Tribune’s Rolly reports on FBI investigation of forged electronic signature on UEG petition. Read more.
Read the Salt Lake Tribune article on the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists.
Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D) sponsored HB 119, which requires the LG to study electronic signatures for use on ballot propositions, candidate petitions, and petitions for political party organization and registration. The LG is to report back to the Government Operations Interim Committee by September 2013. The intent of the legislation is to require a careful examination of ways in which electronic signature gathering for political purposes can be made manageable and secure under state law.
UEG did not take a position on the bill because we believe that the LG’s refusal to certify our electronic signatures for the November 2012 ballot was contrary to the statutes and cases governing electronic signatures in our state at that time and, even without these violations, an unconstitutional act. Indeed, the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that electronic signatures could be used to qualify a gubernatorial candidate for the ballot. These pre-existing statutes and precedents, some of them on the books for nearly a half-century, were wiped out—peremptorily and without any study—by an amendment to our elections code that was enacted in the 2011 general session of the Utah State Legislature. UEG contends, in view of the fact that Utah law recognized the validity of e-signatures in the electoral context for so long, that further study is redundant and that, at a minimum, the legislature should be saddled with the burden of persuasion for reversing this long-standing rule of law in our state. Regardless, Representative Chavez-Houck’s bill is a positive step toward the day in which, once again, even the Legislature acknowledges in statute and regulation that electronic signatures can be secure and fraud-resistant and can take their proper place in the political life of our state.
Key specifics of the bill (to be codified at 20A-67-1a-2, subsection 14) are as follows:
3) The study shall evaluate:
(a) how to sign a petition on the Internet using a holographic signature that is in an electronic format maintained by a government agency;
(b) the security, development, ownership, management, format, and content of a secure Internet portal or website on which a registered voter may sign a petition;
(c) the security measures necessary to:
i) verify the identity of a registered voter who signs a petition on the Internet; and
(ii) insure the integrity of a signature;
(d) changes to the process of collecting, verifying, and certifying a signature, if the signature is collected on the Internet;
(e) whether verification is necessary for signatures collected on the Internet;
(f) which election official should be responsible for the certification of signatures collected on the Internet;
(g) whether signatures on a petition should be public information;
(h) the removal process of a signature collected on the Internet;
(i) what percentage of signatures should be collected on the Internet or in person, statewide or by Senate district;
(j) what information regarding the petition should be available on the secure Internet portal or website, including who may submit the information and by what deadline information should be submitted;
(k) the time the lieutenant governor, county clerk, or municipal clerk may spend certifying a petition if a registered voter is allowed to sign a petition on the Internet;
(l) the processes, if any, that exists in other states to allow a registered voter to sign a petition on the Internet; and
(m) any other issue related to allowing a registered voter to sign a petition on the Internet.
Jack Abramoff’s swing through Utah ended Friday morning at the Capitol, where he met with several lawmakers and warned them to be on guard — that corruption can be an insidious creep that quickly ensnares a politician.
The infamous lobbyist, who spent time in federal prison for fraud and bribery, said he was able to prey upon human nature and exploit it.
“A good lawyer needs to know their jury,” he said.
His message was for politicians to be wary — that corrupt lobbyists will look to gain advantage by identifying their needs, whether paying back campaign debt or knowing vulnerabilities.
He spoke for about five minutes to the rural caucus at the Capitol — introduced by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab — before doing a small book signing for several lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, and Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo.
“On the news, he seemed so much larger than life,” Dee said. “I guess he’s trying to show that he’s an ordinary guy.”
But he also provides a grim perspective about the influence of money in the system and when corruption begins.
“It starts the moment after they’re elected to Congress,” Abramoff said, “and their leadership helps them reduce their debt by introducing them to lobbyists who give them money — and that’s before they’re even sworn in.”
Abramoff is attempting to pay off about $23 million in restitution due to those he defrauded before his conviction in 2006. He is doing so partly by selling copies of his book and partly by collecting speaking fees, where he uses his tale to educate lawmakers on the dangers of bribery.
At one point, he had addressed the Kentucky Legislature as part of an ethics class, and Kathy Smith, who helped organize Abramoff’s trip to Utah, said she would like to see something similar in Utah and will help try to organize it next year.
“We should try,” Smith said. “At first, part of me was skeptical, but I think he has an important message to convey.”
Abramoff would like to repeal the 17th Amendment, institute term limits and curtail the influence of money in politics.
Cherilyn Eagar, who is running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, spent some time talking to Abramoff and said his message resonated. She said the cautions and warnings are very real on the campaign trail.
“It’s certainly difficult as a candidate to raise money from sources that aren’t tempting,” she said. “How do you get elected and stay away from that? It’s very tough. But there are very good people out there, and we have grass-roots donors.”
Abramoff’s Utah visit was a short stop on a West Coast swing of lectures and book signings.
Read the story in the Jan 23rd Salt Lake Tribune re large loophole in Utah’s ethics law, which supposedly stopped the use of campaign contributions for personal use.
Check out the Utah Citizens’ Counsel’s 4 different congressional district maps and explanations on their website.
Also, on Thursday, May 19th at 7:00 p.m, the UCC will host an online meeting to present and explain its 4 different maps and provide a public forum for comment and questions. Interested participants can find more information on the UCC website under the May 16th press release.
Resolution for the Davis County Republican Party Organizing Convention held at the Davis County Conference Center, 22 April 2011. Resolution passed. Sponsor: Anthony Black, County Delegate, Precinct BO03
Whereas HB 477, an attempt to inhibit the ability of the electorate to inform itself, was repealed, but only under duress, and
Whereas SB 165 is an affront to government by the people, placing an unacceptable barrier to citizen initiatives, and
Whereas SB 165 is also an insult to those trying to inject ethics into he legislative process, and
Whereas these bills and actions of the Legislature have shaken the trust and confidence that the electorate should have in the Legislature, and
Whereas these bills and actions of the Legislature reflect poorly on the Republican Party:
Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Davis County Republican Party Organizing Convention condemns SB 165 and the closed meetings of the Republican caucus in the Utah Legislature.
