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UEG Position on Current Scandal Involving Attorney General John Swallow Press Release

January 21, 2013

“While it remains to be determined whether Utah’s Attorney General, John Swallow, was part of a scheme to bribe a U.S. Senator, or was unethical in accepting money for consulting work performed outside his official duties, or inappropriately put Jeremy Johnson in touch with a lobbyist who could help push dismissal of a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Johnson, it is clear enough that huge amounts of money were funneled to former AG Shurtleff’s campaign accounts and then to Swallow’s, some of it through Jeremy Johnson. It is not idle speculation to wonder whether the desire to obtain large campaign contributions may lie behind the trouble that Mr. Swallow is in,” stated David Irvine, attorney for Utahns for Ethical Government

“From all appearances, it seems that the desire to attract campaign money, on the magnitude of the more than $200,000 that Jeremy Johnson and his associates contributed to former Attorney General Shurtleff, likely prompted Mr. Swallow, Shurtleff’s chief fund raiser at the time, to begin his unfortunate involvement with Mr. Johnson. During Swallow’s recent campaign, Shurtleff’s Utah’s Prosperity Foundation then contributed close to $300,000 to Swallow’s campaign. At the least, these events should lay to rest the notion that visions of big contributions do not have a corrupting influence on otherwise honest men and women,” stated Irvine. “Our top law enforcement officers should be above reproach but do not appear to be so.” Kim Burningham, UEG Chair, added that “UEG is interested in following the Alliance for Better Utah’s exploration of the usefulness of an investigation by the Utah State Bar.”

Burningham also observed that “legislators who opposed our initiative petition argued that there were no problems that would not be remedied by ‘transparency’ of contributions, but nothing has been done to make the donation process genuinely transparent either.” An example of the problem with this lack of transparency is the enormous $250,000 contribution to Swallow’s campaign from a Washington, D.C. PAC labeled Republican State Leadership Committee, whose donors remain totally anonymous. “Our laws are so lax that it’s impossible to determine where all of the money is coming from. No one knows who is footing the bill for many Utah politicians or what private agenda is driving these huge, untraceable contributions.  Limiting the size of campaign contributions would greatly alleviate this troublesome situation,” Irvine added.

Kim Burningham announced UEG’s position: “In response to the current scandal, Utahns for Ethical Government reiterates its position in favor of campaign contribution limits and for meaningful disclosure of contributors.  We call upon the 2013 Legislature to enact into law the campaign contribution limits recommended by Governor Huntsman’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy.  Those limitations ($10,000 for statewide races and $5,000 for legislative races) are eminently reasonable. The mandatory reporting of contributors to PACs, proposed by the Commission, should also be adopted, and extended to out-of-state PACs that seem able to flood Utah races with untraceable cash.”

LG’s Tabulations Suggest UEG Petition Drive Success and Federal Judge Rules in Favor of UEG

Mar 22, 2011

At the end of the day yesterday, Utah’s Lieutenant Governor released a tabulation of paper and electronic signatures on UEG petition packets. Although the LG has declined to recognize the legality of UEG’s electronic signatures, the totals indicate that, if electronic signatures are included, UEG obtained enough signatures in the required 26 of 29 Senate districts for its initiative to deserve placement on the 2012 ballot. The LG’s count of paper signatures indicates at this point that inclusion of e-signatures may be necessary in 4 Senate districts, depending on results of judicial resolution of the paper signature count.

Earlier in the day, UEG had filed a legal complaint in state court, asking for judicial interpretation of the timelines in Utah’s initiative statute, a judicial order requiring the LG and county clerks to release complete tabulations of our signature drive, and judicial recognition of the validity of our electronic signatures.

Responding to the LG’s count, Kim Burningham, UEG Chair, observed: “It is curious, to say the least, that after seeking the count for seven months, UEG finally is given a tabulation on the evening of the same day that we filed our lawsuit. Does that office, like other offices of state government, respond only when the public outcry reaches high decibels?”

“Of course, we are pleased to see that, with e-signatures, we have enough signatures to qualify for a place on the 2012 ballot,” stated Alan Smith, UEG attorney.  “As to the LG’s tally of our ‘paper’ signatures, given the history of the LG’s discriminatory treatment of our ethics initiative, we’re skeptical of his count. Our pending litigation in state court will explore the methods and means used by county clerks and the LG to disqualify signatures. We believe that illegal tests may have been used in some instances to disqualify some of our signatures.”         

In a February 2011 letter to the LG, UEG stated that “We must have your office’s completed tabulation, provided by each county, and broken down by Senate district. Required within that tally will be the number of packets and signatures submitted, the number of packets and signatures qualified, and the number of packets and signatures disqualified, with the reasons, in each instance, for disqualification of any packets and signatures.” All the LG sent yesterday was the total of presumably qualified paper signatures in each Senate district, plus the total of presumably qualified electronic signatures in each Senate district (if e-signatures prove to be legal).

“Preliminary UEG analysis of the Senate district tallies,” noted Burningham, “reveals that the percentage of disqualified paper signatures differed significantly from Senate district to Senate district. For example, although most Senate districts (for the August 12 submission) had disqualification rates in the range of 2 to 11%, two districts in Utah County had disqualification rates between 20-24%.”  “If clerks were not tabulating according to a uniform procedure, the statute would have been violated as well as the basic American constitutional right to equal treatment under the law. UEG will be investigating this possibility as our law suit proceeds.”

Federal Judge Rules In Favor of UEG

On another legal front, yesterday federal district court judge Clark Waddoups ruled in UEG’s favor that names of petition signers must remain protected from disclosure for now. The Judge stated “that disclosure of the UEG Petition signatures, at this time, will not further Utah’s interest in electoral integrity. Without a legitimate governmental interest, the Government has no justification for burdening Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.” UEG believes that the injunction will stay in place at least until a definitive ruling is obtained from the Utah Supreme Court on the issue whether the Ethics Petition will go on the 2012 general election ballot.

UEG Files Lawsuit in State Court Against Lieutenant Governor

Mar 21, 2011

At a press conference held at the Law and Justice Center of the Utah State Bar, Utahns for Ethical Government announced the commencement of a law suit in state court against Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell and Utah’s 29 county clerks.

At the press conference, UEG attorney Alan Smith explained that “the law suit seeks a court order that would require the county clerks to certify the signatures on UEG’s ethics petition and that would then require the Lieutenant Governor to count those certified signatures in order to determine whether they are sufficient in number to gain a place on the 2012 general election ballot.”  “To ultimately determine sufficiency,” Smith continued, “the court may be forced to decide whether actions taken by the Lieutenant Governor in relation to UEG’s effort, such as his rulings on e-signatures, are unlawful or even unconstitutional.”

Co-attorney David Irvine added: “We hope for a straightforward, quick ruling that our ethics petition satisfies the electoral time-line for processing initiatives under Utah’s election code.  But we are prepared to question whether Utah’s initiative statute is constitutionally sound, especially in view of the burdens which the Legislature continues to place upon citizenship rights for direct democracy and in light of the unfair, discriminatory fashion in which the Legislature and Lieutenant Governor have singled out and attempted to thwart our ethics initiative.”

Providing additional context to the law suit, Kim Burningham, UEG chair, chronicled what UEG views as continuing obstructionism from the LG’s Office. “We have been waiting for over 7 months for the LG to report the number of registered voters who signed our ethics reform petition. Such a delay is inexcusable and is a continuing sign of the deliberate attempt to burden UEG’s ability to pursue its initiative as well as its legal options in a timely fashion.”

UEG Communications Chair, Dixie Huefner, added that “the repeated reporting delays are consonant with the action taken at the end of the current legislative session to thwart future initiative and referendum efforts in the state. The legislative and executive branches of state government seem bent on keeping all power to themselves, denying the people of the state their legitimate constitutional right to participate in the governance of the state.” She queried: “What is happening to our democracy when elected officials exhibit such scorn for the citizens they are supposed to be serving?”

UEG had submitted close to 120,000 paper signatures to county clerks by the end of the one-year period allowed in the initiative statute for signature gathering. Some of these have been or will be disqualified. 94,533 must be valid signatures of registered voters, and UEG believes that the final count will exceed that minimum and that its initiative is entitled to be on the 2012 general election ballot.

The UEG initiative goes beyond current legislation in establishing a stricter code of ethics for state legislators. Among other things, the initiative requires fuller disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, prohibits transfers of campaign funds from one legislator to another, caps campaign contributions, sets limits on legislators and former legislators serving as lobbyists, and sets stricter limits on lobbyist gifts to legislators.

A federal injunction remains in place for now, protecting the privacy of the names submitted.

UEG Opposes Bramble’s Bill Burdening the Constitutional Right to Initiative

March 3, 2011

Utahns for Ethical Government announces its position on two new bills that have emerged in the waning days of the 2011 legislative session: SB 165 and HB 146. The former is a bad bill that would further hinder the people’s constitutional right to initiatives and referenda. The latter is a good attempt to prohibit conflicts of interest on public transit boards.  Here are summaries of the bills and UEG positions:

SB 165 (Bramble) (prohibiting use of electronic signatures in ballot propositions and requiring that the count of signatures on initiative and referendum petitions be based on the number who voted for President of the United States in the last election instead of the number who voted for Governor)

UEG opposes. This is one more attempt to reduce the likelihood of successful citizen legislative initiatives. The requirements are already onerous and this bill would make them more so. The Legislature has consistently shown its disdain for citizen initiatives that are provided for in the Utah Constitution. This is another example of their dislike of any interference with their control over legislation.

HB 146 (Fisher) (requiring that public transit district trustees, officers, and employees be subject to the Utah Public Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act; also providing that disclosure of a conflict of interest does not waive the prohibition on transit district trustees, officers, and employees having any interest in a contract [or profits derived from a contract] awarded by the transit district)

UEG supports. This bill is consistent with avoiding corruption or the perception of corruption by public officials. Transit board members in particular (for instance, UTA board members), should not be benefitting directly or indirectly from public contracts awarded on their watch.

Most of the constructive attempts to deal with ethics issues have been circled, tabled, or defeated in this year’s legislative session. UEG will be providing its assessment of legislative action/inaction after the conclusion of the session.

To urge the defeat of Bramble’s bill, contact your legislators by going to http://le.utah.gov and checking for your legislators emails on the House and Senate rosters. If you don’t know who your legislator is, you can find out at http://le.utah.gov/GIS/finddistrict.jsp

UEG Issues More Position Statements on Ethics-Related Bills

February 26, 2011

HB 395 (Grover) (allowing campaign contributions during legislative sessions to those legislators who have publicly announced their intention to run for federal office)

UEG opposes. “There is no justification for this loophole except to favor certain state legislators who decide to run for federal office. It fails the corruption or appearance of corruption test,” according to Kim Burningham, UEG Chair. “Conducting a campaign behind the scenes while the Legislature is in session divides a legislator’s time, and money paid to the legislator to advance a federal campaign will be seen as influencing that legislator’s votes on state matters of interest to the donor,” added Alan Smith, attorney and UEG Executive Committee member. “Conversely, it also gives the legislator the wherewithal to pressure contributions from lobbyists while key votes are being taken on state legislative matters,” he added. UEG believes that this is a very bad bill, designed to favor only a few legislators.

HJR 005 (Chavez-Houck) (authorizing the newly created Independent Legislative Ethics Commission to issue advisory opinions on hypothetical facts submitted by legislative committees)

UEG supported. UEG was disappointed that this bill was defeated in the House Ethics Committee on a partisan 4-4 vote. Kim Burningham, UEG Chair, observed that “Memers of the majority party on the Committee seemed reluctant to give authority to the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission to offer advisory opinions, preferring to keep more control within the Legislature and the House Ethics Committee itself.” “Floor debate would have illuminated the issues more fully,” noted Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Committee Chair. “To kill the bill at this early stage seemed to indicate that some legislators on the Committee did not trust the ability of their newly created Legislative Ethics Commission to provide sound or helpful guidance to the Legislature.”

SB 251 (Waddoups) (requiring ethics training for lobbyists, and penalties for failure to complete the training)

UEG supports. It is reasonable to introduce financial penalties (and ultimately, license suspension) for those who do not take the training. (UEG believes that the training itself, to be developed by the Lieutenant Governor, should be followed closely, however, to ensure that the training material is well developed and strong.)

HB 294 (1st substitute) (Cosgrove) (requiring that PACs and PICs make expenditures only for political purposes or political issues purposes, respectively, or for solicitation and administrative costs, and providing penalties for failure to file the required financial reports)

UEG supports. UEG is a Political Issues Committee [PIC] so these requirements would apply to UEG. This bill is meant to ensure that PACs and PICs do not spend contributions for uses that do not relate to the reasons for creating the PACs and PICs.

UEG Endorses Citizen Counsel Redistricting Efforts

Feb 2, 2011

Utahns for Ethical Government applauds the Utah Citizens’ Counsel’s significant work to frame guiding principles in support of the state legislature’s redistricting responsibilities.  We join with the Utah Chapter of AARP and fully endorse the principles announced today.

The work of the Citizens Counsel reflects the constitutional responsibilities of state citizens.  As legislative power is co-equally vested in the citizens of Utah, their elected representatives act as trustees; governmental officers, therefore, should be at all times amenable to them (George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776).

The legislative redistricting principles represent the best of ‘equal representation’ for all Utahns, regardless of their political affiliation. We encourage Utahns to review the redistricting principles, contained within the Citizens’ Counsel website http://www.utahcitizenscounsel.org, then to ask their appropriate state representatives to support those measures.

UEG Urges Campaign Contribution Limits

September 27, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government applauds Mayor Corroon’s invitation for the gubernatorial candidates to voluntarily limit their campaign contributions to donations of not more than $10,000 and return to donors the amounts any contributor has given in excess of that. We also applaud Governor Herbert’s willingness to at least consider a joint agreement to that effect and not to rule it out.

“This is an opportunity for all of the candidates to take a very positive step that most Utah voters have long supported, and we believe it will show real leadership on each candidate’s part,” said Dixie Huefner, speaking for UEG’s Executive Committee.  “While a $10,000 limit is higher than the ceiling UEG has proposed, it’s a major step, because Utah is one of only four states with no campaign contribution limits at all.”

David Irvine, one of the initiative petition’s drafters, said, “Obviously, this can only work if all the candidates agree, but it can be a huge win for Utah, for the candidates who’ll together show real leadership by a joint agreement, and it will send a powerful signal to the Legislature that it’s time to act on moving Utah out of the D- category for ethics laws.”

Kim Burningham, UEG chair, noted that, contrary to the Governor’s concern that contribution caps might violate free speech, “a voluntary cap is just that—voluntary on the part of the candidates, no different from a fair campaign pledge. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court continues to specifically uphold the principle of campaign contribution limits because they do not impinge on free speech. Instead, they help keep elections honest.”

UEG Issues Press Release Calling On Governor Herbert to Exercise Ethical Leadership

September 12, 2010

In light of recent revelations of apparent “Pay to Play” donations from businesses to the Governor, Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) calls on the Governor to demonstrate his leadership and immediately establish stringent campaign contribution limits for elected executive branch officials.  Obviously, such limits should apply to current office holders and candidates for those offices as well

A major feature of the UEG ethics reform initiative establishes strict campaign contribution limits for legislators based on the limits for all federal congressional (House and Senate) candidates. However, the Utah Legislature has not seen fit to establish any limits on its campaign contributions.  The Governor now has a chance to take the lead in this most important matter. UEG also calls upon all candidates to support the adoption of strict campaign contribution limits and applauds those who do so. 

When groups doing business with the state contribute large sums of money to the Governor, it raises the same issues as when large sums are contributed to legislators. “Whether illegal or not, accepting large sums of money and then awarding benefits such as contracts or tax credits to those same businesses creates at the very least the appearance of corruption,” stated Kim Burningham, UEG Chair.  “It’s the appearance of favors for cash that results in voter distrust of politicians and loss of confidence in government integrity,” added David Irvine, UEG Executive Committee member. “Respect and trust for government is indispensable to its effective functioning, and much of today’s voter apathy in Utah can be laid to the failure of Utah to put its ethical house in order,” emphasized Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair.

The UEG initiative calls for specific legislative campaign limitations of $2,500 per individual and $5,000 for a PAC for a two year election cycle.  If the same limits were applied to a four year gubernatorial cycle, then equivalent limits would be $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per PAC.  Under the UEG initiative, corporations and unions would be prohibited from making direct contributions.  If those limits were imposed, larger contributions could not be made, minimizing potentially unethical influence on state officials.  The recent KSL coverage cited an Illinois decision to cap contributions from anyone doing business with the state at $100.  “That would be a significant and welcome change in Utah!” says Burningham.

