Although proposed reforms on campaign finances and lobbying activities have not fared well in the Utah Legislature in previous sessions, the latest Deseret News/KSL poll leaves no doubt about how citizens feel. They overwhelmingly want such reform. Lawmakers need to get the message, despite some reluctance over such things as reporting conflicts of interest.
A package of reform bills is either in the Legislature or being prepared, and some measures have been combined to give them more effective weight. This is the year when reform should be adopted.In the past, legislators have insisted their integrity is high and have regarded any suggestion of needed reform as a kind of slur against their honesty. Yet the lack of common-sense rules on lobbying and campaign finances could one day lead to a scandal.
In any case, the lack of disclosure inevitably fosters suspicion on the part of the public and among some lawmakers. Openness and candor are always better than silence, even when there is nothing to hide.
Poll responses ranged from 89 percent to 90 percent in favor of laws requiring legislators to report campaign finances before elections instead of after; to report donations every year for all year instead of from April 15 to November elections; to report personal income and its sources to disclose possible conflicts of interest (no such report is currently made), and requiring lobbyists to report how much they spend on each lawmaker (no such report is currently made.)
Most of the campaign and lobby reform appears to have solid support in the House of Representatives, and some features may also make it through the Senate. Lawmakers, after all, can also read the polls.
However, the conflict-of-interest measure may face a tougher time in the Senate, where many legislators say they would prefer to deal with ethics issues through Senate rules instead of by law. That kind of approach has been ineffective in the past and is too easily circumvented.
If there is nothing to hide, then strict disclosure laws ought to be embraced by the Legislature.
In a part-time, citizen Legislature there are going to be inevitable conflicts of interest. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is understood up front what those conflicts are and what legislation they might affect.
Campaign finances, lobby and conflict-of-interest reform ought to be adopted by the Utah Legislature without evasion or delay or closed-door deals.