Be it further resolved that the Davis County Republican Party Organizing Convention encourages the Utah Legislature to operate more openly and transparently, and to show more respect for its constituency.
Be it further resolve that copies of this resolution be sent to: Gary R. Herbert, Governor of the State of Utah; Michael G. Waddoups, President of the Utah State Senate; Rebecca D. Lockhart, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives; all Davis County delegates in the Utah State Legislature.
UEG is a supporting organization of the repeal of HB477. UEG is not, however, the actual organization that is spearheading the effort. Steve Maxfield is chairman of the SaveGrama organization.You can get more information and sign up to volunteer and donate at http://www.savegrama.org or http://www.thepeople-voices.org The latter source indicates that for more information in the Salt Lake County area you can call
A governor’s commission called for it and Utahns consistently favor it in polls. So Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill Monday that would cap campaign donations — but she openly doubts that it will go far.
“I’m doing this to further discussion on it,” she said. “But many of my colleagues view campaign contributions as a form of free speech, and oppose this. ... Frankly, I don’t know if it will ever get out of the Rules Committee” for debate.
Her bill would limit donations to candidates for statewide office, such as governor or attorney general, to $10,000 per donor; $5,000 per donor to legislative candidates; $40,000 per donor to state political parties; and $10,000 per donor to state political action committees.
“Those are the same limits proposed by the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy” created by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Chavez-Houck said. “I was a member of that commission. I have been disappointed that most of the recommendations it made have been pushed to the side. I am doing this to try to keep the debate alive.”
The federal government imposes limits on donations in federal races, such as for the U.S. Senate and House. But Utah has none for state races — and also allows corporations to donate directly to candidates, which federal law bans for federal races. (Chavez-Houck’s bill would still allow corporate donations.)
Chavez-Houck said the current system — with no limits at all and contributions of $50,000 or more common to gubernatorial candidates, for example — has led to allegations and belief that state officials sometimes do favors for big donors. She said limits would help restore confidence in government.
An example of the controversy that can erupt came last year when a company was awarded a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild Interstate 15 in Utah county after it and its leaders donated $87,500 to Gov. Gary Herbert — and another company alleged that the state improperly tweaked bids to award that contract.
Herbert’s democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, made the contract and donations a central campaign issue.
UEG has heard rumors that the completed count of our petition signature drive may be reported soon by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Several possibilities loom:
We have acknowledged from the outset that the courts will likely have to resolve the obstacles that opponents keep raising. We will be pursuing our initiative regardless of the nature of the LG’s announcement.
About $1 of every $5 that legislative candidates spent this year was on items that personally benefited themselves or friends, despite passage of a new law designed to restrict that, according to an analysis of spending by The Salt Lake Tribune.
That means that campaign cash — which mostly comes from special interests — doesn’t just help elect lawmakers but is converted by some into perks. Read the rest of this story at the Tribune’s website.
Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, says he has never asked for a campaign contribution during his eight years in office. He hasn’t had to, thanks to generous special interest groups.
“It just comes on its own,” he says about the donations. Even though he ran unopposed this year and had few campaign expenses, corporations and political action committees still gave him $16,556. So Morley says he never needed to ask constituents for money.
Morley isn’t alone.
A Salt Lake Tribune analysis of campaign-disclosure forms shows that 33 of the 100 incoming legislators who reported raising money this year (four did not report any donations) did not collect any money from their local constituents.
Instead, it all came from corporations, PACs, lobbyists, other politicians, parties, people outside their districts or their own pockets.
An additional 17 lawmakers received less than 1 percent of their money from constituents, essentially a pittance. The most that any lawmaker received from constituents was 22 percent, meaning that 78 percent of contributions still came from outside interests.
Read the full story at The Salt Lake Tribune’s website.
Utah voters are fortunate. The Utah Constitution gives voters and the Legislature equal rights to initiate and pass state laws. This year it’s time for voters to use that right or lose it by signing two initiative petitions that put independent citizen commissions on the ballot. One commission helps legislators maintain good ethical practices.
The other helps legislators create compact election districts, keeping communities intact without protecting incumbents from fair competition.
The Legislature already has its own independent ethics commission proposal on the November ballot. It’s a constitutional amendment. Only the Legislature can propose constitutional amendments, so if it passes voters cannot initiate future changes.
This makes adding the citizen ethics initiative to the ballot especially important.
Many legislators are genuinely convinced they know best and are determined to protect their power. They have made getting initiatives on the ballot increasingly difficult for voters by requiring more signatures from more areas and unfairly giving opponents extra time to remove signatures before the final count.
We can overcome these roadblocks, but only if enough of us act by signing the ethics and fair boundaries petitions before April 15.
Sandy Peck Executive director, League of Women Voters of Utah
The 2010 Utah Legislature took only baby steps toward real ethics reform. Requiring disclosure of more potential financial conflicts and prohibiting personal use of campaign money were more than offset by narrow, self-interested actions to protect the status quo.
For example, legislators can still give their campaign money to other legislators or legislative candidates to buy influence, and there are no limits on campaign contributions.
Lobbyists can still be legislators. Legislators can still become paid lobbyists for many organizations when they leave the Legislature. Lobbyists are now required to report gifts worth $10 or more, but the exceptions are big enough to drive a truck through.
The Legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission is a clever attempt to prevent voters from ever passing an initiative on what kinds of ethical standards we expect from our Legislature.
The new procedures for a supposedly “independent” ethics commission ensure that complaints will seldom be filed, that commission hearings will be secret, that recommendations cannot reveal evidence, and that a supermajority must agree on the existence of misconduct.