Legislative leaders from both political parties have stated that they favor transparency as a way to facilitate ethical government.  UEG calls on the Governor to make good on his belief in transparent government by making public his campaign office communications, including emails, to the Governor’s office and executive branch offices and to also disclose those who have requested meetings with the Governor and those who have actually met with him.

Although UEG focused its ethics reform initiative on the legislative branch, the so-called “Pay to Play” concerns are the same with respect to both branches. “If our initiative were to be passed by the voters, we expect that campaign contribution limits would soon be extended to the executive branch,” said Irvine. Constitutional separation of powers issues compelled UEG’s focus on legislative ethics in its initiative statute. The executive branch, however, could demonstrate its ethical leadership by 1) immediately implementing executive orders and administrative rules that limit the size and timing of donor contributions or 2) adopting voluntary limits on who can give to a gubernatorial campaign similar to what UEG recommends. Certainly any gubernatorial candidate of leadership caliber would follow suit. “We repeat: We want the Governor to demonstrate his ethical leadership, just as over 110,000 Utahns have voiced their demand of the legislative branch to demonstrate ethical leadership,” concluded Burningham.

Press Release: Results of Signature Drive

August 12, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government today announced that it has collected over 110,000 signatures to qualify for the 2012 election ballot. Announcing the results was UEG chairperson, Kim Burningham, who explained that UEG is confident that it has met the overall state goal of 94,552 qualified signatures as well as the proportionate number of signatures in 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts. Noting the challenge of the effort, Burningham thanked dedicated supporters and stated that “we accomplished this, thanks to nonpartisan support from across the state, including support from former governor Olene Walker, current gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon and running mate Sheryl Allen, former U.S. congressperson Chris Cannon, many former legislators, and multitudes of Utahns interested in higher ethical standards for the Utah Legislature.”

Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair, observed that “because of the stringency of the initiative requirements, it is extraordinarily challenging for a grass-roots, nonprofessional group to gather the required signatures, and we are proud of our efforts.”  David Irvine, UEG co-counsel stated UEG’s view that “the current initiative requirements unreasonably burden the right of the people to participate in the legislative process through an initiative. Thus, we are doubly proud of those who helped UEG surmount the signature-gathering challenges and barriers put up by the Legislature itself, the Attorney General’s office, and the Lieutenant Governor’s office.”

UEG submitted signatures gathered since April 15th to county clerks’ offices throughout the state yesterday and today. According to August 11 instructions from the Lieutenant Governor’s office to county clerks, the signatures are to be “processed and counted, but not certified” for placement on the 2012 ballot.  Litigation is expected to follow.

“When well over 100,000 citizens have expressed their desire to have our initiative on the ballot, the public deserves an opportunity for fuller debate and a chance to vote on our initiative,” concluded Burningham. “The Legislature has a long ways to go to become a leader rather than a follower in terms of ethical standards in state legislatures across the country.”

Press Release: Down to the Wire

August 3, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government today announces the status of its signature drive for its legislative ethics reform initiative petition.

As of Monday, August 2nd, our statistics indicate that we have or will have obtained by Monday, August 9th the number of qualified voters to meet the required number in the state overall and in 22 of Utah’s Senate districts.

As Kim Burningham, UEG chairman, explained “That means that we have 4 more Senate districts in which we need to make our goal. For the days remaining, we will particularly be concentrating on Utah County—Senate districts 13, 14, 15, and the portion of Senate district 27 that is in Utah County. We have already made our goal in Senate district 16 in Utah County.”

“Our ethics reform petition is important to Utah voters, and we believe that the misinformation being circulated by opponents about the contents of the initiative does a disservice to all Utahns and to our form of democratic government,” added David Irvine, UEG co-counsel.

“Opponents are ignoring the need for real reform of legislative ethics and an enforceable, clear code of conduct,” says Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. “Much remains to be done that the Legislature has not begun to address.”

“The public deserves the opportunity to vote on our initiative, and we urge all registered voters to help in the final days of our signature drive so that the opportunity can become reality,” concluded Burningham.

Misleading e-signature rule

July 10, 2010

In response to the Lieutenant Governor’s announcement yesterday of a rule purportedly allowing electronic signatures on initiative petitions, UEG Chair Kim Burningham denounced the announcement as “misleading the Utah public and media outlets who announced the rule without having actually read it.”

For the LG’s office to announce that e-signatures would be allowed effective immediately and then to state in the rule itself that they will be allowed only when witnessed by a petition circulator is to “take away with the right hand what has been announced with the left hand,” added Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. Alan Smith, UEG attorney, referred to the announcement and content of the rule as “double speak.”

The primary purpose of electronic signatures is to allow a supporter of a citizen petition to sign electronically using the internet when the person does not have access to a paper petition. To require that a paper petition circulator verify the electronic signing by witnessing it to confirm its authenticity defeats the whole purpose of electronic signing. It also runs counter to the current ability of a paper petition circulator to both sign a petition and then verify the authenticity of his or her own signature on the same packet. Many other official and commercial transactions use e-signatures without the need for a witness. For instance, when you pay your taxes via email, no one needs to witness the signature.

The “interim rule,” announced yesterday by the LG takes effect immediately—prior to any comment period. As such, it presumably constitutes “an emergency rule,” prompted by a unanimous opinion of the Utah Supreme Court that electronic signatures are valid for purposes of a candidacy for public office. The Utah court also noted that electronic signatures may be less susceptible of fraud problems than are paper signatures.

Burningham asserted that “once again, the LG’s action demonstrates the lengths to which state officials will go to thwart UEG’s ongoing petition drive to place an ethics reform initiative on a future general election ballot.” UEG is continuing to collect signatures to meet an August 12th deadline. UEG’s previous e-signatures have already been rejected by county clerks under a ruling from the LG’s office, an action that UEG is currently preparing to contest in court.

UEG also intends to challenge this latest rule as an unauthorized exercise of authority by the LG.

Legislative Code of Conduct

June 21, 2010

Today Utahns for Ethical Government is releasing to the media a copy of the memorandum it sent to the Joint Senate and House Interim Ethics Committee. The memo was sent in anticipation of the Ethics Committee’s June 23rd meeting, at which the Committee will be addressing how to strengthen and improve its current code of conduct. UEG Chair Kim Burningham has been invited to present UEG’s suggestions in person at the June 23rd meeting. He will be accompanied by UEG Executive Committee member and drafting attorney David Irvine.

Said Burningham, “Many portions of the current code are widely recognized as so vague as to be unenforceable. If the Legislative Ethics Committee is intent on improving the code, we believe that it should take our suggestions seriously.” Added Irvine, “Adoption of UEG recommendations would help to build public trust in our Legislature, assuming, of course, that the code is then rigorously enforced and that appropriate and skilled training of the Legislature is conducted.”

“UEG is pleased that the Legislative Ethics Committee is interested in improving the code of conduct and we are happy to contribute our suggestions to the Committee,” stated Dixie Huefner, UEG Communications Chair. “We want to be supportive of their effort while also continuing to move forward with our own ethics reform initiative and our August 12th signature gathering deadline.”

The memorandum follows.

Memorandum


TO: Joint Senate and House Interim Ethics Committee
FROM: Utahns for Ethical Government
DATE: June 4, 2010
RE: Suggestions for Revisions to the Legislative Code of Official Conduct

In response to Senator Urquhart’s invitation for public comment on revisions to the current code of conduct, we offer a number of suggestions that we believe deserve consideration. We recognize the difficulty of capturing the appropriate balance between broad principles and explicit prohibitions and hope you will work diligently to do so. We feel strongly that the current Code is inadequate and recall that the House Ethics Committee itself found some of the provisions of that Code impossible of enforcement.

As a preliminary matter, UEG believes that caps on campaign contributions and certain restrictions on solicitation of contributions are needed and would go a long way toward assuring the public that special interest money is not dictating legislative outcomes. We have assumed, however, that the Interim Ethics Committee may believe that these issues belong in the Government Operations Committee, where campaign contributions were taken up during the last legislative session. Therefore, we have not made suggestions about campaign caps in this memorandum although we are not dropping our interest in such matters. We continue to see campaign finance reform as directly relevant to the ethical operation of the Utah Legislature.

The wording below, relating to changes to the current Code of Official Conduct, may be capable of refinement by legislative counsel, but we hope that the intent is clear and reasonably specific.

A few of the terms (e.g., family members, personal advantage, personal benefit, paid lobbyist, person, control person) may require subsequent definitions for clarity.

