward making sure elected officials’ actions are scrutinized in public, especially after a screening process conducted by an independent commission.

The only hesitation is whether this move goes far enough. For example, contributions may be eliminated from companies, and PACs may have a limit that doesn’t exist now. But more PACs can be created. And the Legislature still would act as judge and jury on any complaint, which doesn’t sit well with some Utahns.

The Legislature’s interim committee has been working on a plan of its own, which would create a commission comprised of three retired judges and two retired lawmakers to consider complaints behind closed doors. Any complaints determined to have merit would be forwarded to the accused lawmaker’s ethics committee for a public trial.

Again, this is a positive step, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Utahns have grown tired of money translating into influence. They want more transparency in all areas of government. Ethics reform will help satisfy that desire.

The lawmakers’ plan is too deficient. The Utahns for Ethical Government plan, while not perfect, is a positive step and deserves serious consideration.

OUR VIEW: A little bit of ethics reform

Standard-Examiner staff Editorial, October 27, 2009

It’s pretty clear why Utah’s legislators are proposing their version of an independent ethics committee. They fear a lot more ethics reform is coming from voters next fall. Maybe, legislators are thinking, if we pass this little bit of ethics reform, we can convince voters we don’t need the more serious reform.

Here’s what a legislative interim study committee came up with. To be fair, it goes farther than previous ethics initiatives hatched by lawmakers. It may also be revised in committee or during debate next year. It would form an independent ethics commission made up of two former lawmakers and three retired judges. All complaints against legislators would be reviewed in secret. If a complaint was leaked to the public, it would be dropped.

In order for a charge to be made public, the panel would have to vote 5-0 or 4-1 in support of the charges. A majority 3-2 vote wouldn’t be enough. If there was a 5-0 or 4-1 vote, the commission would pass the now-public complaint on to the appropriate ethics committee, House or Senate. Eventually the entire chamber, House or Senate, would vote on the ethics committee’s punishment recommendation.

This hastily hatched ethics commission bill has problems. Perhaps our biggest concern is with moving an ethics complaint with only a 4-1 and 5-0 vote by the commission. With that, there appears to be a high possibility for ethics complaints never reaching the media, and by extension, the public. Even if a complaint has teeth, it could still be suppressed and never heard with two votes out of five. Partisanship could sink transparency, in other words.

In our opinion, if the Legislature wants to pass any bill that provides a little bit more ethical accountability to lawmakers, that’s great. Utah is sorely behind other states in requiring ethical behavior from its lawmakers. However, if stricter, much-needed ethics reform is on the ballot next fall, its passage should take precedence over the mild ethics reform that is being discussed.

Utah legislators need a very cold shower in regard to ethics. Too many legislators believe it is perfectly OK to take gifts from lobbyists, use campaign cash for non-campaign expenses and dole out their campaign cash to other candidates. There are no limits on campaign contributions in Utah. Our state’s weak ethics enforcers are powerless to effect serious reform.

The tradition that has tolerated low ethical standards needs to be ended. Small, frantic reforms by lawmakers are likely too late.

Dinner Bell

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, October 16, 2009

A complimentary football ticket here and there. A tent, a couple of sleeping bags, a Dutch oven. And free meal after free meal after free meal.

The quarterly spending reports from lobbyists who court the Utah Legislature are trickling in, and once again lobbyists have identified the stomach as the best path to a lawmaker’s heart. Of the $10,000 in spending reported to date, more than $7,000 was for meals.

That figure will rise as more reports are filed. And lobbyist spending will increase by orders of magnitude as the 2010 legislative session draws near, and an army of paid persuaders vie to catch the ear of lawmakers.

Of course, we’d love to tell you who has been dipping their spoons in lobbyist stew. But the law has loopholes you could drive a catering truck through; loopholes designed to keep the names of most gift recipients out of the public record.

Lobbyists are only required to disclose the names of their dining guests if a meal costs $25 or more. Likewise, meals offered and served to a group of lawmakers — a legislative committee, a party caucus or even the entire Legislature — must be reported, but lobbyists don’t have to name names.

By buying legislators a meal, lobbyists buy themselves, and thus their clients, a captive audience. It’s not polite to talk with your mouth full, so lobbyists pitch and woo while lawmakers listen and chew. At best, the process is unappetizing.

While lobbyists and the people who pay them have every right to be heard, they shouldn’t be allowed to buy access. Instead, they could meet lawmakers at the office, or at the library, or on a park bench. They could ask to testify at committee hearings. There’s no need to dirty knives and forks, and give the public the perception that their elected representatives are selling their souls for sole.

For years, the public has made clear its distaste for lobbyist largesse, and its support of a gift ban. In a KSL -Deseret News poll published last month, 81 percent of respondents backed a ban on gifts from lobbyists. But lawmakers have repeatedly passed on the chance to enact a gift ban.

