Fearful of defeat, the sponsors of the toughest campaign and legislative reform bills in the Legislature have "watered down" their proposals in an effort to get them through the conservative Senate.
Yet GOP House leaders - who warned the original bills probably would fail - say adequate disclosure can still be achieved.Later this week a House committee will hear the first of the reform measures. The sponsors of the toughest bills - Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, and his conflict-of-interest bill and Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton,and his lobbyist disclosure measure - have significantly watered down their bills in preparation of House hearings.
"Mont gutted his bill," said Lt. Gov. Val Oveson during a special Election Law Task Force meeting Monday evening.
Evans reluctantly admits he did.
"It wouldn't pass, Senate (Republican) leaders, even my own (House) people told me that," he said. "I decided to try for something instead of getting nothing."
Garn has also removed the most restrictive measures of his lobbyist disclosure bill. But even that may not be enough to get House GOP leaders' support. With the approval of House Speaker Craig Moody and other GOP leaders, Rep. Richard Bradford, R-Sandy, will introduce his own lobbyist disclosure bill, one more liberal than even Garn's rewrite.
Moody, who before the session started pledged House support for significant reform, predicts the House will still pass meaningful reform legislation - listed by GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter as one of his legislative goals this session.
All along, leaders worried about reform measures being killed or diluted by the conservative Senate, which has refused to even debate reform measures the past several years.
Moody isn't upset over the "gutting" of Evans' bill. "If we have real lobbyist financial disclosure and have year-round reporting of campaign funds by legislators, that basically gets at conflict-of-interest. You'll know who is giving legislators money and how much."
Evans' original bill was tough, and most legislative insiders gave it little chance in the Senate. In fact, Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, a 30-year veteran, had already announced that he didn't want Evans' bill, preferring to tighten the very loose Senate ethics rules instead.
Evans' bill would have required lawmakers to list their employers, salary ranges, financial interests in businesses and stocks and their debts. Evans' new bill only requires that lawmakers who work as paid lobbyists register as a lobbyist and file whatever financial statements are required by lobbyists. To the best of anyone's knowledge there are no lobbyist-legislators today. Several years ago there were two lobbyist-legislators in the Senate; they've since left and are two of the most visible and respected lobbyists on Capitol Hill.
Garn has removed parts of his original bill that would prohibit a state employee or legislator from becoming a lobbyist for a year after leaving state employment; prohibit a lobbyist from serving on a state board or commission; and require lobbyists to disclose their salaries. He kept the main part of his bill: the requirement that lobbyists list every expenditure on a legislator of more than $25 and every business dealing with a legislator's business of more than $500 a quarter.
Moody objects to the $25 figure. "We don't need to report every dinner or lunch. We (leaders and Bradford) think $75 or $100 is a better limit. That would get the big things, like trips." The lobbyist would have to report how much he spent in total on legislators, and each individual gift above $100, Moody said. The speaker thinks the $500-per-quarter business dealing is too soft. "Why not $500 a year? We should know which lobbyist is doing business with which legislator."
Still on track in the House - partly because its sponsor is a member of leadership - is House Majority Whip Byron Harward's campaign disclosure bill. That bill, supported by Oveson's task force - would require lawmakers to report campaign finances before their elections (they now report only 30 days after election); report once a year as long as they have a campaign fund (they don't report in off-years now); and report when they finally close out their campaign funds.
Even that bill has an uncertain future in the Senate, however. Sen. Stephen Rees, R-West Valley, has introduced a bill that would require only one reporting before a legislative election and one reporting afterward. His bill has no year-round reporting. Moody vows year-round reporting will be achieved this session.
The current system allows legislative candidates to spend their money anyway they see fit. They don't report in off years, allowing senators to raise funds for three years, House members to raise funds for 18 months, with no reporting, and to report nothing when they close out their campaign funds and use the money for personal purposes.
The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows that 89-90 percent of Utahns support the various campaign and legislative reform bills.
Utah leaders agree on list reforms
Republican and Democratic party leaders Tuesday agreed on the following campaign and legislative reforms and will push them during the current sessions:
-Lobbyist should disclose expenditures and donations made to candidates and elected state officials.
-Legislative candidates disclose should report campaign contributions yearly and before each election.
-Voter registration should be allowed at the same time driver's licenses are renewed.
-To allow a meaningful U.S. presidential primary and to shorten Utah's primary election season, party caucuses should be held the first Tuesday in March and the primary election held on the first Tuesday in June.
-A statewide ballot initiative should be put before voters in 1991 to determine if citizens want required party registration.
-There should be mock elections in the secondary school system to increase students' awareness of the political process.