Friday, September 25, 2009

A collection of a few articles about the inadvertent gift ban passed by the legislature..."Accidental ethics reform is better than none"

The newspaper sites keep articles up for various lengths of time. I didn't save the text on some and they are gone. But I have the original links. I have other articles I saved and will paste in here. All underlining was added by me.

First - Articles discussing the original intent of the two ethics bills passed in the 2009 legislative session.

This empty link was a Standard Examiner editorial that I saved under the title "Standard Examiner editorial: Gift ban is a joke HB 246, Brad Dee defends "transparency", but didn't copy the text.

My bad. It is gone, but it looks like it was a good one. (I tracked it down on Weber County Forum as well, but the link there is dead too.)

I did save the excellent Tribune editorial though:

Meal ticket
Lobbyists keep lawmakers well-fed

Tribune Editorial
Updated: 04/15/2009 05:37:20 PM MDT

So far this year, state lawmakers have gobbled up $92,000 worth of meals, tickets, trinkets and other gifts from legislative lobbyists.

While golf courses and stadiums and concert halls are popular places to woo legislators -- lobbyists like to reserve big blocks of time to better ingratiate themselves with elected officials -- the most popular path to a lawmaker's heart runs through the stomach.

And, despite what has been hailed as reform, the kitchen won't be closing any time soon. It's safe to say that lawmakers' appetite for free food during the 2009 session far exceeded their appetite for meaty ethics reform.

Legislative leaders made big promises before convening, including -- gulp -- a gift ban bill.

House Speaker Dave Clark said he would back a proposal that would allow only nominal gifts worth $5 to $10, and meals offered at an event or proffered to the entire Legislature. But it appears that Clark and his compadres bit off more than they could chew.

Instead, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 156, which should have been titled the "Small Potatoes Act." It bans absolutely nothing, but does change the reporting requirements to make lobbyists reveal the recipients of tickets to all recreational and artistic events plus meals that cost $25 or more. Previously, the reporting threshold for meals was $50.

Theoretically, that would result in names being attached to a lot more gifts. (Of the $92,000 worth accepted so far this year, the recipients were only disclosed for $5,213 of the spending.) But more likely, lawmakers will alter their diets.

By lowering the reporting threshold for meals, lawmakers who don't have the stomach for owning up to these trysts have consigned themselves to moderately priced restaurants. No more linen tablecloths, silver spoons and crystal glasses. We expect there will be considerably more chicken and a lot less lobster bought by lobbyists starting next month.

SB156 sponsor Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said his bill will add more transparency to the process, but defended the practice of lobbyists paying the tab.

"If someone wants to go and have a dinner with a lobbyist, that's fine," Dee said. We agree. But they should go Dutch. And if lawmakers don't want to pay their own way, and they still feel it's essential to hear what the lobbyists have to say, then why not meet at the office?

Holding a public office should entitle lawmakers to a salary and the right to represent the people who elected them. And nothing more. The Legislature needs to enact an absolute gift ban.

So the original intent was just to report gifts over $25, banning nothing. It looks like Brad Dee was the go-to quote for both editorials.

Second - Articles addressing the legislature's "Oops moment," or the fact that SB 156 actually contained language banning legislators from accepting any gifts worth more than $50.

The quotes in these articles are terribly revealing. You see both Republican and Democratic legislators publicly saying that they think the gift ban should be repealed. Ethics reform is strictly to be promised, never delivered. The D-News articles and KSL story are still up at the links; I'm pasting in the Tribune article and Standard Examiner editorial. Enjoy.

August 14, 2009 -

August 19, 2009 -

August 20, 2009 -
Lobbyists' gifts of primo tickets now taboo for lawmakers
Freebie limits » Some lawmakers surprised by $50 limit on entertainment

By Cathy Mckitrick

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 08/20/2009 08:24:39 PM MDT

Some state lawmakers, surprised by the reach of a newly enacted lobbyist gift ban, already are giving reasons why the statute needs to be revised.

SB156, which overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate last March, limited lobbyist gifts and meals to those valued at $50 or less. That bans many Jazz tickets, pricey golf rounds and trips.

Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, in an interview with The Tribune this week, didn't say anything about repealing the gift ban. But he did tout the merits of addressing lobbyist gifts with disclosure rather than outright prohibitions.