The public cannot afford to sleep!
Dixie S. Huefner
Salt Lake City
The Legislature’s effort to craft its own ethics bill in the face of the competing initiative put forth by Utahns for Ethical Government seems to be a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse (“Lawmakers working to win ethics reform war,” Tribune, Mar. 2). The fox says he is closest to the situation, understands the problems and has the best plan for guarding the henhouse. Does giving this fox the job make us feel comfortable at night?
We need a guard independent of the fox, like the initiative by Utahns for Ethical Government. Go to http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org and sign the petition.
Senate Bill 275, sponsored by a lobbyist/legislator who calls those of us gathering petition signatures for the ethics reform initiative “hucksters,” changes the rules of initiative petitions in the middle of the game. It is an unethical sabotaging of the democratic process. The Legislature has now changed the rules of the petition process to allow legislators to score points after the game is over.
Gov. Gary Herbert is now the referee. The public is waiting to see if Herbert sides with the team that quits at the final buzzer or the team that insists on scoring points after the game is over, when there is no opposition on the floor. Whose side are you on, governor? Are you with the public or the legislators?
I was just a “nutcake,” now I’m also a “huckster.”
Regarding the bill now on the governor’s desk that stops adding signatures to the ethics reform initiative on one date but allows its opponents an additional 30 days to talk signers of the initiative into removing their names:
It’s late in the game. One team (ethics reformers) could win. That possibility prompts the other side (lawmakers) to huddle with the referees (also lawmakers). They change the rules, deciding to extend the game. However, the new rules prevent the team that’s poised to win from obtaining possession of the ball during the extended period. Only the losing team can score more points. If this happened anywhere in the sports world, we’d be outraged at the corruption. It would be front page news.
Are we so cynical that we just shrug and accept it as the way our democracy works when Senate Bill 275, “Removing Signature from Initiative and Referendum Petition,” breezes through the Utah Legislature?
Salt Lake City
Sen. Howard Stephenson called those of us gathering signatures on the ethics petitions “hucksters.” Other Republicans legislators use words like “subterfuge” and “deceit” to describe the ordinary voters who are out in the cold on their own time trying to make a difference in our state.
What will we gain personally by doing this?
What does Sen. Stephenson have to gain by preventing this initiative from going to the polls in November?
Either his senate seat or his job. He is both a senator and a paid lobbyist.
SB275 (sponsored by Stephenson) is another example of the Republican hierarchy assuming that average voters are uneducated, misguided or stupid enough to sign something they don’t understand. Anyone who wants to read this petition can do so before signing. Getting this issue on the ballot will not make this law. It will give voters months to debate its virtues or flaws. That public debate is what legislators want to avoid.
It is with some degree of personal conflict that I am here today, because I realize that in doing so, I will be on the opposite side of the ethics question from some of my friends in the legislature. I do want the citizens of Utah to know that the vast majority of legislators have a high degree of integrity and are giving invaluable service to the state of Utah. However, I find that many citizens of the state feel that the members of the legislature receive many gifts and privileges from lobbyists. Having served in the legislative and executive branch of Utah government for twenty-five years, I realize that the majority of the items are relatively small such as meals, tickets or travel. I have come to realize that such small items are not worth the impression that the public has of the negative aspects of lobbyists’ influencing legislators. As a result, I have determined it is time that the legislature finally pass laws that are meaningful regarding ethics and integrity. It is because I love Utah and value our democracy process that I am here today.
For thirty years I have watched ethics legislation, campaign reform and legislation limiting lobbyist activities die in the rules committee, or the few that have passed often contain loopholes that lobbyists can work around. Because Utah is often recognized as the best managed state in the nation, we have rationalized that it doesn’t matter that the Center for Public Integrity gives Utah an F for its financial disclosures. The truth is that any organization needs rules and standards to function in an ethical manner. It is ironical that so many of our laws contain specific guidelines, but we have not been willing to impose guidelines and rules regarding ethical conduct by the legislature. Basically, the current law governing ethical action by legislators is so vague that it is extremely difficult for any action to be taken by fellow legislators. I know that when I served in the House, I would not have chosen to question any other legislator’s action even though it may have been questionable.
When I first ran for the legislature in 1980, I ran as a Republican in an area that was known as a democratic district. I spent only $4,000 of my own money. In the eight years it increased to over $20,000. In many contested areas today the cost can be near $100,000 and the Senate Districts significantly higher. We have always said that reporting was sufficient and that any citizen could get the reports in the election office or on line, but the truth is that few do. Usually it is only the more visible legislators that have those reports scrutinized by reporters. Utah is one of only five states that have no limits on contributions. Also, in Utah contributions can be given to candidates by corporations. This is prohibited in most states. The result of not having any caps on contributions or not having rules governing contributions is that 81% of the contributions given to candidates for the legislature are given by special interest groups. This is unacceptable in our great state of Utah.
When I was responsible for the election office from 1992-2002 I watched the number of lobbyists double and triple until today there are 481 lobbyists registered with the Lt. Governor’s office. With that number of lobbyists, it seems to me that it is critical that we have specific laws governing their relations with legislators. I also think it is unacceptable to have legislators immediately become lobbyists when they leave the legislature. It also should be unacceptable for lobbyists to simultaneously serve in the legislature.
For these reasons Utahns for Ethical Government studied this problem and determined that it was time that we as citizens of Utah be given the opportunity to do several things including:
1. To establish standards for contributions to candidates.
2. To establish an ethics commission of five individuals drawn from a list of twenty individuals who are agreed on by leadership of the House and Senate. The commission would operate on a non-partisan basis and would review complaints for validity prior to holding hearings and referral for legislative action.
3. To establish a standard of conduct for legislators
It is essential that all citizens realize that this calls for legislation and not a constitutional change. It also means that the legislation can be amended in the future, although any amendments should not gut the initiative.
