Utah House GOP balks at banning contributions at Capitol
SALT LAKE CITY — House Republicans balked at a proposed ban on taking campaign contributions at the Capitol during their first caucus of the 2011 session Tuesday.
The majority party members were also less than enthusiastic about accepting a new salary structure that would pay them $15,360 annually rather than a daily stipend plus hotel and per diem expenses.
No positions were taken during the noontime meeting, but the sponsor of both measures, Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, acknowledged they may run into trouble.
Prohibiting campaign contributions on Capitol Hill is only a small part of HR2, a resolution that deals with a number of House rules. Currently, lawmakers are only barred from accepting contributions anywhere while the Legislature is in session.
"This is the people's house," Harper told the caucus, "where we should be working on the people's business." He said it was not an appropriate place to give or receive contributions.
Several representatives challenged that statement. "I don't think we gain by saying we can't take contributions at the Capitol," said Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville. He complained that there are so many rules for lawmakers to follow, "we have to hire a part-time person to follow us around to make sure we obey them."
Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, said he has already received a check with a constituent survey response at the Capitol. "We need to spend some substantial time talking about this," Kiser said. "I think there's entrapment all over this."
And Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said the ban on accepting contributions at the Capitol "almost creates the impression we have to do it in the shadows, not out in the open."
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, pointed out campaign contributions can be used to offset state expenses.
"The workload is requiring many to hire, through their campaign funds, help," Hughes said.
Lawmakers also questioned HJR13, which would set an annual salary of $15,360 for lawmakers and pay hotel and per diem expenses only for those who travel to attend the session.
Currently, all lawmakers receive $117 for each day they attend legislative meetings — $5,265 for the 45-day session — plus $156 a day for hotel and meal expenses, even if they don't travel.
The new salary amounts to $32 an hour for 60 eight-hour days and was based on the average lawmakers have earned in the past excluding hotel and per diem expenses.
Harper said the salary amount was adjusted downward slightly so that even when the travel expenses are added to the total, it won't amount to more than what is already being paid out.
Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, said setting a salary would make it much easier to explain to constituents how much lawmakers are paid.
But Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, the former House speaker, said he was concerned the change sounds like more money for lawmakers.
"We have been sitting in appropriations committees telling everyone how much less they are going to get," Clark said. "I just think the timing right now is something I have a question with."
The recommendation came from the Utah Legislative Compensation Commission, a group appointed by the governor.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told the caucus that last year, the commission recommended lawmakers pay themselves $130 a day, but instead they settled on $117 given the state's tough financial times.
"We don't have to accept it," Lockhart said of the latest recommendation.
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