"I personally am a believer in full disclosure. I think that's the way to go," Killpack said. "Once you get into a lot of the ban issues, it complicates things."

While many lawmakers in the Democratic minority support gift bans, at least one hopes to roll back the new law.

"It took me by surprise," said Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley City. "I think it should change back to how it was."

Goodfellow, who served for years in the House before moving to the Senate, has in the past been one of the biggest recipients of premium court-side Jazz seats.

Some legislators have said the change was inadvertent, even accidental, and slipped through unnoticed by many. That's because the ban was enacted by a change in the definition what constituted a gift to include tickets to sporting, recreational and cultural events.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, who sponsored SB156 in the House, said the $50 gift cap -- including events -- was no secret.

"As legislators, we have to come to grips with that," Dee said. "I'm OK with us buying our own tickets and I can pay for my own golf."

The new law mandates disclosure of gifts over $10, a step that Dee believes should be taken even further.

"If there's a lobbyist who buys something for me, including a gift or ticket, it ought to be disclosed in any amount," Dee said. "Until we reach that point, I'm not sure if we're ever going to get it."

House Speaker David Clark said he would be fine with a limit lower than $50, but he believes his colleagues are honest.

"I don't think it's an integrity issue for the Legislature," Clark added. "It's a perception issue on the part of the public."

One lawmaker called the whole discussion "ridiculous," because ethics and gift-giving are personal matters.

"We're sitting here with mountains of problems -- immigration and unemployment -- and we're spending hours on ethics," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He was one of just two senators to vote against SB156.

"I said this is wrong, you're opening a Pandora's box and they're going to come after you for more," Buttars said of ethical reforms. "We're in a real mess now."

The debate rages for a reason, said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"There will always be a great deal of tension with ethics reforms because it is the unique situation where individuals are forced to regulate themselves," Jowers said.

"While the public sees no disadvantage in pushing for ever-more stringent controls, lawmakers feel every miniscule restraint."


The Utah Legislature has debated lobbyist gifts for years, along the way killing any number of attempts to outlaw them.

For the most part, lawmakers have handled the issue by requiring disclosure of freebies over a certain dollar value. But year in and year out most gifts have been reported without identifying the beneficiary.

Under a new provision that some say was accidental and others insist was deliberate, gifts valued at more than $50 are banned.

August 25, 2009 -
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
OUR VIEW: A 'giant step' for ethics

Utah legislators may have thought they were taking a "baby step" forward with Senate Bill 156, legislation that was intended as a gift disclosure bill.

However, the bill, sponsored last year by State Sen. Greg Bell -- who will soon become Utah's new lieutenant governor -- contained wording that prohibited legislators from accepting "gifts" that are valued at more than $50.

We're pleased as punch that SB156 is law and we're more than happy to offer Utah legislators our congratulations for finally passing a gifts ethics bill that has more than baby teeth.

The gift ban should still be absolute but this is a great, "giant step" forward.

It effectively ends the disgusting practice of lawmakers accepting high-priced tickets to sporting events from lobbyists or meals from same at upper-tier restaurants. And they can forget about a round of golf at many courses. However, we know of a lot of low-budget golf courses. If lobbyists and lawmakers need a list, we'll provide one.

There's always bowling too. It's not too expensive at the alley and a game goes well with nachos and cheese and a soft drink.

Frankly, we've always been of the opinion that if lawmakers want to attend a Jazz game, or another sporting event, they should do what their constituents do -- pay for it.

There are still cheap-seat Utah Jazz and University of Utah hoops tickets that lawmakers can mooch from lobbyists, but they better be careful about how many refreshments they scarf; refreshments can be pricey at those venues.

Besides the gift ban, SB156 states that any sports ticket purchased by a lobbyist must include in a report the legislator for whom it was bought. Meals and beverages over $25 and other gifts over $10 also must list the lawmakers' names.

Our strong support for ethics is not an inference that lawmakers are dishonest. Rather it is the expectation that those who are honored to represent us behave in the highest ethical standard. No lawmaker should receive any gift or meal or ticket, etc. that the least of his constituents could not receive. If that mantra was followed, public opinion for elected officials would rise.

One more thing: We wouldn't put it past the Legislature to attempt to "correct" SB156 to restore the gifts legislators unwittingly lost. If that effort is made, shout in protest, readers, and then shout louder.

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