It is my earnest hope that as citizens and legislators we can pass this initiative so that in future we will have ethics legislation we can all be proud of.
It’s an honor to be here today and follow Governor Walker’s clear and detailed outline of the specifics of this proposition. I want to follow-up in a more general way. I want to talk about common sense. One of the oldest clichés in the language is the one that says the fox should not guard the henhouse. The fox cannot guard the henhouse because he has an obvious and compelling conflict of interest. After Enron and several other ethical business failures, corporations recognized this and revised their standards for “best practice,” determining that 75 percent of each board of directors should be made up of people independent of the company and that the chair of the boards should be independent as well. Legislators, just like interested directors of companies and just like the fox guarding the henhouse, have a conflict of interest when they manage, behind closed doors, all the ethical issues which inevitably arise during the course of the legislative process.
This principle is widely accepted across the nation. Why would Utah want to be one of 10 states that do not have an independent ethics commission? Why would Utah want to be one of only 5 states that do not set limits on contributions and gifts given to the people who make its laws? Why would Utah turn a blind eye to the obvious and inevitable connection between money and law-making? Why would Utah want to rank at nearly the bottom when it comes to the financial and conflict of interest disclosures of its lawmakers? Utah should be first, not last, in this respect.
During my time spent in the Utah State Legislature, where Republicans were a majority, and in the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Democrats were a majority, I worked on ethics reform and learned this: Members of legislative bodies do not want outside interference in their processes. They do not want to lose control of their power to decide ethics issues internally. This is going to be a hard fight because no one ever gives up power without a fight. But it is an important fight and it can be won. If you can imagine, even the U.S. House of Representatives now has a fully funded and fully staffed independent ethics commission. They didn’t want to do it but ultimately they bowed to the pressure of millions of Americans who demanded it. I can’t imagine anyone arguing that that is not an important milestone in the political process of national government, and I can’t imagine the Utah Legislature wanting to turn away from a higher ethical standard.
For all these reasons I am joining with many of my colleagues who also once served as legislators and urging the passage of this initiative.
Former Senator, District 1
Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives, District 2
The proposed Ethics Initiative is designed to establish a playing field and environment that will allow the legislature to focus on the public interest without the undue influence of the special interests. The initiative is not a harness, but a liberating guide post. It might well be labeled a return to the Citizen Legislature.
It was hoped that key members of the legislature would respond with an invitation for open dialogue on an issue that has plagued the Legislature for the past decade. Instead, they have expended their time meeting with Republican party women’s groups, party central committees, and other government organizations attacking the initiative and poisoning the water with misinformation. In so doing, they have missed their opportunity as elected officials to gather input as to what voters want from their elected officials.
One might well ask; what is it that makes some legislators so reluctant to yield their individual interests for the common good of the people? This reluctance is evident when examining the proposed legislative interim committee’s bill calling for an “independent commission,” where it is extremely difficult for citizens to file a complaint; a commission where a super-majority vote is required to pass on a recommendation to the legislature that doesn‘t have to act.
As former Republican state senate leader, I urge all citizens of varying political persuasions to step up and sign the Ethics Initiative? We need to keep the legislature’s feet to the fire of ethics reform.
Utah has been served by many capable and unselfish legislators. Unfortunately, that is not true of all who serve, and our system is riddled with laws or the absence of laws which not only allow but encourage unethical behavior in our Legislature:
Ethical abuse in the Utah Legislature
* Utah is one of only ten states that have no independent ethics commission. The only oversight to legislative ethics comes from the legislature itself. (Michael E. Christensen, Office of Legislative Research, 2009, Scott Bell, March 2009, Weber State University Student Ethics Committee, 2009)
* The Center for Public Integrity graded Utah an “F” for its legislative financial disclosure laws, the 47th worst in the nation. (Center for Public Integrity web site, 2009.)
* According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Utah is only one of six states that have no limits on contributions to political candidates. (SL Tribune, June 27, 2009)
* A Deseret News analysis showed that 81 percent of money contributed in all legislative contests came from “special interest” groups. (Deseret News, June 22, 2009)
* Federal requirements ban donations from corporations, but in Utah there is no limitation and 1/3 of all 2009 donations (approximately $2.5 million) came from such corporations. (Deseret News, June 22, 2009)
* According to one representative, because Utah laws are so lax, legislators can spend their campaign funds for digital cameras, car repairs, travel for their family members, even additional salaries for themselves. (Representative Kraig Powell web site, “Legislative Ethics”)
* Although Utah did finally pass a partial bill that prohibited former legislators from serving as certain types of lobbyists for a year, we still have registered lobbyists serving as legislators. (Deseret News, February 16, 2006)
The list could go on.
Such appallingly weak ethics measures have led to strong indictments. The Salt Lake Tribune suggested that Utah lawmakers were “for sale” (June 28, 2009) “and that the gravy train was still chugging along.” (July 16, 2009)
Failure of the Legislature to act
The 2009 Legislative session began with promises of ethics reform. With the exception of a few very modest steps, the promise was unfulfilled. (Deseret News, April 17, 2009)
At the end of the session, The Ogden Standard Examiner described legislators as “experts at excusing bad ethics,” grading their efforts with a “D.” (March 16, 22, 2009)
The City Weekly (April 1, 2009) presented an award to the Legislature for the “best toothless reform.”
The Salt Lake Tribune (March 16, 2009) lamented, “Lawmakers took baby steps…No way do the minor revisions to legislative ethics laws resemble the comprehensive reform…promised.”
Honorable legislators have tried to change the system. In the last session over thirty bills for improving ethics were proposed. (Utah policy.com, July 7, 2009, WSC Student Ethics Committee, 2009) Only a few survived. Many never emerged from the rules committee!