  1. No legislator shall engage in employment as a paid lobbyist while serving as a legislator or for two years after leaving office.
  2. Such prohibitions would have the salutary effect of reducing the risk of engaging in the kind of employment that would “destroy or impair” independence of judgment of sitting legislators. It specifies the kind of activity that is most likely to be perceived as compromising one’s ability to exercise independent judgment. It is narrower than the current code provision prohibiting employment or activity that would impair independent judgment, yet also more explicit. It recognizes the reality that part-time legislators naturally bring employment experience and knowledge that make totally independent judgment impractical and unrealistic.

  3. No legislator shall accept employment as a consultant, advisor, attorney, or employee of a paid lobbyist.
  4. Same rationale as above.

  5. A legislator shall not use confidential information acquired as a result of legislative status to gain a personal advantage for the legislator or the legislator’s family members, nor shall a legislator use the legislator’s office for such personal advantage.
  6. A legislator shall not accept a gift, as defined in [code provision]* from a paid lobbyist.
  7. A legislator shall not accept any campaign contribution that is given, explicitly or implicitly, with the expectation of a return governmental favor by the legislator to the contributor.
  8. Legislators shall not be control persons in a corporation (including labor unions and nonprofits) while serving as legislators unless legislative status was not a contributing factor to the appointment and does not serve to provide the legislator with any personal advantage or profit.
  9. A legislator shall not threaten or exact retribution for a person’s failure to comply with an inappropriate request or demand by the legislator that exceeds the legislator’s legitimate scope of legislative authority.
  10. A legislator is expected to obey the civil and criminal laws of the state and shall not engage in any illegal conduct that reflects negatively upon the legislator’s fitness to serve as a representative of the people.
  11. This would obviously require exercise of judgment by those given responsibility to judge the conduct. A parking ticket would probably not reflect upon a legislator’s fitness to serve, while multiple, unpaid tickets over a long period of time might so reflect, as evidence of disrespect for the law, unless there were extenuating circumstances.

  12. A legislator shall not attempt to discourage, by any means, the investigation or prosecution of any civil or criminal matter within the jurisdiction of another branch or level of government.
  13. A legislator shall not use government facilities or employees in furtherance of a purely personal interest.
  14. A legislator shall not attempt to unduly influence documents or opinions, including analyses and audits, prepared by public bodies and public officials in conjunction with any issue that is or proposed to be the subject of statewide initiative or referendum.
  15. A legislator shall not suggest that a lobbyist further the personal interest of the legislator or the legislator’s family members, by, for instance, suggesting that the lobbyist hire any of those persons.
  16. Legislators shall disclose any potential or actual conflict of interest on any legislation or legislative matter as provided in [code provision]*.
  17. Legislators shall not use their campaign money for personal use, as provided in [code provision]*.
  18. Legislators shall not give funds from their own campaign fund to other legislators, public officials, candidates for public office, political parties, or charities but shall keep the money for their own campaigns, as intended by the contributors.
  19. Legislators may seek an advance opinion from the Independent Ethics Commission with respect to any conduct that might be considered unethical. A written opinion from the Commission, when issued in advance of the conduct and which determines that the conduct is not a violation of the Code, would provide immunity from a complaint lodged against the legislator with respect to the specific facts addressed in the written opinion.
  20. A legislator who violates the Legislative Code of Conduct shall be guilty of an ethical violation and subject to procedures provided for in legislation or legislative rule and remedies as determined by the Legislature.
  21. We think it is important to state explicitly in the Code that Code violations are ethical violations. The Legislature’s current code also refers to the criminal code section which provides that a violation of the Code constitutes a class B misdemeanor.

——-

We support continuation of the substance of provisions requiring legislators to follow the procurement code process, as specified currently in (j), (k), and (3)(a).

——-

In this memo we have not attempted to suggest improvements to the related statutes enacted during the 2010 session—statutes regarding conflicts of interest and disclosure of assets, personal use of campaign contributions, and restrictions on lobbyist gifts. We do not think that these separate statutes are adequate as currently written. We assumed, however, that specific content related to these matters could be omitted from the Code of Conduct as long as the appropriate code citations are incorporated in the Code of Conduct. We further assumed that the Interim Ethics Committee would view the content of these statutes as outside the immediate scope of its concerns.

Thank you for the invitation to provide input. We would be happy to meet with members of the Committee and its staff to discuss and clarify any of the above recommendations. In a future memo, we would also be happy to offer our analysis of any relevant statutes, at your request.

* [code provision] refers to statutes passed during the 2010 session of the legislature relating to personal use of campaign contributions, disclosure of assets, and restraints on gifts from lobbyists, as the case may be.

Ethics Reformers Express Pleasure at Recent Court Actions

June 3, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government announces that it has received permission from the Utah Supreme Court to file an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the Farley Anderson case. The case challenges the Lieutenant Governor’s refusal to accept Mr. Anderson’s electronic signature submissions. Anderson is seeking to run for governor as an Independent, and the LG’s refusal to accept his e-signatures is keeping his name off the 2010 gubernatorial ballot.

Commenting on UEG’s forthcoming amicus brief, David Irvine, UEG pro-bono attorney, stated that ” We believe that UEG’s position and information on its own electronic signature gathering campaign will be useful to the Court in deciding the Anderson case.” “Our brief will demonstrate that the Utah legislature has mandated the legal recognition of electronic signatures for all purposes.  By taking a contrary position, the lieutenant governor has defied the legislative branch and is out of bounds in doing so,” added co-attorney Alan Smith.

UEG also announces its satisfaction with yesterday’s order by federal district court judge Clark Waddoups. The order granted UEG’s request for a preliminary injunction that prohibits release of the names of signers of UEG’s ethics reform initiative petitions. Kim Burningham, UEG chair, stated that “UEG is especially pleased that Judge Waddoups recognized the irreparable harm that would accrue to UEG signers if the injunction were not granted at this point in time.”
A decisive ruling from the judge awaits the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Doe v. Reed, which deals with a similar set of facts from Washington state. Judge Waddoups stated that the decision in Doe v. Reed is expected to bear upon, if not directly control his ultimate ruling in the UEG case. A decision in Doe v. Reed is expected by the end of June.

Utahns for Ethical Government is Moving Ahead With Its Signature Drive

June 2, 2010

In response to the Lieutenant Governor’s release yesterday of Senate District counts for the UEG ethics reform initiative, UEG reaffirms that it is continuing to gather signatures toward an August 12, 2010 deadline for placement on the 2012 ballot.

UEG Chair Kim Burningham notes that “we have 73,000 signatures in the bank and are now going after the balance of signatures in areas of the state where we did not meet the required numbers.” “We are determined to make it,” he added, and “believe enthusiastically that we will.”

Dixie Huefner, Communications Chair, observed: “When we submitted petitions to the county clerk to meet an April 15th deadline, we estimated that we had collected about ¾ of the number of signatures that were necessary to be on the 2010 ballot, a good showing, given the burdens placed on the initiative process by legislators.” “This estimate did not include electronic signatures that we had also collected but that the LG had ruled were not acceptable” she added.

Examining the count, UEG signature-gathering chief, Vik Arnold, noted that “in some Senate districts, the figures released were higher than our estimates, indicating that in the final days before April 15, some petitions were delivered directly to the clerks rather than to our office.” Continuing, he said that “the actual counts released yesterday also allowed us to estimate how many names had been discarded as duplicates or otherwise considered ineligible by the county clerks.”

“In some instances, discrepancies between our estimates and the actual counts suggest some lack of uniformity across counties, an issue with possible significance for legal action,” observed Alan Smith, UEG pro-bono attorney. “Uniform application of the law is required to provide equal protection to all of Utah’s registered voters who signed our petitions,” he explained.

UEG interprets the June 1 release of the figures as the LG’s determination that he was required to do so in order to establish that UEG’s initiative did not gather enough signatures to be placed on the November 2010 ballot. “In no way does release of the figures establish that we cannot be placed on the 2012 ballot if we gather the balance of required signatures before the termination of the year allowed by the state Election Code,” asserted Burningham. In UEG’s case, the year-long effort must be completed by August 12th to ensure placement on the 2012 ballot.

Ethics reform remains high on the list of concerns of Utah voters. Yet news reports suggest possible new attempts by the opposition to thwart the ability of UEG to have its initiative placed on the 2012 ballot. “These would be cynical moves on the part of the opposition to deny citizens the ability to exercise their right to legislate by initiative. We strenuously reject these attempts and will fight them in court if they emerge,” concluded Burningham.