Now, the public can take matters into its own hands. Utahns for Ethical Government is circulating petitions to place an initiative on the election ballot that includes substantive ethics reform, including a ban on all gifts except “light refreshments,” which not even lawmakers and lobbyists can define as a four-course meal.

Then, if the petition drive is successful and the public’s opinion at the polls matches the public opinion polls, the gravy train will at long last run out of track.

Utah ethics in need of correction

SUU Journal Editorial Board Editorial, October 26, 2009

Utah has long been riddled with complaints of ethics violations on the part of its legislators, but the responsibility to discipline those members has always fallen to the legislature itself.

It’s time for an independent ethics commission in Utah.

In August, a group called Utahns for Ethical Government launched a grass-roots campaign for a new ballot initiative.

According to UEG, the ballot measure establishes a non-partisan citizen ethics commission and a strict code of conduct to govern the ethical behavior of Utah legislators.

This law would establish a five-member commission with commissioners drawn at random from a list of 20 independent-minded citizens who are chosen by unanimous agreement of the president of the Senate, speaker of the House, and the two minority leaders of the Utah Legislature.

The commission would rule on issues of ethics violations and make recommendations to the legislature based on a code of conduct that would be established.

The University Journal Editorial Board supports this ballot initiative that will require Utah legislators to think twice before they accept some gifts and reduces the chance for conflicts of interest.

There have been many vocal opponents of this measure, including U.S. Representative for Utah’s 1st Congressional District Republican Rob Bishop, who claims this initative will only add to government bureaucracy.

The law, however, would establish the commissioners as non-salaried and only a small support staff as needed.

Many opponents of this ballot initiative have contended that it’s largely a democratic measure aimed at taking away the rights of the majority, despite the fact that several republicans head this campaign with broad bipartisan support including former Utah Gov. Olene Walker.

We think the new guidelines that this law would set, including citizens having a say on ethics by way of the commission, gifts to legislators and restrictions for sitting on corporate boards make this an important initiative.

We urge citizens of Utah to become informed on the issue and support this measure.

For more information visit http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org.

Campaign Finance

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, September 18, 2009Campaign finance

Limiting campaign contributions would limit the ability of challengers to unseat incumbents, and could discourage some contenders from stepping into the ring. So sayeth — you guessed it — the incumbents.

It’s not a winning argument. It’s not even a rational argument. And it may be disingenuous, considering the source: multiple members of the Utah Legislature’s Government Operations Committee.

Committee members last week lambasted a campaign finance reform proposal from the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy. They even had the audacity to question if reasonable limits on campaign contributions would improve the public’s trust in government and participation in the political process, the overarching goal of the Governor’s Commission.

The commission, charged with identifying the source of public cynicism that is manifested in abysmal voting rates, has recommended capping contributions from each individual or corporation at $4,000 per candidate per election cycle for statewide offices and $2,000 for legislative races.

In our view, caps on contributions are the only way to erase the perception that politicians are being bought, and to level a playing field where incumbents have decided advantages.

Incumbents have superior name recognition, thanks to news coverage of public proceedings and prior campaigns. They have visibility, accepting invitations to speak to organizations, attend picnics and ride in parades. And big donors, while they may hedge their bets by throwing a few bucks the challenger’s way, prefer to invest in a proven winner.

Because the governor’s commission is a mere advisory board, its recommendations are not binding on the Legislature. That impotence, combined with lawmakers’ knee-jerk rejection of the campaign finance proposal, makes its passage appear unlikely.

Unless the public can seize on the suggestion and use it to shame lawmakers into capping contributions, the recommendation doesn’t stand a chance.

That’s too bad. Utah is one of just four states that allows unlimited donations to political campaigns. Opinion polls have proven time and again that an overwhelming majority of Utahns — 74 percent according to a recent KSL-Deseret News poll — support reasonable caps on contributions like those proposed by the Governor’s Commission.

While lawmakers insist contributions won’t buy their allegiance or their re-election, in the eyes of the public it’s a questionable claim.

Signature Moment

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, September 18, 2009

You’ll likely be approached in coming months to sign a petition to place an initiative on the 2010 general election ballot to establish a much-needed code of conduct for the Utah Legislature. The proposal, proffered by the frustrated folks at Utahns for Ethical Government, would also establish a nonpartisan, independent ethics commission to help assure lawmakers toe the line.

Before you sign, or worse, before you don’t, answer the following questions that speak to some of the specifics in the proposal:

Should state lawmakers and their family members be allowed to accept valuable gifts from paid lobbyists?

Should candidates for state offices be allowed to spend campaign contributions for personal expenses?