Governor Huntsman starts to address the problem, but stops
Recognizing the problem Governor Jon Huntsman appointed a commission to make recommendations. (Deseret News, January 23, 2009) A few months later, however, he withdrew the subject of “legislative ethics” from the commission’s charge. (Deseret News, April 23, 2009) Why? Some observe that heavy pressure from legislative leaders may have contributed to that decision.
The answer is public action
Clearly, the answer to this problem is to arouse the public, resulting in the necessary pressure for change. Thus, the initiative we are proposing today.
Earlier today on these same Capitol steps, another initiative effort regarding redistricting began signing petitions. One of their initial signers, Peter Corroon has championed the need for “an open, honest, and ethical” system of representative government. It is in that same spirit that we launch another Initiative which focuses specifically on legislative ethics.
State law requires five people to file an initiative petition. Momentarily, we will be filing the initiative with the backing of a “Committee of 100.” In fact, the number far exceeds that. A list of the supporters who are endorsing this effort is being distributed to the press today: the list has reached 302 as of 9:30 p.m. last night. And the number of supporters is growing daily!
Many people have been involved in bringing this Initiative to you. Some have given, without any pay, hundreds of hours to the cause. I wish to thank these willing volunteers.
This is not the effort of one or two malcontents; it is a ground swell rising up from frustrations of Utah citizens. We need more clear ethical guidelines for our Legislature. Elected officials must never seek to profit personally from their positions, but rather strive to bring about the public good.
Although at least 19 former legislators are included among the endorsers, we have not asked current legislators to sign the initial list, but we are sure many of them will be privately supportive and some will likely step forward to sign on.
Good ethical guidelines will help keep honest people honest! Failure to provide such guidelines invites and has invited shoddy, unethical practices.
Undoubtedly, you want more information. The Utahns for Ethical Government web site is being opened as we speak. You may go online and read about the effort. Within hours you will be able to examine the entire initiative yourself. That web site is: http://www.utahethics.org.
The need is clear.
The opportunity for change is available.
The time is now.
*[To honor time limits, the material in italics was omitted from verbal remarks]
As with any significant piece of legislation, this initiative has been the product of careful consideration and compromise. It does not go as far as some would like, and it does not address every ethical issue. There may be better ways to deal with this or that; but whatever its flaws, when passed by the voters of Utah, it will bring a huge cultural shift to our state’s legislative process. The motto over the House Speaker’s dais reads “Vox Populi” – the voice of the people. The voice of the people, however, has too often been drowned out.
The initiative does four things: (1) it establishes a 5-member independent ethics commission which will function in an advisory capacity to the legislature; (2) it establishes a specific and comprehensive Code of Official Conduct for legislators; (3) it establishes a substantive, fair, and transparent process for the commission to follow in evaluating complaints of unethical conduct; and (4) it requires the House or the Senate to either adopt or reject the commission’s findings and recommendations in a recorded yea or nay vote.
Commissioners may not have been elected officers, or candidates, or lobbyists for 5 years preceding appointment.
The Senate President and Senate Minority Leader, House Speaker, and House Minority Leader, must unanimously agree on 20 qualified names, and the first five drawn from a hat shall constitute the commission. If the legislative leadership cannot reach unanimous agreement, then the first five Initiative Sponsors shall make the selection through a similar process. This process of appointment is unusual and slightly cumbersome, but we believe it is a reasonable way of using random selection to guard against political cronyism.
Commissioners will serve staggered 5-year terms, and they will meet on an as needed basis.
The commission will appoint an executive director, who must be a licensed Utah attorney, necessary staff, and they will elect their own Chair. We see this as a small office which could be augmented by staff support from the Office of Legislative General Counsel or other legislative staff where requested.
The commission will have authority to issue administrative rules and advisory opinions.
We have estimated the cost of this operation to be less than $500,000 per year, and the Fiscal Analyst’s office has already prepared fiscal notes for several ethics commission bills which come in at $250,000 or less.
CODE OF CONDUCT
The various provisions of the Code of Conduct are highlighted in the Executive Summary, but a few deserve special note.
1. Legislative candidates shall not accept contributions from corporations. Utah law has already prohibited union contributions, but it is wide open to corporate giving, and corporations walked through that door in 2008 to the tune of more than $2.5 million for state legislative races.
2. Utah is one of only six states with no limitations on candidate contributions. The initiative limits contributions to $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per PAC every two years.
3. For most candidates, the most distasteful part of running for office is going out and asking people for money. However, a culture has developed in Utah where some legislators go to special interests over and over– a process that develops a subtle but powerful sense of quid pro quo. So, the bill restricts legislators and candidates from soliciting contributions from lobbyists to anything but their own personal campaign committee. It also prohibits campaign committee transfers between candidates. We believe this will end the market trade in legislative leadership elections. This is not an indictment of legislative leaders; it’s a simple acknowledgment that good people are trapped in a bad system.
4. The legislature is a co-equal branch of state government. Lawmakers are not in charge of implementing or enforcing the law. There have been too many instances where legislators have tried to use their positions as legislators to browbeat agency heads and judges into dispensing special treatment to special friends. The Code prohibits that.
5. The Code requires more comprehensive disclosure of potential conflicts of interest than ever before in Utah. Current rules allow the broadest possible obscurity, such as “I’m in the construction business.”
6. Every year, the legislature goes through an awkward drill of determining how much money lobbyists shall be allowed to spend on meals and entertainment. The bill has a simple standard: it allows anyone to provide legislators with light refreshments of negligible value. That’s it. The bill doesn’t prohibit lobbyists and legislators from going to a pricey restaurant, but it DOES require legislators to pay their own wy – and 87% of Utahns agree that this is how it should be.