Utahns for Ethical Government Supports ACLU of Utah in Electronic Signature Issue

May 24, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) today announces that it is planning to request permission from the Utah Supreme Court to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case of Anderson v. Bell. UEG supports the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Foundation, Inc. (“ACLU of Utah”) and cooperating attorney Brent V. Manning in their representation of Farley Anderson, an independent candidate for governor whose petition to be placed on the ballot was wrongfully rejected by the Lieutenant Governor in March 2010.

ACLU attorneys explain that, among other things, Mr. Anderson seeks a ruling from the Court that “e-signatures”—signatures collected on-line—should be treated the same as handwritten signatures for purposes of independent candidate nominating petitions. The Lieutenant Governor argued that those were not “signatures” under Utah State law.

Similar to Anderson’s contention, UEG believes that the Lieutenant Governor’s decision to reject UEG’s electronic signatures gathered in its initiative petition drive on legislative ethics reform is illegal. UEG has until August 12, 2010, to collect the 95,000 signatures required to place its ballot initiative on the 2012 ballot.” A Supreme Court ruling on the validity of “e-signatures” could play a significant role in whether UEG can meet its August deadline,” stated UEG chairperson, Kim Burningham.

“We look forward to supporting the ACLU’s arguments in the Anderson case,“observed Alan Smith, UEG co-attorney with David Irvine. ACLU attorney Darcy Goddard added: “We welcome UEG’s support of Mr. Anderson in this case.  UEG has a significant, shared interest in establishing the validity of e-signatures in the electoral process, and its attorneys have a wealth of knowledge to share with the Court.  We have every expectation that UEG’s support of Mr. Anderson, if permitted, will greatly assist the Court in reaching a fair and just decision in Mr. Anderson’s favor.”

After filing our request, the next step will be to await the response of the Utah Supreme Court.

ETHICS REFORM PETITION: A NEW DEADLINE

April 23, 2010

We now have a new deadline for obtaining sufficient signatures to place ethics reform on the general election ballot.  If we are able to obtain the required number of signatures in 26 of 29 Senate Districts by August 12, the question will be put before the public in 2012.

Previously, we had one goal in mind: to obtain the signatures by April 15.  We came close and did very well, but we did not succeed in that immediate goal.  Had we succeeded with our first goal, the public would speak in the 2010 election.
 
Some opponents question our ability to continue gathering signatures.  Our lawyers are convinced we are on strong legal ground and the popular demand will be heard.

I now invite you to join me in making the final push.  Your determination in gathering signatures in sufficient numbers in the necessary districts will move us toward greater accountability in the Utah State Legislature.

Two issues:

  • How far did we miss the goal?
  • What can you do now?

HOW FAR DID WE MISS THE GOAL?

State Law requires approximately 95,000 valid signatures across the State.  This figure is based on the stipulation that we must obtain 10% of the number who voted for the governor in the last election.  Those signatures must be distributed throughout the State with at least 10% in 26 Senate Districts.

We do not yet know if we achieved the first requirement.  We did not achieve the second.

According to our calculations, 77,000 signatures were delivered by our volunteers to county clerks across the State.  Additionally, workers—who could not get their completed packets to our central headquarters and back to the county clerks in time—were to take packets directly to the county clerks.  There are several thousand of these, but do not know the exact number.

We also received many signatures electronically.  None of these are included in the 77,000 figure.  These could only be counted if legal action were taken to the State Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the procedure.
Actual numbers will shrink when some of signatures cannot be validated because the signer is not registered or for some reason does not match up with voter records on file in the county clerk’s offices.  Past experience shows that number will range between 5 and 12 % of the total.

Using the 77,000 figure, signature counts in nine Senate district exceeded the required amount.  Several of these have a large buffer margin.  In addition to those, many others are close to the goal, while some have considerable distance yet to go.
Any way you look at it, our current goal is a whole lot less than it was in the Fall of 2009 when we began!

WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?

Our task is clear.  We must gain additional signatures in specific locations to qualify not only in total number but also in the required distribution in 26 Senate Districts.  We are committed to that goal.
Senate district leaders and volunteers throughout the state are being provided with exact figures, and they will know what must be done to qualify.  If you do not know how you are doing in your area, ask.  Your help is of great importance.
 
Some frequently asked questions with the answers follow:

  • Should we move ahead on gathering signatures?  ABSOLUTELY YES!
  • Should we sign electronically?  Our first preference is that you sign on paper, but if you are unable to do so, sign on line.  (Counting those will still demand court approval.)
  • If you do not have petitions where can you get them?  Consult the web site: www.utahethics.org.
  • Do we need funds?  Please contribute if you can.  We have not gone in the hole, just barely, but we are operating on a limited budget.  Your contributions are needed!  (Contribute on the web site using Pay Pal, give it to members of the executive committee,  or you can send it to my address: 932 Canyon Crest Drive, Bountiful, Utah 84010.)

DO NOT THROW ANYTHING AWAY.  Save and put up your signs now.  Any flyers or handouts you have may still be useful.  Use, don’t discard, your current petitions.

Thanks so much for your work thus far.  With your help, we can get the issue on the ballot in 2012.  With a clear set of ethical standards, ethical improvement will happen!

Kim Burningham
Chair, Utahns for Ethical Government

UEG Releases Update on Status of Ethics Reform Petition Drive

April 2, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY - Entering the final two weeks of its petition drive, Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) released information Thursday on the status of its petition to place an ethics initiative on November’s ballot.

By the end of the weekend, UEG anticipates reaching somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of its mandated 95,000 signatures of registered Utah voters, according to Kim Burningham, chair of UEG. Of the approximately 8,000 petition packets that have been distributed statewide - enough for 180,000 signatures - about one-third have been returned to UEG. Status of those “somewhere in the pipeline” and the intensity of signature collecting efforts during the next 10 days will determine the fate of UEG’s legislative ethics reform effort in Utah.

“If we stopped right now, we would not make it,” Burningham said.  “But we are within reach. It is doable but it will take a big effort.”

Burningham cautioned that the numbers were UEG’s best estimates and should not be considered definitive because of logistical problems encountered in a massive drive conducted by volunteers in all 29 of Utah’s Senate districts. The number of signatures on petitions that have not yet been returned will be critical to UEG success, and electronic signatures still need to be tallied.

Other highlights of UEG’s grass-roots petition drive include:

  • Roughly 3,000 volunteers have been involved in varying degrees.
  • About 175 donors have contributed in the neighborhood of $60,000.
  • Recent expenses have included purchase of print advertising in the state’s two largest daily newspapers and 40 weeklies; production of a video currently running on cable television; an automated telephone message to specially targeted areas; and part-time services of computer, communication and campaign specialists. Additional funds are still being sought to facilitate the final push to reach our signature goal.
  • The campaign is using Internet-based “social networking” sites more extensively during these final weeks.
  • A two-week, 20-city “road trip” across the state has been launched to support on-going petition drives.

“In these days of active distrust of government, it is more important than ever for the Utah Legislature to have a clear and stringent code of ethical conduct,” said Dixie Huefner, communications chair of UEG. “We are asking Utah voters to go the extra mile during these next 12 days: Help put our initiative over the top so that Utahns can have a say about the ethical standards, accountability, and openness of our Legislature.”

For more information contact:
Dixie Huefner, (801) 359-6705
Kim Burningham, (801) 292-9261
Alan Smith, (801) 521-3321 (on background)
David Irvine, (801) 949-6693 (on background)

Utahns for Ethical Government is a nonpartisan coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and unaffiliated voters who are committed to meaningful legislative ethics reform. UEG is working to obtain 95,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify its initiative on the November 2010 ballot. The initiative would establish a strict code of ethical conduct for the Utah Legislature and an independent ethics commission to advise the Legislature.

Lawmakers wind up session dancing the “Fox” trot

March 11, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY - Call it the Henhouse’s Ethics Reform Foxtrot: three steps forward, four steps backward and five steps in place.

“Lawmakers seemed to dance around many of the most significant aspects of meaningful ethics reforms,” said Dixie Huefner, communications chair of Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG), commenting on the 2010 session of the Utah Legislature and the need for UEG to accelerate its petition-drive efforts. “We’re disappointed so much effort has produced so little toward actually changing the way business is conducted at our Capitol.”

