In the private offices of the Utah Legislature, powerful men and women are wondering how far the political reform ball will roll this year. Will they have to disclose their incomes? Will they have to publicly account for lobbyists' gifts?
The 1991 Legislature will talk at length about something it hasn't discussed much before: the giving and taking in the House and Senate. Voices that have been stilled or ignored before are rising louder than ever.But don't underestimate the ability of old-boy politicians to turn a deaf ear. By no means will reform sweep the halls of the Capitol. Tough bills can be gutted through amendments. And there's still the secret Rules Committees in the House and Senate where it's prohibited to discuss why a bill is killed and by whom.
Since reform measures have died in the Legislature each year, Utah Common Cause Chairman Nelda Bishop says, "The obvious conclusion is that legislators do not want the public to know where they get campaign money and how they spend it, how much they receive from lobbyists . . . and to what extent they represent and lobby (for) their clients' or their own special interests."
Still, formidable advocates of campaign and legislative reform have surfaced, led by Gov. Norm Bangerter, Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, Speaker-elect Craig Moody, Republican and Democratic party officials and Common Cause of Utah.
Whether the guardians of the old system can stand up to these powerful groups, or how much they'll fight, remains to be seen.
Moody says he'll schedule a whole week of debate in the House on campaign and legislative reform. "I expect we'll pass a whole package of bills over to the Senate. Then we'll see what they do," he says with a smile, for in the past it has been the Senate that has killed most reform measures.
Here are the issues and who'll fight for them:
-Bangerter, Oveson, Moody, Senate President Arnold Christensen and Common Cause all want legislative candidates to report campaign giving and spending before the election. Currently, legislative candidates don't report until 30 days after the election, when, of course, it does the public little good.
Bangerter, et al., also want year-round reporting. Currently, candidates only report money raised or spent from the April 15 candidate filing deadline in an election year to the election. Money raised and spent during the off years isn't accounted for.
Oveson's Election Law Task Force will have a bill that requires such reporting for legislative candidates. Moody will have his own bill on year-round reporting.
-Common Cause; Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton; and Oveson want some kind of conflict of interest reporting by legislators. Evans will introduce a bill that would require lawmakers to list broad categories of their income, much like U.S. congressmen now must report. That will show where monetary conflicts might occur, says Evans.
For example, if a lawmaker worked for a bank, the name of the bank would be listed and the range of the legislator's salary - $45,000 to $50,000 or whatever. In addition, a lawmaker would have to list companies and properties in which he owns an interest.
Attorney-legislators will be directly addressed. They'd have to list all clients of their firm who pay the firms $25,000 a year or more. This will get at the problem of attorney-legislators doing their clients' bidding without disclosure, as is now the case.
Previous bills dealing with conflict of interest required a lawmaker's immediate family to report financial interests also. Evans' bill won't do that. "No family reporting and no lobbyists' gifts in my bill. You can ask the Legislature to handle so much at one time. This fight will be difficult enough," said Evans.
-Freshman GOP Rep. Kevin Garn will tackle the tough issue of lobbyist financial reporting during his first year in the Legislature.
Garn, who won the Layton seat vacated by retiring Rep. Frank Knowlton, takes up where his predecessor left off. Knowlton attempted several times to pass a law requiring lobbyists to file reports saying how much money they were spending on legislators. Knowlton's efforts failed. "I want complete disclosure, a very tight bill," said Garn. "But I know it will be tough getting there." Garn says the bill should be comprehensive, including lunches purchased for each legislator.
Bangerter, Oveson and Common Cause also think there should be some kind of lobbyist financial reporting. Common Cause's Bishop says, "The public has a right to know which special interest each lobbyist represents, how much the special interest spends on gifts, entertainment and donations to public officials."
Oveson goes even further. "The time has come when we need to know how much a lobbyist is paid to lobby, and of course how much he spends on legislators - whether it's lunches, golfing, whatever," he said.
-Bangerter, Oveson and Moody also support term limitation. "House and Senate members should serve only 12 years, the governor and lieutenant governor only eight years," Oveson said.
-Oveson's task force will also recommend changes in filings by political action committees, political issue committees and political parties. All those groups must now file, but often they file late and their filings are less than accurate.
For example, the House Republicans' own PAC - the Committee for a Republican Majority - missed two filing deadlines this year. The 30-days-following-the-election CRM report still hasn't been filed. Also, several legislators still have failed to file their campaign financial reports.
"We're talking about severe sanctions for legislators who fail to file on time, like not letting them serve in their office," said Oveson.
All the rules and laws in the world, of course, can be circumvented by smart candidates and lobbyists. Money can be "laundered" from one group to another, hiding the original giver. And expenses can be "differed" until the final report that comes after the election if the giver or receiver thinks there might be political embarrassment before the election - a practice often seen in federal elections.
"At least these measures are a start," says Oveson. "Who knows how many will finally be adopted."