Any three people may file an initial complaint. The executive director may use subpoena power to conduct a preliminary, confidential investigation of the complaint. If the commission finds the complaint to be frivolous or without merit, it may dismiss. If it finds reasonable cause to believe there may have been a violation, the complainants prepare a formal complaint which is then heard in a public hearing, in which the complainants and the charged legislator may fully participate. A majority of three is required to either dismiss or recommend formal sanction by either the Senate or the House, and the commission’s findings are a public record. The legislative house may then either adopt or reject the recommendation upon a recorded vote in a public session.
The bill also provides that a legislator may seek an advance opinion from the commission as to any particular issue. If the commission approves, no complaint as to that issue may go forward as to the legislator.
We have carefully drafted the bill to assure constitutionality. That will not deter opponents from claiming that it isn’t constitutional. No one, of course, wants to be seen to be opposed to high ethical standards. So the opposition will be over technical–this or technical-that. But the key question should always be this: who benefits from opposing this bill? The voice of the people? Or the voices of special interests?
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents over 220,000 members in the state of Utah. AARP does not have a political action committee that funds or contributes to individuals running for office. The Utahns for Ethical Government initiative clearly aligns with our public policy and the interests of our members.
* Political advocacy is a cornerstone of democracy, and organizations such as AARP serve an essential function in bringing information and expertise to the legislative process. We believe that influence should come by the voice of the people and through the ballot box.
* Trust in government is extremely low. Government officials and processes are often viewed as more responsive to the concerns of moneyed special interests than those of the general public.
* All Utahns have a vital stake in ensuring the integrity of our democratic processes and government institutions. The ability of government to respond to the concerns of citizens, promote the public interest, and retain public confidence in its fairness, competence, and relevance is dependent in large measure on adhering to policies that promote and sustain integrity.
* Without needed reforms in campaign finance, lobbying, ethics and accountability, the public’s voice in government is likely to be diminished and the health and vitality of our democracy threatened. Older citizens vote and they are vitally interested in making certain that their votes and views are given appropriate consideration in the deliberations of government.
* Government officials and institutions must avoid conflicts of interest and the undue influence of special interests in the performance of their responsibilities. Ethical standards and safeguards must be in place and enforced to ensure the integrity of government decision making.
AARP supports Utahns for Ethical Government and will work hard to see that this initiative is brought to a vote of the people to assure better government for all of Utah’s citizens including our members, our children, and our grandchildren.Your browser may not support display of this image.
In his effort to derail the ethics reform and fair boundaries petitions, Sen. Howard Stephenson seeks to add to the already unfair requirements of the petition process (Feb. 19).
There are actually two timelines in his bill. One potentially extends the time allowed for signers to request removal of their names from citizens’ initiatives after the deadline for submission of signatures to the county clerks. The other establishes that the bill would take effect immediately, without the normal 60-day waiting period, if the legislation passes by a two-thirds majority and is signed by the governor.
The former is suspicious, the latter clearly partisan. Both give initiative opponents increased opportunity to browbeat signers into removing their names. This is like going into overtime at the end of a game with only one side allowed to play. These timeline shifts have no bearing on the ability of the clerks to perform their duties. Sen. Stephenson is scapegoating in the name of fairness. Why are the ethics reform and fair boundaries initiatives so threatening to so many legislators?
L. Jackson Newell
Salt Lake City
Some legislators and the conservative Sutherland Institute believe that legislative ethics reform in Utah is “dangerous” (“Ethics initiative battle heats up,” Tribune Feb. 8). Proponents for reform, including Utahns for Ethical Government, argue that it’s necessary because:
1. The people’s business should be conducted by legislators acting as our trustees, with fidelity, integrity and selfless judgment.
2. Special interests regularly inject unlimited money into Utah’s political system on matters for which they will benefit. Common sense tells us such donations are to influence legislative action rather than to create better government.
3. Utah’s financial disclosure laws are ranked among the worst in the nation, with 81 percent of donated campaign money coming from special interest groups — $2.45 million in 2008 alone.
4. Past bills to strengthen ethical conduct have been smothered by affected legislators or special interests.
5. Power can corrupt, and unchecked power combined with unlimited monies creates circumstances where the public interest becomes blurred by self-interest, favoritism and a sense of entitlement.
So the bottom-line question to ponder is: For whom and why would standards for ethical and fiduciary conduct in the Legislature be “dangerous”?
I am surprised that in a recent letter to the editor, a Pleasant Grove legislator asked why former Utah County legislators had not dealt with ethics reform. Apparently this legislator did not read newspapers during the decade of the 1990s when for nine of the 10 years I served in the Utah House I sponsored, and worked endlessly, to pass ethics bills.
One, limiting gifts to legislators, finally passed. However, bills requiring campaign finance reform, fuller lobbyist gift disclosure and a bill to prevent a legislator from becoming a paid lobbyist for at least one year failed.
In order to get the initiative petition on the November 2010 ballot, it needs to be signed by all concerned citizens who want to curtail such gift giving and influence peddling by special interest groups on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Go to http://www.utahethics.org to find out where you can sign this petition.
As a concerned citizen of this state, I am discouraged at the resistance our legislative leadership is giving to the ethics initiative being proposed by Utahns for Ethical Government. A problem does exist, and leadership would like to sweep it under the rug. Are lobbyists important to a democracy? The answer is yes. Lobbying itself is not the problem. It is when paid lobbyists can buy access and influence that the playing field for the private citizen becomes very uneven.
The Utah State Legislature has shown little effort in banning gifts and limiting campaign contributions. It’s time for the people to speak.
Mark R. Marsh
We will more likely see a fat man pass through the eye of a needle than we will witness meaningful ethical reform in the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature.
Jonathan C. Seegmiller
Salt Lake City
The Utahns for Ethical Government initiative does not provide some new way to remove people from office. The established ways remain: Voters do not re-elect them or the Legislature itself expels a member. Ethical misconduct, of course, could become a catalyst for not voting for someone, but nothing in the UEG initiative results in getting “certain people out of office” as long as they comply with the ethical standards in the initiative. We wonder what these legislators are so afraid of.