“The backroom organizers of the 45-day party gave Utahns - the folks who actually paid for it - half a loaf of ethics reform or, in several respects, only the crust. The fox still calls the tune at the henhouse party,” said Kim Burningham, UEG Chair.

Three steps forward

  • Required disclosure of more potential financial conflicts of interest (but not those of close family members)
  • Limited prohibition on use of money for purposes other than funding candidate campaigns (some but not all personal uses were excluded)
  • Lobbyists must report gifts worth $10 or more (but with multiple large exceptions)

Four steps backward

  • The proposed constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission is an attempt to prevent voters from ever passing an initiative on what kinds of ethical standards of right and wrong Utahns expect from their Legislature.
  • The new procedures for a supposedly independent legislative ethics commission ensure that complaints will seldom meet the filing requirements, that commission hearings will be secret, that commission recommendations cannot reveal evidence, and that a super majority must agree on the existence of misconduct before forwarding a recommendation to a partisan ethics committee of the Legislature.
  • The Legislature passed a bill allowing the opposition to initiatives more time (when the proponents can no longer collect signatures) to pressure petition signers to remove their names from the petitions so as to defeat an initiative from appearing on the ballot.  Changing the rules in the middle of the game happened because the Legislature set an immediate effective date to specifically thwart the current initiatives.
  • The attorney general issued an opinion that electronic signatures would not be acceptable for the purpose of an initiative petition, making it more difficult for initiative supporters to gather signatures. Ironically, this opinion, while not issued by the Legislature itself, was issued while the Legislature was making it easier for signers to remove their names.

Five steps in place

  • The Legislature did little to strengthen its vague code of conduct. Among the missing elements are the following: Lobbyists can still be legislators.
  • Legislators can still become paid lobbyists as soon as they leave the Legislature, as long as they don’t join a lobbying firm. Legislators can still give their campaign money to other legislators or legislative candidates to buy influence among their colleagues.
  • Accepting gifts from lobbyists that exceed the lobbying limits is apparently not considered an ethical violation. There are absolutely no limits on campaign contributions from corporations, individuals, or PACs. Utah is now one of only four states that has not established any limits.

Utahns for Ethical Government will accelerate its “March to the Ballot” efforts, including soliciting donations to air its cable TV advertisement. Go to UEG’s Web site or YouTube  to see and share the ad.

Also, UEG will continue gathering signatures on Saturday afternoons through March outside many public libraries in various counties across the state.

Go to http://www.utahethics.org to sign the petition electronically or find a location where you can sign the petition in-person.

For more information contact:
Dixie Huefner, (801) 359-6705
Kim Burningham, (801) 292-9261
Alan Smith: (801) 521-3321 (on background)
David Irvine: (801) 949-6693 (on background)

‘March to the Ballot’ launches UEG’s homestretch push

March 3, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY – Utahns for Ethical Government today announced the launch of its “March to the Ballot” drive, an aggressive campaign to complete its signature gathering in the coming weeks before the April 15 deadline. 

By the end of the current week, it will be unveiling a revamped and informative Web site (http://www.utahethics.org ) and will be launching a TV ad designed to stimulate dinner table conversation about the ethics initiative. Electronic signature gathering will continue, as will efforts to overturn the opinion of the attorney general. “With signature gathering teams planning to fan out across the state, we believe that we will be successful in gathering the 95,000 signatures needed to get our initiative on the November 2010 ballot,” said UEG chair, Kim Burningham.

Commenting on the current legislative session as it enters its final week, Burningham said “although the Legislature has initiated reform efforts in a few limited areas, they have been marginalized by attempts to thwart citizen initiatives.” 

“Most legislative attempts at reform have been piecemeal and some have actually been counterproductive,” Burningham added, calling the efforts “half a loaf or worse, just a crust.”

Communications committee chair Dixie Huefner echoed earlier remarks of former Gov. Olene Walker and former congresswoman Karen Shepherd saying “elected officials cannot be expected to police themselves effectively. Citizen input is part of what makes a democracy strong.” Rob Ence, AARP director and UEG supporter, said “citizen efforts elevate democracy. UEG’s is one of the most earnest and heartfelt.”

UEG spokespersons also commented on the lack of civility of some legislators, referring specifically to those who have accused UEG of being “hucksters and” “bamboozlers” who use “subterfuge and deceit” in asking people to sign the petition. “It reflects fear on the part of legislative opposition,” said Huefner. 

The initiative drive moves into high gear this month, and UEG will continue to solicit volunteers.

____________________________

Remarks of Kim R. Burningham
Chair, Utahns for Ethical Government
News conference at Utah Capitol

Good afternoon.  It is the beginning of March, and we are pleased to be announcing the Utahns for Ethical Government “March to the Ballot.” Signatures are multiplying on the initiative all over the state—and this March, we will pushing hard to finish collecting the signatures needed to place our initiative on the ballot. The citizens deserve a real opportunity for real ethics reform.

Today we will also be introducing our redesigned website and a new cable TV ad that will be airing around the state. Today we also offer our assessment of legislative efforts so far as the 2010 session heads into its final week.

We recognize that we have some good legislators.

But the Legislature as a whole has given the public only “half a loaf.”  Less than half a loaf, it is a crust.

Legislators say we will have an ethics commission, but they make that commission the creation of the legislators themselves and they deny citizen input.  The fox is guarding the henhouse.

And when they create that ethics commission, they make sure most of what they do is done in the dark.  Meetings are held behind closed doors.  They won’t even consider a measure unless 4 out of 5—not a majority vote—but 4 out of 5 of their own self-selected commissioners believe there is a problem.  They set up a standard of evidence so high that all but the most obvious violations will be ignored.

This is a pretense at reform.  We want real reform.

They say they will improve the disclosure of conflicts of interests.  That is good, but they still let legislators be lobbyists.  They still allow legislators to divvy out thousands of dollars to other legislators to literally purchase leadership positions.

And perhaps most frighteningly they still allow the highway of money to flow from lobbyists to legislators in a conduit of control that inhibits unfettered examination of issues.

They put limits on gifts and travel from legislators—a move in the right direction—but include loopholes so large that a truck could get through.  For instance, lobbyists can still pay for that trip to Florida—as long as it is associated with some legislative purpose.

The citizens of Utah and of this nation are tired of a system where money blatantly buys influence.  There is a need for real ethics reform, and the “crust” of reform being offered up by the legislature is not enough…not nearly enough.

So it is now that we call on all Utahns to join us in our final push, our March to the Ballot.  We invite everyone to visit our website for information on signing our petition: http://www.utahethics.org.

Not for a crust, not for half a loaf, but for REAL reform NOW.

____________________________

Remarks of Dixie Huefner
Communications Committee Chair, Utahns for Ethical Government
March 3, 2010 Press Conference

Following up on Kim Burningham’s remarks, I’d like to elaborate on the Legislature’s attempts to thwart citizen efforts to get an independent ethics commission and strict code of conduct on the November 2010 general election ballot:

Among the obstacles placed before UEG supporters have been the following:

1) Senator Stephenson’s Senate Bill 275, which makes it easier for opponents of the petition to pressure signers into submitting requests to remove their signatures. With an immediate effective date and longer timelines for opponents to pressure signers into removing their signatures, this is clearly an obstructionist and unfair tactic, one that changes the rules in the middle of the contest and allows one side to keep playing after the other side can’t gather any more signatures.

In this context, I have a comment about remarks issuing forth from legislators. UEG is tempted to give some of them an award for undermining Utah’s reputation for civility. If we did, it would go to those legislators who called us hucksters and bamboozlers, and accused us of subterfuge and deceit as we gather signatures. To us, this is not only uncivil but wrong and an evidence of the fact that they’re afraid of our ethics reform package.