Should lawmakers be required to disclose financial and business interests that could create conflicts of interest when they ponder legislation?

Should corporations, unions, partnerships and nonprofit corporations be allowed to influence elections and buy access to politicians by making campaign contributions?

Should individuals and political action committees be allowed to donate unlimited funds to political campaigns?

Should lawmakers work as paid legislative lobbyists while serving?

A reasonable person who desires honest, open, responsive government would answer “no” to each of those questions. But a single “no” should be sufficient for your signature. Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that an overwhelming majority of Utahns favor substantive legislative ethics reforms. And legislative sessions have repeatedly proven that when it comes to ethics reform, an overwhelming majority of Utah lawmakers couldn’t care less about the desires of their constituents. Year after year reform bills are introduced and die, and the will of the people is denied.

Already, Republican lawmakers are banding together to brand the ballot initiative as unnecessary.

At a House GOP caucus meeting this week, leadership circulated a memo criticizing the initiative, and asked members to attend public hearings and discredit the proposal.

In the Senate, leaders said the code of conduct and independent ethics commission would deter qualified individuals from seeking public office.

Frankly, that’s absurd. And it leads to one more question: If an individual is unwilling to serve because he or she would have to abide by these simple rules that encourage good government and ethical conduct, do you really want that person running for office? We thought not.

The Ethics Initiative

KSL Editorial, September 14, 2009

The group known as Utahns for Ethical Government is about to hold seven public hearings throughout the state as they advance their timely effort to place an ethics reform initiative on the ballot in 2010. KSL encourages Utahns to attend those hearings to learn about the initiative and to let their feelings be known.

State law requires the hearings be held before the group can begin circulating petitions and gathering signatures. Clearly, the initiative process isn’t easy. Lawmakers intentionally made it that way a few years ago out of concern such initiatives would proliferate and special interest groups would rally the citizenry to bypass the traditional lawmaking process.

KSL shares lawmakers’ general concern about excessive legislating by initiative. Sometimes, though, it becomes necessary, especially when those elected to represent the people continually and obstinately ignore the will of the people.

Such has been the case with ethics reform. Though repeatedly giving lip service to bringing greater accountability to their branch of government, lawmakers have merely dabbled around the edges without enacting meaningful and comprehensive reforms.

Now is the time to force their hand.

So, participate in the hearings and once the petitions become available, sign one. Lawmakers need to know ethics reform is one of their constituents’ highest priorities.

Reform legislative ethics

Deseret News Editorial, Friday, Aug. 28, 2009

Utah lawmakers have set a high standard for citizens placing issues on the state ballot to discourage “government by initiative.” By and large, that’s a sensible policy. To place a matter before voters in the 2010 election, for instance, a group must collect 94,552 valid signatures. At least 10 percent of the signatures must come from people in 26 of Utah’s 29 counties.

Given the success of a citizen initiative that vanquished the Utah Legislature’s private school tuition tax credit law in 2007, there is ample evidence that properly motivated and well-financed citizen groups can place issues on the ballot and carry the day at the ballot box. As two citizen groups have launched efforts to place matters on the 2010 ballot, legislative leaders are concerned that they’re seeing the beginnings of a disturbing trend — groups circumventing the legislative process when they are interested in changing laws. The legislative process includes committee hearings, debates and votes in the House and Senate. The governor can sign legislation into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his or her signature.

With few exceptions, this process works best. But there are occasions when lawmakers, bent on a particular philosophy, refuse to do the bidding of the people. For instance, state lawmakers either can’t or won’t institute meaningful legislative ethics reforms, despite years of public opinion polls and other measures that tell us Utahns clearly want them.

So a citizen group, Utahns for Ethical Government, is taking matters into its hands. It is attempting to place on the statewide ballot an initiative that would establish a code of ethics for legislators and create an independent ethics commission to hear complaints against legislators in public. The initiative would set limits for campaign contributions and limit legislative gifts to “light refreshments of negligible value.”

This push has perturbed some state lawmakers because many of the same players who were successful in overturning the state’s private school voucher law are working on this issue. Other lawmakers say the initiative is premature because a bipartisan special ethics committee is working on the issue.

State lawmakers could fast-track that work if they are displeased with the initiative movement. But they must pass meaningful reforms. Lawmakers have nibbled around the edges of this issue in the past but they have hesitated to enact significant changes. The strongest arguments to reform legislative ethics rules and procedures were the largely ineffective closed-door ethics investigations against two state lawmakers.

If lawmakers fail to make substantive reforms, the initiative proposed by Utahns for Ethical Government provides a highly attractive alternative. Utahns should support efforts to place it on the ballot.

