Recent reviews of campaign financial reports by federal candidates, political action committees and political parties lead me once again to a troubling conclusion:
Utahns are purposely being deceived by their state legislators.You aren't told before an election who supported your legislative candidates. You aren't told after an election who is buying influence through lobbying your state legislators.
And you know who makes those decisions of non-disclosure?
That's right, your state legislators.
This isn't a partisan issue. The minority Democrats are just as much to blame as the majority Republicans, although it is the Republicans who have actually bottled campaign and ethics reform in House and Senate rules committees.
State lawmakers make up the only group of politicians that doesn't report campaign finances before the election. By law, they must report 30 days after the election. Little good it does then.
Not only don't they have to report their finances until after the election, they only have to report money raised from the April 15 candidate filing deadline until Election Day. They don't report at all money raised outside of that official campaign time frame. Yet some House and Senate members raise money year-round.
In addition, Utah lawmakers can use campaign funds for any purpose at all. They could raise $15,000 for a Senate race they're sure to win, spend $5,000 campaigning and keep $10,000 for themselves.
That's not all. Not only do legislators protect themselves from disclosure, they protect their friendly lobbyists, too.
According to the citizen lobby group Common Cause, Utah is one of only four states that doesn't require lobbyists to report how much money they spend entertaining - i.e. influencing - legislators.
Rumors abound about lobbyists' "good nature." Senators and representatives who wish take a trip each year to St. George for several days of golf, with lobbyists picking up most of the tab. Each year, Park City ski resorts treat lawmakers to a free weekend of skiing and lodging for themselves and their families. Public universities give legislators free tickets to sporting events - and then ask them for more money for higher education. When the Legislature doesn't have the budget to pay for a lawmaker's spouse to go on an official trip, several lobbyists have been known to step in and pick up the air fare and hotel tab. Caucus lunches for House and Senate members are paid for during the session by lobbyists, who use the time to push their special interests.
The list goes on and on. No one knows for sure how much money is spent lobbying the Legislature, but it easily reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
To make matters worse, the Utah House and Senate, in reality, have no ethics regulations. Yes, there is a rule that says a member can't accept a gift or do anything that would improperly influence his vote. A worthless rule, because it is rarely, if ever, enforced.
Unlike the U.S. Congress, there are no standing ethics committees in the state House or Senate. The only ethics committee in the history of the Senate was called several years ago when then-Attorney General David Wilkinson, a Republican, accused former GOP state Sen. Paul Rogers of misconduct. The committee found the complaint without merit.
The only conflict-of-interest requirement in the Utah House is that a member file a conflict-of-interest form - a form, one can tell by some of the flippant answers, that isn't taken seriously by most members.
In short, the Utah Legislature is ripe for corruption. The fact that there doesn't appear to be severe problems is a credit to the honesty and integrity of the people who serve.
I praise honest politicians. But Utahns should demand tough campaign disclosure and conflict-of-interest laws for legislators.