Utah's Republican and Democratic party leaders are joining the battle of legislative campaign reform, adding to it their own changes to election law.
Meanwhile, a leading conservative in the Utah House has prefiled a tough lobbyist financial-disclosure bill.As the momentum builds for significant and widespread legislative reform, Democratic State Chairman Peter Billings Jr. and GOP Chairman Richard Snelgrove said Friday they hope official party pressure will ensure some kind of action during the upcoming Legislature, which convenes Monday.
"We'll expect (party members in the House and Senate) to be with us," said Billings. "If (party leaders) are united, there should be pressure to get it done."
Within three weeks, a special bipartisan committee co-chaired by Billings and Snelgrove will report to lawmakers which reform measures Democrats and Republicans agree upon. Among the issues to be considered:
- Disclosure of campaign contributions by all elected officials before election day. (Currently, legislative candidates don't report their finances until 30 days after the election).
- Disclosure by registered lobbyists of contributions and expenditures made to elected officials. (Currently, there is no reporting by lobbyists of what they give and no disclosure by legislators of what they take.)
- Moving Utah's primary, now held in September, to an earlier date so the state can have some kind of impact on the presidential candidate selections.
- Change to a closed-party primary system, which would require registration by party.
- Make it easier to register to vote by allowing voter registration in conjunction with driver's license applications.
- Encourage student participation in elections by starting a mock municipal election program.
Billings said that Democrats also wanted to discuss this year's reapportionment of legislative and congressional districts, but Snelgrove refused. Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate, and Gov. Norm Bangerter is a Republican. While not saying Republicans don't want the minority Democrats messing with reapportionment, Snelgrove said that issue would "muddy the waters" and could sink the whole reform movement.
On the other side, Billings said he agreed to discuss closed-party primaries but added he doubts Democrats will support such a move. Independents and Democrats can have an impact on Republican primary contests if enough of them vote in the GOP contest - now allowed under Utah law.
A good example of that impact was the 2nd Congressional District GOP race this past year between Dan Marriott and Genevieve Atwood. A number of independents and Democrats voted in the primary and Atwood defeated Marriott. But exit polls conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for KSL-TV show that among those who said they're Republicans, Marriott actually beat Atwood. That upset a number of GOP leaders who said they don't want independents and Democrats deciding GOP nominees.
However, Bangerter has already come out against party registration. "I don't know if it is necessarily a bad thing to have them (independents and Democrats) voting (in a GOP primary). We have to appeal to those people in the general election, after all," he said.
Party registration was tried in the mid-1960s when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Utahns hated it, and voted in Republicans who did away with it.
Meanwhile, former House speaker Glen Brown, R-Coalville, an influential lawmaker, prefiled a bill Friday that would make lobbyists and legislators toe the line regarding gifts and free trips.
Brown's bill, by far the toughest lobbyist disclosure measure so far, would require lobbyists to report all giving to legislators, list the spending of $500 or more in any business a legislator has a substantial interest in, make such disclosures before elections as well as yearly, and outlaw a sitting legislator from lobbying. Brown's bill would even stop a former lawmaker or state employee from lobbying in Utah for one year after he left office.
Several well-known legislators immediately jumped from serving to lobbying, and Gov. Norm Bangerter's former chief of staff, Reed Searle, went directly from his government post to lobbying.