Saturday, October 11, 2008

A short opinion about the Hughes Lawrence bribery charge

As a few others have said, I think the other 5 charges besides the bribe allegation against Hughes are extremely important and that they’re getting undercovered. I think the bribery charge will probably be dismissed by the Ethics Committee. Not because the huge amounts of out-of-state voucher funding pouring into our legislative and state school board races haven’t been slimy, but because the campaign funding laws are so lax.

As it now stands, every campaign donation, especially large ones, could be considered a bribe. If advocacy group x gives 20,000 dollars to a legislator to spend on whatever they want, it is a bribe and will be prosecuted. However, if advocacy group x gives 20,000 dollars to a legislator’s campaign fund, that’s perfectly legal. It is also perfectly legal for a legislator to pay taxes on that $20,000, and then spend it on whatever they want. Campaign accounts in Utah are 100% legal money laundering tools.

I’m heartened that even Lavarr Webb thinks ethics reform is coming:

By far, the vast majority of Utah political leaders are honest, ethical, upstanding individuals. That’s one reason some of them resent the continual media barrage on ethics reform. Precisely because they are honest, some view stricter ethics guidelines as unnecessary and bothersome. It grates on them that people would think they need strict regulations to keep them honest.

Despite that attitude, ethics reform is likely coming in the 2009 session. With current ethics complaints against legislators, and the media frenzy, the issue simply can no longer be ignored.

But I think the legislators are raging hypocrites on their self-righteous stance about impugning their honesty through ethics reform. Unnecessary and bothersome? I know that’s Webb talking, but that sums up their attitude perfectly. I bet even most legislators would admit that the vast majority of Utah teachers and even school district officials are honest, ethical, upstanding individuals. I know that to be true, but I would be suspicious if lobbyists were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on “gifts” and dinners for education employees each year and even more so if 80% or more of those didn’t have to be identified by name. Or if city lawyers, district judges, or Genola town clerks were accepting huge amounts of money from advocacy groups, and supposedly NOT for services rendered, just because they support the character of the individual...You’re telling me we should trust them. What a bunch of self-serving bologna…

To the legislature:
Ethics reform is not a media “barrage” or “frenzy.” You are not smarter than the 70%+ of your constituents that consistently poll in favor of ethics reform. You have “ignored” the issue for too long while hypocritically attacking presidential candidates and members of congress for similar indiscretions. I truly hope ethics reform becomes a huge issue at the ballot box.

Here’s a final article from the Tribune from April showing some retirement windfalls from both parties:
Campaign funds: Law lets leaders hold on to dough
Some are calling for more accountability on leftover balances in
lawmakers' coffers
By Sheena McFarland
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/07/2008 12:35:44 AM MDT

Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, hasn't given much thought to what he's
going to do with the $13,400 he has sitting in his campaign fund.
The retiring lawmaker likely will use some of it for travel
expenses for the rest of his term, which ends Dec. 31. But some may
end up tucked away in his pocket.
"I might support other candidates with it, but it would have to be
somebody I really liked," he said. "I'll probably just keep it and pay
taxes on it."
Under Utah statute, that's perfectly legal. Those running for or
serving in public office can use campaign funds any way they see fit.
It's a practice retiring Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City, finds
"very unfortunate."
"I plan to plow mine back for the same kind of activity for which
people gave me money," she said, adding that the $7,600 she has left
will go toward other candidates' races.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, is running for state treasurer, and he
will roll over the $18,800 he has left in his state House campaign
account into that race.
"I'm not going to get a boat this time," he joked.
Sandy Peck, executive director of the League of Women Voters, has
testified in support of legislation restricting such funds.
"We just thought that people would be really surprised that there
just were no limits on how that money could be spent," she said.
"When you give money to a candidate, it's for reasons to do with
their offices and services they are going to provide you as a
taxpayer," Peck said. "There should be some accountability and some
restriction on how it gets used."
State Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, has the most leftover money
of any retiring lawmaker: $31,600. He plans to use most of it for
campaigns and charity.
"Maybe not 100 percent will go for those, but the majority will.
The rest, we'll just go ahead and see," he said. "But as I understand
it, there are no restrictions on how we can use that money."
Rep. Gordon Snow, R-Roosevelt, said he gave one-third of his
$3,000 to a candidate he supports but wouldn't name.
"I don't want to offend the other guys," he said. "Can't a guy
just walk away?"
Rep. LaWanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden, has the least amount left, with
about $1,700. She'll use it for postage and other expenses during the
remainder of her term.
"Many people keep some money in there in case they run again," she said.
That's proven beneficial for LaVar Christensen and Jay Seegmiller.
Christensen left the House in 2006 to run for Congress, but he still
has nearly $13,000 left in his legislative campaign fund, according to
his financial disclosure. Seegmiller has about $8,700 left. Both are
running again this year for legislative seats. Former House Majority
Leader Jeff Alexander has about $62,000 at his disposal, according to
his disclosure. Earlier, he said he does not plan to spend it but
rather save it for his next run at office.
But others who have been retired for several years still have
significant amounts left. Al Mansell, who chose not to run again for
his Senate seat in 2006, still has $45,600 in his account, according
to his disclosure. He could not be reached for comment.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and his communications director,
Karen Hale, both ran bills when they served in the Legislature to
require candidates to put surplus funds into political campaigns,
nonprofit organizations or the state's general fund.
Hale said it was "unbelievable to see the reactions" of
legislators arguing against passing such a bill.
"They would say 'I really earned this money. I've given up
personal time and sacrificed for this office,' " Hale said. "But
public service is just that: service."
Becker's legislation, which he ran several years, never saw the
light of day in a Legislature hostile to most so-called ethics reform
He said he can't speak to legislators' motivations, but did say
many "justified" using the money to take trips with their spouses or
benefit themselves in some way.
"It leaves open the potential for real abuse," he said. "When
people give money for political campaigns . . . those monies are not
intended to be for personal use."

Leaving happy

Retiring lawmakers and their campaign fund balances
* Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful: $31,657.33
* Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi: $29,972.22
* Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy: $18,836.31
* Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price: $13,434.56
* Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George: $11,632.06
* Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City: $7,615.73
* Rep. Gordon Snow, R-Roosevelt: $3,140.33
* *Former Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City: $2,869.35
* Rep. LaWanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden: $1,686.21
*Current Salt Lake City mayor
Source: Candidate financial disclosures

No comments: