Republicans in Utah's congressional delegation say some of the actions that Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is accused of in an ethics complaint are common among all congressmen - including themselves.
But they say they would never allow a lobbyist to become as cozy with them as Owens did, if allegations are correct in the complaint filed Thursday before the House Ethics Committee by State Republican Chairman Craig Moody.It charges that Owens allowed a former law partner who is now a lobbyist for Utah Power & Light and environmentalists to essentially work as a member of his staff and even use space in Owens' office. It said the lobbyist also drafted legislation and coordinated meetings about it for Owens.
Republican congressmen - who generally did not want to comment specifically about Owens' situation - did talk about what sorts of relationships they have themselves with lobbyists.
They say it is common to have lobbyists help draft bills and help work out compromises on them. But they say they are careful to keep them at arm's distance so that one group does not have too much influence.
"Lobbyists play a very important role. We meet with lobbyists because generally they are the experts on the issues they are involved with. The good ones are honest and will tell you both sides of an issue," said Sen. Orrin Hatch.
But he added: "They can suggest language for a bill, but there has to be that arm's-distance relationship. That's sometimes hard with former staff members who are lobbyists because they are your friends, but you have to do it.
"If a lobbyist wants to borrow a phone in the office, most everyone would let him. But if he tries to set up shop there, then he would be out the door," Hatch said.
Laurie Snow, press secretary for Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said some lobbyists who work with the senator are frequent visitors to the office but "are not considered part of the staff or given access to supplies and equipment."
Ruth Webb McCormick, press secretary for Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, said Nielson has had groups suggest wording for portions of bills, but then he shows that wording to other groups to work out compromises.
She said one of the problems with a Central Utah Project funding bill introduced by Owens was that it appears that wording suggested by Owens' former law partner promoted positions favorable to Utah Power & Light and environmentalists - which he represented - but opponents were not given enough opportunity early enough to reach compromises on the bill to allow its passage.