As the 1991 Legislature approaches - it's just a month away - Gov. Norm Bangerter, Lt. Gov. Val Oveson and Republican and Democratic leaders in the House are talking about legislative campaign and lobbying reform.
We'll see what actually comes about, of course.The Legislature traditionally does very little about reforming itself, although members like to talk about it a lot.
But this may be the year where some steps are taken.
First, we have the specter of the Keating Five, the U.S. senators who have sat before an ethics committee for the last month while their reputations have been ruined.
That issue, you'll recall, deals with large campaign contributions - more than $1 million - from savings and loan operator Charles Keating to the senators. In return, the senators called federal S&L regulators on the carpet, trying - the ethic's committee lawyer says - to influence the regulators in return for those contributions.
While Utah has no such problems now - at least I don't know about any - Utah's campaign finance systems are so open, so uncontrolled, and the Legislature's ethics codes so weak, that a Keating-type scandal in miniature certainly could happen here.
The governor and the more farsighted legislators see this.
It remains to be seen how hard Bangerter will push his old friends in the House and Senate - especially the Senate - to adopt legislative financial disclosure, critical to any conflict-of-interest laws; lobby disclosure (some of Bangerter's closest political advisers are now big-time lobbyists); and legislative campaign reform.
Certainly, the governor - who has announced he won't seek re-election in 1992 - can take the high road on such changes.
He can rightly argue that lawmakers should meet the same campaign reporting system he had to meet as governor. Currently, legislative candidates are the only class of political candidates that don't report campaign finances before their elections. They only have to report 30 days after the election, when, of course, it does citizens no good at all.
House Speaker-elect Craig Moody says he'll reintroduce his bill requiring off-cycle campaign reporting by legislators. Currently, legislative candidates only have to report - 30 days after the election - on contributions made and expenses incurred between the candidate filing deadline, April 15, and Election Day.
Any money raised or spent outside of that window goes unreported. Moody's bill has passed the House at least twice, only to be killed in the Senate. The reason? Cynics might say that because senators run only every four years, instead of House members' two-year terms, under the current system senators have 31/2 years to collect and spend funds free of reporting.
Senators could raise and pocket $10,000 in off-cycle years and no one, except the lobbyists or political action committees who gave the money, would know what happened. It's a system ripe for abuse.
Other legislators are looking at the current rule requiring them to vote on an issue or appropriation even though they have a clear conflict of interest. Some want a requirement that a legislator publicly declare such a conflict and then refrain from voting, thus protecting his political integrity while ensuring a more open system.
I doubt we'll see a tough conflict of interest rule or statute passed, although one is certainly needed.
For several years Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, attempted some kind of conflict of interest bill. It hasn't even gotten out of the Senate Rules Committee, and his stubborn attempts may well have cost him his race for a Senate leadership position this year.
There are just too many powerful men - insurance agents, lawyers, businessmen - in the Legislature who don't want people knowing who their clients are or how much they're making from them to get significant conflict of interest legislation passed.
That, I think, will take a scandal. And someday a scandal will come, unfortunately, because self-interest will ruin the reformists' attempts.