2) Another obstacle is the suspect opinion by the Attorney General stating that electronic signatures will not be accepted as valid, despite clear factual and legal arguments to the contrary;

A second line of legislative opposition is the serious attempt to reserve every bit of control over their behavior to themselves alone. Among legislative attempts to preserve the status quo and preserve current lobbying privileges and protections are the following:

HJR 15, a proposed constitutional amendment that is unnecessary and that would arguably preclude citizens from being able to establish an Independent Ethics Commission and code of ethical conduct now or in the future.  If I were grading this effort, I’d give it an F

SJR 3, a proposed legislative rule establishing a Legislative “Independent” Ethics Commission with severely limited jurisdiction and limited authority to review complaints of ethical misconduct. The Legislative Commission would be able to review only those complaints that are forwarded to them by a partisan legislative ethics committee and would report to that partisan committee. Grade: D-

HB 267: so many lobbying loopholes as to be only 1 baby step better than the current rules.  Grade: C-

HB 270: improved financial disclosure requirements   Grade: B-

HB 124: improved limitations on personal use of campaign expenditures. (Because of a giant exception that permits contributions to other legislators and candidates from one’s own campaign fund, Grade is a C+)

HB 329: no caps on corporate (or PAC, or individual) contributions.  Grade: F (Ben Ferry’s attempt to introduce some modest caps that reflected the compromise coming from the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy was gutted by Craig Frank’s substitute bill, even though as a member of the Commission he had initially agreed to introduce the Commission recommendations)

Finally, there have been no bills at all prohibiting paid lobbyists from serving simultaneously as legislators, and no bills closing last year’s loophole that allows a legislator who leaves the legislature to lobby as long as it’s for a big company and not a lobbying firm. Grade: F

UEG’s conclusion: the Legislature has made some progress in a couple of areas, coupled with major preservation of current privileges in others.
Overall, most of the bills introduced during this session pay lip service to ethics while doing a disservice to what ethics really should stand for. The bills and resolutions thus far continue to flaunt the role of big money and embrace it as the means of establishing who obtains power in the Legislature.
 
The public was reminded several weeks ago by Gov. Olene Walker and Congresswoman Karen Shepherd that legislators can NOT be expected to effectively police themselves and that citizen input into the ethical standards of office holders is more than appropriate; it is necessary.

As Governor Huntsman reminded us when he left office, “You’ve got 2.7 millions Utahns who don’t have a lobbyist, who don’t have a special interest representative, who just want good, competent, ethical leadership, and they’ve got voices that matter.” (S.L. Tribune, 8/11/09). We couldn’t’ agree more.

____________________________


Rob Ence, AARP Utah State Director
UEG Press Conference - March 3, 2010
South Steps, Utah State Capitol
We say that this (the Capitol) is the peoples’ house. Legislators are our guests. But when the people want to have a say in how their house is managed, some of our guests act like they own the place. 

We say we want citizens to be responsible and take an interest in the process of government, to have an opinion and be sure to vote. But when the citizens exercise their constitutional rights to improve our government through initiatives or referenda – the purest forms of grassroots engagement – we are told not to meddle in the affairs of our elected officials.

I have personally worked side by side with volunteers gathering signatures along the Wasatch Front and as far south as Washington County and will continue north and east until we meet our objective. This is what I am experiencing:

    • The energy & enthusiasm of our volunteers who spend countless hours from St. George to Logan are infectious. They are passionate and dedicated advocates who deserve more than the irresponsible label of “huckster” placed upon them by at least one legislator.
      The citizens we talk to know what is at stake. We want people to be informed. Even with the underhanded efforts by the opposition to circulate misinformation, individuals who are willing to take the time, do understand what is missing and embrace what needs to be done.
      There is overwhelming nonpartisan support across the state in all voting districts. For every 100 people we encounter, roughly 10 don’t want to be bothered – that is their choice; another 10 may not agree with our approach or solution – again, they have a right to their opinion; but an overwhelming 80 of every 100 – 80% - get it, support it, and sign the petitions with conviction. They want to have a chance to vote on this initiative and the Fair Boundaries initiative in November.
  • We all want the best for our state and believe that by creating high standards, limiting the influence of money, and adopting independent review – benefit all – especially our elected officials. 

    I find it ironic that our legislators trust the citizens’ voice when it comes to electing them but reject their input when it comes to accountability and good governance. 

    Citizens have a right and a responsibility to act and speak when our legislature fails to do so. We have a right to have our names counted – whether on paper or through proven electronic means – and to have our voices heard especially in offering guidance on how our guests should behave in our house.

    A Direct Attack on Utahns’ Ability to Prevent Legislative Abuses

    February 6, 2010

    SALT LAKE CITY – Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) applauds the decisive action taken today by the Utah House of Representatives in approving several ethics-related measures. Our representatives demonstrated they clearly see a need to clean up their house.

    On the other hand, one measure, HJR 15, approved by more than the two-thirds vote needed, is directed at reducing citizen input into ethics reform. The resolution would allow voters to decide whether to create a legislative ethics commission by amending the Utah Constitution. The proposal sounds better than it really is.

    UEG believes the rights of Utahns to effectively respond to legislative abuses by enacting ballot initiatives would be eroded by the amendment. The speaker of the House said as much today when responding to a question from another member of the House. HJR 15 is clearly intended to override certain provisions in UEG’s citizen initiative that provide for an ethics commission.

    “It’s pretty clear that our representatives do not want to share lawmaking power with the people of Utah,” said Kim Burningham, chair of UEG.

    “Members of the House seem to believe that only the Legislature knows what is needed and how to control and police its own members. And they’re willing to go to great lengths to protect their power,” added Dixie Huefner, UEG communications committee chair.

    UEG believes strongly that the state Capitol is “our house” – that it belongs to all Utahns. The constitution provides that the people of Utah can enact statutes on legislative ethics by initiative. HJR 15 is a direct assault on the part of our checks and balances system that allows citizens to guard against legislative abuses.

    AG says: ‘No can do’ - UEG says: ‘Expect A Challenge”

    February 10, 2010

    SALT LAKE CITY – Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) will continue its on-line and print signature-gathering at full speed. The citizen’s group will challenge the Utah attorney general’s opinion that says electronic signatures for initiative petitions will not be accepted as legal. UEG believes that valid signatures can be collected both on line and on paper.

    UEG and Fair Boundaries are discussing various options and plan to call a joint press conference in the coming days.
    Fair Boundaries is also gathering signatures on line for its ballot initiative to create an independent, advisory commission to recommend redistricting maps and methods to the legislature to avoid gerrymandering and to address inherent conflicts when legislators draw their own legislative districts.

    “Although we are not surprised at yesterday’s ruling by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, we are disappointed,” said Kim Burningham, chair of UEG’s executive committee. “It’s just another in a string of obstacles our elected representatives have erected to prevent themselves from being held accountable to the people of Utah. We will fight it.”

    “All registered voters signing the petition deserve to have their signatures count in support of real ethics reform,” added Dixie Huefner, communications committee chair.

    Utah law establishes the right to collect electronic signatures and does not limit this right to specified uses.

    Meanwhile, UEG continues to collect signatures on line and by paper. If registered voters have a chance to sign the paper petition, they should do so. If not, they should sign on line. UEG asks each person to enter his or her complete residence address and email on the e-signature form accessible at http://www.utahethics.org. If necessary, UEG representatives will contact persons who signed on line and ask them to sign manually.

    According to Vik Arnold, UEG signature-gathering co-chair, “UEG is close to having sufficient signatures in a number of Senate districts, and is now focusing its efforts in areas that got a late start.”

    Utahns for Ethical Government needs 95,000 signatures of legal voters in order to place its initiative on the November 2010 ballot. The initiative would establish an independent ethics commission as an advisory adjunct to the Legislature. It would also establish a strict code of conduct for Utah legislators, including limits on campaign contributions to reduce the influence of big money and special interests on legislative policy decisions.

    TOP 10 Reasons SJR 3 is “Same Song, Different Verse”

    January 30, 2010

    SALT LAKE CITY – From our reading of Senate Joint Resolution 3, which purports to establish an independent ethics commission, Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) is convinced that the Legislature is less than serious about creating a genuinely independent commission. Major problems reveal how weak its commission would be and how much the Legislature intends to retain extraordinary control over any commission that reports to it.

    Here is UEG’s TOP 10 list of the problems we have so far identified:

    10. The Ethics Commission cannot hire its own staff. The Legislature does that.

    9. The legislative committee’s standard of proof for finding an ethical violation is “clear and convincing evidence,” an atypically high standard. The Legislature is making sure that it is in a position to reject the commission’s decision.

    8. If a complaint is made public, it will be dismissed (even if the legislator or the legislator’s attorney makes it public).

    7. The chair of the legislative ethics committee screens the complaint. In other words, the Legislature is the gatekeeper for what the commission can investigate.

    6. The commission cannot report its judgment and recommendation to the Legislature within 60 days of a contested primary or 60 days of a contested regular election. This is despite the fact that the complaint may have been filed months before and the commission’s decision is not the result of a complainant trying to gain a pre-election advantage for a certain candidate. Is the Legislature unwilling to trust that its hand-picked commission is going to behave impartially?