OUR VIEW: Time to vote for ethics

Ogden Standard-Examiner Editorial, August 18, 2009

Count us as strong supporters of an effort by Utahns for Ethical Government to get signatures for a 2010 ballot initiative that will do what the Utah Legislature has failed to do for so long — enact ethics reform with teeth.

Kim Burningham and David Irvine have experience in the Legislature. They are the leaders of UEG, a bipartisan group founded to improve ethics in Utah. Also supporting the initiative effort is the Fair Boundaries Coalition. The FBC also wants an initiative to take the post-Census redrawing of legislative and congressional districts away from legislators and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

That proposal, which is supported by former U.S. Rep. James Hansen, is long overdue.

Frankly, it’s time voters got the chance to impose strong ethics regulations on lawmakers via the initiative process. We have waited for the Legislature to take ethics seriously. But year after year, strong ethics reform, such as a ban on gifts, is rejected. Earlier this year there was some cosmetic ethics reform passed on Capitol Hill, but it isn’t nearly enough.

The UEG ballot initiative, if approved, includes:

An independent ethics commission of five. They would be chosen by random chance from 20 names previously OK’d by a bipartisan group of legislators.

* An end to legislator/lobbyists and a two-year wait before ex-legislators could lobby.

* An end to all lobbyists gifts, save for light refreshments of virtually no value.

* And end to legislators donating campaign funds to other legislative campaigns.

* And, every two years, there is a cap of $2,500 for individual campaign donations and a $5,000 cap on political action committee donations.

There’s more. To see all the initiative proposals, go to http://www.utahethics.org.

There is a lot to do to get these reforms on the ballott. UEG is required to hold seven public meetings across the state. Initiative organizers will need to gather about 95,000 signatures. We urge Utahns to attend the public hearings, get informed about UEG’s initiative — which the Utah chapter of AARP has endorsed — and sign the initiative petition when they have the opportunity.

This is too important to sit on the sidelines. Get involved. If we don’t, it sends a clear signal to the Utah Legislature that we are enablers of its unethical behavior.

Sign Initiative Petitions

KSL Radio and TV Editorial, August 24th, 2009

In coming months Utahns will be asked to sign a couple of initiative petitions that eventually could significantly change the state’s political landscape for the good. Citizens should not hesitate to add their signature to either petition.

One petition focuses on legislative ethics. Foremost, it would establish a non-partisan ethics commission. It would ban gifts to lawmakers, ban them from serving as lobbyists for at least two years after leaving office, and it would ban them from spending campaign funds on personal expenses.

A second initiative, if approved, would create an independent redistricting commission that would redraw Utah’s congressional and state legislative districts after the U.S. Census every ten years. As it now stands, members of the legislature determine their own boundaries, which typically results in blatant and inexcusable gerrymandering.

Obviously, getting an initiative petition on the ballot is always daunting. For each effort, at least 95,000 signatures must be gathered by next April. So, as hearings are held and petition drives undertaken, KSL urges citizens to look favorably on the effort.

For years, lawmakers have given lip-service to ethics reform, but have failed miserably to clean up their act and get their legislative house in order. If they won’t do it, the people must.

Sign petition on legislative ethics

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, August 18, 2009

The Utah Legislature has stoutly resisted efforts by its own members to create higher standards of ethical conduct and the means to enforce them, beginning with rudimentary campaign finance reform, lobbyist restrictions and gift bans. Under the Utah Constitution, only one other group can make law to fill this void: the people.

Enter Utahns for Ethical Government. This newly formed group has filed an initiative petition to create a legislative code of conduct and an independent ethics commission to enforce it. Included are a ban on legislators accepting all gifts except light refreshments, a ban on lobbyists serving in the Legislature, a two-year cooling-off period before former legislators can serve as lobbyists, a ban on corporate campaign contributions, limits on campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees, and a requirement that legislators disclose financial and business interests that create potential conflicts of interests. All of these reforms are long overdue.

The petition itself includes an eloquent statement of intent. “It has become evident over the years that the Legislature has been unwilling to enact enforceable ethical standards of conduct or a workable process for enforcing its own rules. Forty states have some form of an independent ethics commission; Utah does not. A troubling, parallel development is that lobbyists and special interests are free to inject unlimited amounts of corporate money into Utah’s political system, often by invitation from legislators who, again and again, go back to the same contributors for … donations to personal projects, committees, caucuses, and leadership campaigns. These donors are often the very people and companies who regularly have matters of significant private profit requiring legislative action, and it is contrary to human nature to expect that such transactions are nothing more than friends helping friends in the grand cause of better government.”

Amen to that.

Forty-four states limit campaign contributions to legislators. Utah does not, so we get the best Legislature money can buy. The initiative would limit individual contributions to $2,500 per election cycle; $5,000 for political action committees.