Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two reasons to sign the ethics initiative on the last day, April 15th

Two reasons:

1. In current Utah law and practice, lobbyists can be legislators.

This really shocks 90% of people I talk to along with the fact that a senator representing Utah Valley is currently both a lobbyist and a state senator. As they ask for more info, I tell them that Howard Stephenson is one of the most influential policy makers in our state, and his "taxpayers association" is really a 4-employee lobbying firm with a secret list of business clients. Stephenson's sole basis for employment is his effectiveness in achieving legislation favorable to his clients. If he votes the "wrong" way or does not push bills his clients favor, he will be fired. This is not the normal and inherent bias of a citizen legislature, but basically a man paid for his votes. Worse, since the Utah Taxpayers Association's clients are secret, you never know on a given bill whether Stephenson is being employed to vote a certain way. He cannot be objective or risk his livelihood. How can it be interpreted any differently? Recent reform bills did nothing about this practice.

2. The latest ethics reform bills passed by the legislature will not only fail to stop the vast majority of the lobbyist money coming in, but new loopholes would allow half of it to go unreported if spending spending patterns remain similar.

Bernick's analysis in the Deseret News of lobbyist gifts and meals this year reveals the distinct lack of reform.
"Despite Utah legislators' claim that they took large steps in lobbyist gift-giving reforms this year, a Deseret News analysis of new lobbyist disclosure reports finds that a new reform bill they passed would ban just $1,100 of the $71,700 spent on lawmakers so far this year...

However, the newspaper also found if the lobbyist gift-ban restrictions found in a citizen initiative petition were in effect, 99 percent of the gifts given to legislators in January, February and March of this year would not have been allowed."

The purposeful loopholes in the law just passed are even worse:
Meals costing more than $10 must come with the accepting lawmaker's name attached, unless large groups of legislators are invited. If the whole Legislature, the House or Senate, a legislative committee or a party caucus are all invited to the meal, then that expense is exempted, no matter how many actually attend. In fact, the all-invited expense will no longer even be reported by the giving lobbyist, as is the case under the old lobbyist law. Gone from the public record will be how much was spent by this or that special interest group hosting a meal for an identifiable number of legislators, no matter what that expense may be.

In the first three months of this year, $35,168 — nearly half of all gift-giving that was reported, the newspaper found — went for meals where all members or some caucuses were invited, an amount that won't be seen in future lobbyist reports.

In addition, in the 29-member Senate, the president can authorize lobbyist-paid-for trips and expenses for a senator of either political party, and that lobbyist expense won't be reported, either, under the new law. The speaker of the House also may give such a trip exemption for any representative, but by internal House rule (which was not adopted by the Senate), the speaker must disclose that expenditure and the representative who took it in a timely manner.

Bernick explains that gift giving is down 20% from last year's 1st quarter, but I have difficulty praising the legislature for accepting "only" $71,000 of gifts in a three month period rather than $89,000.

The legislators can take offense and (falsely) call the proposed restrictions and independent commission a "power grab" all they want, but that doesn't change these numbers. The state legislature wants us to believe that the vaunted free market they value so much is spending tens of thousands of dollars in just a 3 month period to accomplish nothing; these firms and special interests are so blind to their own interest that they just throw this money away without making a profit on the expenditure; and Howard Stephenson has been employed for the last few decades to not influence the incorruptible legislature. Think about that premise and either find a last minute petition to sign, or go online and sign electronically as that battle rev's up. Here are the links to the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative and also the Fair Boundaries initiative.


No comments: