Two major campaign and legislative reform bills were formally filed in the Utah House on Monday, and GOP House leaders say a whole package of reform legislation should be debated this week.
Meanwhile, the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows overwhelming support for the reform initiatives - year-round campaign finance reporting by legislators, financial disclosure by lobbyists, conflict-of-interest reporting for lawmakers and term limitation.Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found huge public support for all the reform measures. "Rarely do we see 80-to-90 percent support for any measure," Jones said. (See accompanying chart.)
Monday, Reps. Kevin Garn, R-Layton; Glen Brown, R-Coalville; and Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful; agreed to combine their efforts and filed one bill aimed at disclosing how much lobbyists spend influencing legislators. Each man had previously filed his own lobbyist bill.
No one knows how much lobbyists give to legislators, either through campaign contributions or by paying for trips, tickets to sporting or cultural events, or favors of other kinds. In a series of articles published by the Deseret News before the legislative session began, several lobbyists estimated that upwards of $5 million is spent a year in lobbyist salaries and legislative entertaining.
Also Monday, House Majority Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo, filed HB65, his campaign reform bill. Harward said his bill, supported by Lt. Gov. Val Oveson's Election Law Task Force, "will bring legislative campaign reporting to where it should have been all along."
The bill requires campaign reporting at least twice before the general election, once after the election and once a year in off-election years. "It's important, of course, that legislative candidates report publicly their finances before an election. But I think it's even more important that we report in off-election years. The public has a right to know how much money a legislator is raising and from whom during those off years." Harward's bill doesn't say how campaign money can be spent, it could still go into lawmakers' pockets, they'd just have to report the gift.
Harward and Brown anticipate passage of their bills in the House. But wonder openly how they will fair in the Senate, which has been resistant to campaign reform the past several years.
Sen. Stephen Rees, R-West Valley, told the Deseret News he'll introduce a bill that would require legislative reporting before elections, but not require reporting in non-election years. That would allow senators to raise funds and spend them - even on themselves - for 3 1/2 years with no reporting.
"I admit there is a loophole, but I think you have to go after what you can get at one time. I don't think there's much off-year fundraising, anyway," said Rees.
"That's unacceptable," said Harward. "The point of all of this is complete campaign disclosure, and you don't have it if you can raise funds (for 31/2 years) and not report."
Brown believes his lobbyist bill - which is very strict - will find its greatest test in the Senate. "There are some lobbyists who have become rich under the current system," he says. "They won't oppose the bill openly, like in a committee hearing. But they'll oppose it behind the scenes."
The Deseret News spoke to three well-known lobbyists who said they had no comment on the bill yet; they hadn't read it. They said as of now there was no concerted effort to oppose the bill by lobbyists.
The lobbyist bill would require all lobbyists who are paid or who spend money to influence legislation to disclose all spending on legislators over $25, list whose paying the lobbyist, list any business relations with a lawmaker amounting to more than $500 a quarter and all invitations to lawmakers, whether they were accept the invitation or not.
The bill hits some big-name lobbyists directly. For example, it prohibits paid lobbyists from serving on any state board or commission. Douglas Foxley, one of the most influential Republican lobbyists, is chairman of the Board of Regents, the commission that oversees the state's colleges and universities.
The bill also prohibits employees of governmental or quasi-governmental entities from being paid private lobbyists. Reed Searle, former chief of staff of Gov. Norm Bangerter, is the Intermountain Power Project's lobbyist, but is also a private lobbyist.
And the bill says no legislator or state employee could become a paid lobbyist for one year after leaving state service. A number of members of the Legislature and Bangerter's administration have become lobbyists immediately after leaving public service.
"We didn't go after individuals," said Brown. "But we saw things that we believe should be corrected. If you're a Board of Regent member you should only be lobbying for higher education, not be involved with a conflict of interest lobbying elsewhere."
Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, has already filed his legislative conflict of interest bill. Its future is less certain than campaign and lobbyist reform. The bill would require disclosure by legislators of large financial conflicts. But Republican senators have already said they want to address ethics through Senate rules, not through creating law.
Finally, Rep. Bill Wright, R-Elberta, has introduced a constitutional amendment limiting terms of state elected officials - governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer - and House and Senate members to eight consecutive years.
Deseret News/KSLTV Poll
The upcoming Legislature will consider a number of campaign and legislative reforms. Would you favor or oppose the following propositions:
Requiring legislators to report campaign finances BEFORE their elections (currently, they report after elections)?
Favor= 90% Oppose= 7% Don't know= 3%
Requiring legislators to report campaign donations EVERY YEAR, YEAR ROUND (currently, they report only from April 15 to the November electiion)?
Favor= 89% Oppose= 7% Don't know= 4%
Requiring legislators to report their income and its sources to disclose possible conflicts of interest (currently, no such reporting is required)?
Favor= 89% Oppose= 7% Don't know= 4%
Requiring lobbyists to report how much money they spend on each legislator they lobby (currently no such reporting is required)?
Favor= 90% Oppose= 6% Don't know= 4%
Limiting the terms of Utah House and Senate seats to 12 years each?
Favor= 74% Oppose=19% Don't know= 7%