Some legislators act as if the initiative would operate retroactively, but that only shows that they do not know their own laws. The Utah Code (UCA 68-3-3) prohibits any legislation from being retroactive unless it specifically so states, which the UEG initiative does not. No alleged misconduct that predates passage of the initiative at the 2010 election would be subject to UEG standards.
Legislators, heed your own advice: Read the initiative, but know your own laws when you do so.
Dixie Snow Huefner
Salt Lake City
The Nov. 28 Spectrum (“Officials resist ethics proposal”) quotes Southern Utah legislators Urquhart, Stowell, Ipson and Noel as believing that the ballot initiative sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government will make it “nearly impossible for business owners to serve in the Legislature.”
That is a great exaggeration. All that is prohibited is that, after 2013, if a sitting legislator is appointed as a “control person” (typically a member of a board of directors or officer) (1) primarily because of the legislator’s status as a legislator and (2) is compensated for that service, then accepting the appointment would be an ethical violation. If one is already a business owner, officer, member of the board before becoming a legislator, the prohibition does not apply.
Why the prohibition? It is to prevent corporations, unions, non-profit associations from appointing legislators to paid positions in their organizations with the intent to gain special access to the legislator and promote legislation in which the organization is particularly interested.
If the organization does not pay the legislator for the service, or if it wants to lobby legislators in general, those are acceptable routes that may be pursued.
Legislators should stop misrepresenting the UEG initiative to the public.
A petition for ethics reform in the Utah Legislature is being circulated throughout the state. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel, a nonpartisan group of 14 concerned senior citizens, urges all registered voters to sign the petition.
Because ethics reform has failed to make significant progress in the Legislature, more than 20 former legislators and many other community leaders created Utahns for Ethical Government to develop an initiative that will enable voters at the 2010 general election to establish limits on the amounts that individuals and corporations can give to legislative candidates, prohibit retiring lawmakers from becoming paid lobbyists for two years, and ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators except for light refreshments.
Utah is one of only 10 states lacking an independent ethics commission. The Utah Constitution provides that citizens may legislate through the initiative process, and we believe that when the Legislature fails to act, citizens must assert their right to act to correct bad behavior. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel (Robert Archeleta, Genevieve Atwood, Aileen Clyde, Gale Dick, Irene Fisher, David Irvine, Boyer Jarvis, Chase Peterson, Grethe Peterson, Bonner Ritchie, Karl Snow, Emma Lou Thayne, Raymond Uno and Olene Walker) strongly supports the petition drive.
Salt Lake City
The establishment of an independent ethics commission for Utah’s Legislature has been unsuccessfully brought before the Legislature many times; now it appears our legislators wish to comply, but using their rules. Perhaps the fact that citizens have been circulating petitions to force the issue on the ballot in 2010 has persuaded them that we mean business.
Unfortunately, the issue of who will sit on the commission is still in disagreement. Utahns for Ethical Government proposes that citizens oversee the process and legislators want judges (or, better put, their old cronies) to preside. Since citizen juries daily decide whether someone is guilty, they can handle complaints against office holders accused of unethical behavior, particularly since the commission would only recommend sanctions to the legislative body, which would mete out any justice if circumstances show it is needed.
The second part of the proposed legislative ethics reform is to cap political contributions so that a large company’s big donation won’t sway a legislator.
Visit http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org and see if you would like Utah to have an ethics commission similar to what 40 other states have. Then sign the petition to put the proposal on the ballot.
Salt Lake City
As the 2010 Legislative Session gets underway, my state senator and representatives say they are collecting information from their constituents. Our household received a survey from them last week.
The first clue that this might not be a survey to collect real attitudes and opinions was that the Utah Republican Party paid for the survey. This suspicion is confirmed as soon as the recipient reads the questions. Bad news is introduced with “Due to the economic downturn,” and good news with “Due to wise fiscal management”.
Opinions are interspersed with the questions. Such as: (Do you support or oppose) steps to opt out of provisions that would raise taxes and harm businesses if a ‘Cap and Trade’ agreement passes congress?”
The final question deals with the legislative ethics initiative. There are six statements that the survey asks the voter to check if they agree. There is no space for explanations or exceptions.
The first is “I prefer having laws made through the legislative process with public hearings rather than by initiative.” Of course, we all prefer the legislative process over walking petitions around. There is, however, a constitutional right to petition government when the elected representatives ignore the will of the people. The current initiatives are two such cases.
The second statement is “I am aware that the initiative creates and (sic) Ethics Commission that has not (sic) accountability to the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branch (sic) and that its decision cannot be appealed.” How do you agree or disagree that you are aware of a falsehood? The commission is legislative staff chosen by the legislators themselves. The question of accountability comes because the legislators do not control their decisions. The decisions they make are whether to forward a complaint to the Ethics Committee — a committee of legislators — who will hear and rule on the complaint. A ruling may be appealed. Why should a decision to hear the complaint need to be appealed?
The third statement is “I am aware that the Ethics Commission would consist of members who have life time appointments.” Again, how can you state you are aware of a falsehood? Commission members serve five year terms with staggered dates of replacement.
The fourth statement is “I have/would sign (sic) the 21 page Citizens Ethics Initiative without reading it.” Is this an attempt to intimidate? It shouldn’t be, since the writers of this survey obviously haven’t read the initiative.
The fifth statement is “I would prefer laws that create an increased transparency in lobbyist activities?” The State of Utah can dump a pile of data onto the website, calling it transparency, and it would be far more obscure to voters than having the legislators sign a code of conduct.