    5. The commission cannot reveal any of the specific evidence that formed the basis for its recommendation when it makes its recommendation public.

    4. When a recommendation is forwarded to the relevant ethics committee of the Legislature, the process will too easily become partisan. The chair of that ethics committee will be a political party member. There will no longer be a co-chair from the opposite party but instead be a vice-chair. The membership of the committee remains four Republicans and four Democrats. Unless five committee members overrule the chair, the chair has authority to reject evidence, refuse to call a witness and dismiss the complaint even at this late stage in the proceedings.

    3. A super majority of four commissioners out of five is required to find that a legislator has violated the code of conduct. Without the vote of this super majority, nothing will be forwarded to the Legislature.

    2. Commission meetings and hearings will be held in secret. What kind of accountability is that? SJR 3 runs counter to what the Legislature says it values.

    And the top reason why the Legislature’s proposal is nothing more than the same old song …

    1. Citizens are virtually shut out of the complaint process by the requirement that one of the two citizens must have first-hand knowledge of the alleged ethical violation, that is, must have been present and witnessed the violation. How unreal is that?

    Our top two specific problems with SJR 3 are consistent with problems related to the overall constitutional amendment proposal. It seems intended to keep the public out of the public’s business.

    Beyond these problems with SJR 3, the Legislature’s current ethics reform proposals will not strengthen the code of conduct that guides decisions of the ethics commission. Even legislators on last year’s ethics committee characterized the current code as vague and meaningless and therefore unenforceable.

    All of the flaws that allow politically partisan control of the current process and procedures are preserved. In other words, the second verse is the same as the first.

    UEG concludes that SJR3 is carefully designed to ensure that complaints are not likely to be filed and, if filed, unlikely to result in a finding of unethical conduct unless admitted by the legislator. We do not understand how legislators can look the public in the eye and say, with straight faces, “this is meaningful ethics reform.”

    UEG Position Statement on Legislature’s Proposed Amendment to Utah Constitution and Ethics Reforms

    January 27, 2010

    SALT LAKE CITY – Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) is, of course, interested and pleased whenever the Legislature is willing to consider substantive ethics reform proposals. We welcome its interest but believe that without our initiative its current efforts would not have been forthcoming.

    We will carefully follow the bills introduced during the legislative session – including Senate Joint Resolution 3, which was introduced Wednesday – and will examine the distance between our substantive reform proposals and the others. At this point we believe that much of the content of the Legislature’s proposals is only partially responsive to the need for substantive reform and still leaves many loopholes and issues unaddressed.

    In addition, we believe the joint resolution to establish a “Legislative Ethics Commission” by constitutional amendment is a cynical political ploy to confuse the public. In our view, an independent ethics commission that remains an advisory adjunct to the Legislature, such as the one we’ve proposed, requires no constitutional amendment. The Joint Ethics Committee of the Legislature acknowledged this in drafting its own so-called Independent Legislative Ethics Commission in preparation for the 2010 session. It saw no need for or discussion of a constitutional amendment. We note that the current legislative language of the proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution has deleted the word Independent. We wonder why.

    Although the language of the proposed constitutional amendment does not clearly remove the right of the people to establish, by initiative, laws governing the operation of the ethics commission, if this is the Legislature’s intent, it should immediately disclose that intent. Absent an express disclaimer of such intent, legislators voting on the proposed amendment and voters going to the polls this November will understand that UEG’s initiative can be implemented in tandem with any constitutional change.

    Moreover, because transparency begets accountability and accountability is the wellspring of representative government, commission proceedings should be open to public scrutiny. Language providing for secret or confidential commission hearings should be struck from any proposed amendment. Otherwise, members of the Legislature would be providing for themselves a constitutional cloak of secrecy granted no other elected official.

    The fox is guarding the henhouse. UEG encourages registered voters to sign our petition so voters will have the chance to have an independent watchdog.

    U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision

    January 23, 2010

    SALT LAKE CITY – While it is too soon to know all of the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the ban on independent campaign expenditures by corporations, this much is clear: The Court did not deal with statutory bans on direct corporate contributions to legislative candidates, nor did it unsettle the longstanding rule that such bans are constitutionally valid.

    As a result, Utahns for Ethical Government does not expect the court’s ruling to affect the language of its state-level ethics initiative or efforts to qualify the initiative for November’s ballot.

    “It’s the people’s chance to allow voters in November to express their support for better ethical standards in the Utah Legislature,” said Dixie Huefner, communications chair for UEG.

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    UEG is a nonpartisan statewide citizens’ group committed to legislative ethics reform. For more information contact:

    Dixie Huefner, (801) 359-6705
    Kim Burningham, (801) 292-9261
    Alan Smith, (801) 466-4774

    Thirty-Five Former State Legislators Endorse Utahns for Ethical Government Initiative

    November 24, 2009 Dixie Huefner .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Contact: Kim Burningham 801-292-9261 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Salt Lake City — Thirty-five former state legislators from both major political parties today announced their support for the ethics initiative being sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government.

    Observing that Utah is lagging behind most other states in creating an independent ethics commission, setting limits on campaign contributions, and requiring full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and campaign contributions, former Governor and former state representative, Olene Walker urged Utahns to support the ballot initiative. Aware of opposition from some Republican leaders, she also mentioned that differences of opinion about specific provisions of the initiative can result in refining amendments after passage of the initiative, as long as they don’t undermine the basic ethical standards and the Commission’s independent functions.

    Others speaking at the press conference included former Democratic state legislator and former U.S. Congresswoman Karen Shepherd and former Republican state senate president Karl Snow.

    Shepherd asserted that “power is seductive to whoever has it and it needs to be monitored. The fox should not be guarding the henhouse.” Shepherd stated that it is always difficult for the Legislature to want to relinquish any power to those outside its ranks but best practice demands that it be done and that enforcement mechanisms be introduced and implemented.

    Snow added that “the initiative is not a harness but a liberating guide post. One might have hoped that key members of the legislature would have responded with a desire for open dialogue on an issue that has plagued the Legislature over the past decade.”

    “Utahns of all political persuasions want real ethics reform, not cosmetic or weak reform such as that currently being proposed by some current legislators,” Snow asserted. Speakers called on citizens to exercise their independent judgment as ethical members of the Utah community and to sign the petitions to ensure that the initiative is on the 2010 statewide ballot.

    Citizen Group Launches Ethics Initiative

    August 12, 2009 Dixie Huefner .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Contact: Kim Burningham 801-292-9261 ; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    [Salt Lake City, UT] Standing on the steps of the Utah State Capitol, representatives of Utahns for Ethical Government [UEG] today announced a citizens’ initiative to reform the ethical standards and processes governing the Utah State Legislature. The initiative would enact a strict code of ethical standards for Utah lawmakers and create an independent ethics commission to apply the code and make enforcement recommendations to the Utah State legislature.

    Citing public concern about legislative ethics and inaction on the part of the legislature, UEG representatives asked Utahns to join in the effort to demand responsible behavior from their legislators. “The Utah State Legislature’s failure to enact meaningful ethics reform and to effectively monitor its members necessitates action from the public,” said Kim Burningham, a former Republican legislator.

    A group of active supporters, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, including former legislators attended the launch. “Utahns from all walks of life are concerned about this issue, said David Irvine, another former Republican legislator. “The time is now for citizens to step forward and address the lapses in legislative behavior that are demeaning our democratic form of government.”

    “Additional impetus for the initiative came after former-Governor Huntsman, in response to a request from legislative leaders, withdrew ethics reform from the issues to be addressed by his Commission on Strengthening Democracy,” Burningham noted.

    In addition to Burningham and Irvine, also providing remarks were Chase Peterson, former President of the University of Utah, and representing the Citizens’ Counsel; Karen Hale, former Democratic State Senator, and Rob Ence, AARP Utah State Director.

    The initiative petition now goes to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for review. Seven public hearings will then be held statewide to inform Utahns about the effort. At the completion of the hearings, the initiative petition will begin circulating throughout the state. More than 100,000 signatures will be sought to ensure that the initiative will be placed on the ballot for the 2010 general election.

    Initiative highlights, a list of initial UEG supporters, as well as the full text of the initiative can be found at http://www.utahethics.org.

    Utahns for Ethical Government is a nonpartisan coalition of Utah citizens committed to legislative ethics reform.  For more information about the UEG, its initiative petition and how you can get involved, please visit http://www.utahethics.org.