As the Legislature prepares to debate its first major campaign and legislative reform measures considered in a decade, many of the lawmakers are sobered by the indictment this week of seven Arizona legislators on charges of corruption.
The seven Arizona lawmakers are known personally to many Utah legislators; the list includes the Arizona Senate majority whip and the House's former majority leader.Some in the Utah Legislature think a scandal so close to home should help Utah's reform measures.
But some think just the opposite.
For while the Arizona lawmakers are charged with bribery of a public official - a law already on the Utah books - they probably also violated several campaign and conflict-of-interest statutes as well - statutes Utah doesn't have.
Some Utah legislators - albeit the more conservative, less enlightened - ask why they should adopt similar laws that could be used to punish them in years to come.
You see, things have been going pretty well for the powerful on Capitol Hill.
For 15 years, senior legislators have been able to raise campaign funds unfettered with pesky reports. If they didn't want to be associated with a certain contribution, they could have it funneled through their state political party. Or better, they could just have the contributor give the money after their election. Utah law only requires candidates to file from the April 15 candidate filing deadline until the November election. There is no campaign reporting for 18 months for House members, no reporting for senators for 31/2 years.
Perhaps even more important personally, Utah lawmakers have been able to take various gifts, free tickets and other amenities from lobbyists with no reporting.
While these freebies may not add up to a great deal of money - there's no idea how much they total since there's no reporting - the freebies are a perk of office some don't want to give up.
I've watched the Legislature for 10 years. The lawmakers are good people who work hard and are often misunderstood by constituents.
But an unfortunate thing is happening, I believe. Some legislators, especially some long-serving senators, have an attitude that they are owed something.
They sacrifice their businesses and time with their families, even place their personal reputations on the line to serve. And in return they get $65 a day plus expenses.
So they think the perks of office are justified. What's wrong with taking some Jazz tickets from a lobbyist? What's wrong with playing a free round of golf every month or so? What's wrong with socking away a $10,000 campaign fund and using the money to pay for your spouse to accompany you on a government-related trip to Florida or Hawaii that the state won't pay for?
You see, if such things become public knowledge, and they will if the campaign and lobbyist reporting bills now before the Legislature become law, then it will be embarrassing to continue the practice.
The most brazen of legislators may still take the freebies and pile up the campaign cash. But they'll be opening themselves up to criticism, not only from political opponents but even from friends in church or at the local grocery store.
Worse, if they were to violate the reporting laws, either through stupidity or on purpose, they'd probably be hauled before an ethics committee, their careers and reputations in jeopardy - just like their Arizona colleagues.
So, we'll see over the next few weeks whether legislators, especially the "good old boys" of the state Senate, will be willing to change for the better.
The Senate GOP leaders, President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy; Majority Leader Cary Peterson, R-Nephi; Majority Whip Lane Beattie, R-Bountiful; and Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Peterson, R-Provo; will lead the way - either toward reform or in favor of secrecy.
Polls show Utahns overwhelmingly want the suggested reforms. We'll see whether legislators vote their own, or their constituents' interests.