The last statement is “I think campaign contributions should be capped notwithstanding that such a cap could prevent citizens in lower income brackets from running for office.” A cap would indeed prevent a candidate from running a campaign financed solely by a few special interest groups. This, unfortunately, is common practice. To have a campaign financed by constituents who believe in the candidate, is an opportunity for the candidate to talk to these constituents and really hear what they think. If the Ethics initiative accomplished just this much, it would be worthwhile.
I have decided not to send in the survey. It will not tell my representatives anything about what I think. But then again, it wasn’t meant to.
The Utah Republican Party made it official last Saturday; It opposes an ethics initiative currently being circulated by a group known as Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG). In the resolution passed by the GOP’s central committee, the Utah Republican Party cites constitutional concerns with UEG’s ballot initiative and the fact the legislature has already passed some ethics reforms, and more is on the way.
What the Utah GOP keeps overlooking is the fact ethics reform wouldn’t be on the ballot at all if the Republican controlled legislature had taken advantage of numerous attempts to reform itself. Up until last year’s legislative session, there was virtually no movement on ethics reform. It took evidence of growing public disgust with the way business was being conducted on Capitol Hill to get a handful of relatively weak reform measures passed. Fear of UEG’s ballot initiative appears likely to have the same effect on the legislature in 2010.
In a draft Joint Resolution on Ethics Complaint Procedures circulated during a recent interim committee meeting, yet another reform is being proposed in hopes any effort by the citizens of Utah to take matters into their own hands can be derailed. This joint resolution would create an independent ethics commission, but the commission would only be empowered to recommend the House or Senate Ethics Committee take up a complaint against one or more representatives or senators.
The chair of the commission and the chairs of the House and Senate Ethics Committee are given extraordinary powers to “set time limitations on any part of a meeting or hearing authorized” by the resolution. Depending on the amount of time a committee chair allows for arguments, this could make it difficult to impossible for either complainants or defendants to make their case before the commission or the relevant legislative ethics committee.
In addition, citizens or legislators may only file a complaint against a sitting legislator if at least two citizens/legislators submit the complaint and one of those has “actual knowledge of the facts and circumstances supporting each allegation.” In other words, while citizens or fellow legislators may have substantial evidence of ethical violations, unless they actually witnessed or were a party to the wrong doing – and they would have to be one or the other to have “actual knowledge” – they can’t ask either the independent ethics commission or one of the two legislative ethics committees to look into the matter. How convenient.
In the proposed resolution legislators also shield themselves from any complaint filed within 60 days of an election. So, if evidence comes to light – excuse me – if “actual knowledge” of an ethical problem comes to light or if a violation of ethical standards actually occurs within two months of Election Day, don’t count on the ethics commission or legislative committees looking into it.
But in their effort to shield themselves from accountability while still appearing concerned about ethics, the Republican controlled legislature seems poised to go much further than prohibiting ethics complaints within 60 days of an election. Under the draft resolution, unless the independent ethics commission created by it refers a complaint to one of the two legislative ethics committees for possible further action, no one can reveal a complaint was even filed.
“Except as provided in Subsection (1)(b) or (c), a person, including the complainants, the respondent, commission members, a committee chair or vice chair, or staff to the commission or a committee, may not disclose the existence of a complaint, a response, nor any information concerning any alleged violation that is the subject of a complaint.”
Subsections (1)(b) and (c) refer to a response which is “publicly released by the commission and referred to an ethics committee” and “disclosing facts or allegations about potential criminal violations to law enforcement authorities” respectively. Subsection (2) goes on to state any revelation to the press or public a complaint has been filed not covered by one of the above two exceptions, would put the leaker in potential “contempt of the Legislature”.
Whatever flaws are allegedly contained within the ethics reform initiative currently circulating, Republicans on Capitol Hill have no one but themselves to blame for the fact it got to the point citizens felt the need to take matters into their own hands. Proposing another weak piece of “reform” legislation shielding legislators from public scrutiny when ethical questions arise does nothing to address public doubts legislators take ethics seriously. If the goal is to do ethics reform better than the initiative and render it moot, lawmakers have a long way to go.
During the early summer of 2007, the Utah County Republican Party was in need of a float for the parade season coming up. Senators John Valentine and Curt Bramble asked Mountainlands Applied Technology School administrators if the school could build a float for the Republicans. This conversation took place in the middle of a meeting discussing the school’s funding. That funding is determined by the state legislature and, at that time, Valentine and Bramble served, respectively, as Senate president and majority leader.
Not surprisingly, the president of the school, Robert Brems, recruited the school’s instructors to work full time on building a float for the Republican party. After it was finished, Representative Becky Lockhart picked up the float.
When word of this breach of legislative ethics and improper use of taxpayer resources leaked out, the chair of the board of trustees for the school quickly paid for the float out of his own funds. An internal investigation by the Utah Board of Regents found that Brems had acted improperly. He resigned under pressure in the wake of the float controversy and other improprieties. Even though three state legislators were involved in the improper use of state funds, including two of whom actually initiated the request, only the school’s president was punished.
I know, it’s a parade float, so who cares, right? But this, to me, is the most important example of the challenges to ethical behavior in the Utah legislature. An internal investigation was conducted by the Utah Board of Regents. From the legislature? Huh? What impropriety?! Hey look over there! A liberal!
It’s an unsexy issue without far reaching or very damaging consequences, but it was inappropriate and “only the school’s president was punished.” At several public meetings and in person I’ve heard state legislators out campaigning against the UEG initiative saying (basically): “We don’t need an ethics commission… if we’re unethical, vote us out!”
Quaint. And a valuable argument, to a point. But it also greatly oversimplifies the situation. Using this example provided by Utah County Democrats, I still ask the legislators in opposition to an independent commission, what if voters never find out? What if the legislature actively ensures that voters never find out?
The legislature’s response to the example provided (i.e. nothing) proves that voters often don’t. So the “just vote us out” becomes almost an insult to voters, not a defense of maintaining a status quo.