Legislative campaign and ethics reform moved through the Legislature this week, and GOP leaders promise all bills will get a fair hearing.
A comprehensive legislative campaign disclosure bill received preliminary approval Friday in the Senate. Earlier in the week a House committee approved an even tougher campaign disclosure bill.In a press conference Friday afternoon, GOP leaders promised a fair hearing for all the bills. Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said all ethics bills will get a committee hearing. In the past several legislative sessions, ethics and campaign reform bills died in the Senate Rules Committee without a Senate hearing. While he's not able to promise all the bills will pass the Senate, Christensen said the bills won't be bottled up in the Rules Committee again.
House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, and Sen. Stephen Rees, R-West Valley, both said that press reports, including stories in the Deseret News, concerning legislative reform measures were unfair; that they purposely tried to taint the whole Legislature.
"Words like corruption and monkey business are being used with no real justification, tainting us all with a broad brush," Rees said.
Moody said the kinds of actions reported in the press "are inappropriate, they aren't happening here (in Utah)." He said he and other legislators take very seriously their personal integrity and that of the House and Senate. "If there is anything going on to detract from that, I want to hear about it."
When former Rep. Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden, resigned from the Legislature last week in the face of an expulsion vote, she said four legislators were also guilty of ethics violations. She didn't name them. Asked who those four could be, Moody said Halverson has never told him. He asked anyone who knows of any inappropriate conduct by any legislator to contact him.
Rees' bill would require campaign reporting a week before the primary election, a week before the general election and 30 days after the general election. Currently, legislative candidates report only 30 days after the general election. The current law is one of the loosest reporting measures in the nation. "That is not only an embarrassment to me, it should be an embarrassment to the Legislature also," Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, the state's chief election officer, told a committee hearing.Rees' bill requires legislators filing for re-election to list on their first filing all campaign contributions and expenditures received since their last report. In other words, a senator would file three years of off-year fund-raising and expenditures on his first re-election report. However, if a senator or House member didn't seek re-election, he would not file any report.
A bill by Byron L. Harward, R-Provo, is tougher and is endorsed by Oveson's Election Law Task Force. It would require yearly campaign reporting in off years and require a legislator leaving office to file a report when he finally disposes of his campaign fund. It also would require reporting of money spent on legislative leadership races, and state elected officers - such as the governor - would have to report campaign fund activities during non-election years.
Sen. Dix McMullin, R-South Jordan, tried to amend Rees' bill to move the reporting day from a week before the primary and general elections to 30 days before the elections. McMullin said he was in a race where his opponent made last-minute attacks on him, giving him little time before the election to respond. "Thirty days gives a candidate time to respond if (campaign contributions made public under the bill) are an issue," he said.
Rees said moving the date to 30 days before an election would allow "significant contributions" to be made without reporting them before the election. Senators voted down McMullin's amendment. McMullin said he'd try again on Monday.
Rees has a point on contributions coming in late. The Utah Education Association, the main teachers' union in the state, gives more money to legislative candidates than any other special-interest group in the state. In 1990, the UEA gave more than $99,000. Political action committees must report five days before the general election and 30 days after. UEA PAC reports show that of the $99,000 spent, almost a third - $28,000 - was donated to legislative candidates in the final five days before the general election, thus missing the last report before voters picked their elected officials.
Gov. Norm Bangerter reserved his strongest comments about campaign and ethics reform for lawmakers and other public officials who accept money to help push specific legislation.
"I think it is totally inappropriate for a legislator or any other public officials to be paid to lobby for a bill before that body," Bangerter said during his weekly press conference on legislative issues.
The governor said years ago, when he was a legislator, he was approached to lobby on behalf of West Valley City for a fee. He said he turned down the money but did offer advice.
The most troublesome area of campaign and ethics reform for lawmakers to deal with is how to make their conflicts of interest clear to the public, Bangerter said.
"Conflict of interest is the most difficult one for legislators to solve because they all have conflicts of interest," the governor said, adding that he does not agree lawmakers should be required to declare possible conflicts before each vote.
"That's too much pressure on them. There are times when they might not even relate it to a conflict," he said. "I don't think legislators ought to be worrying about that every day. But I do think it ought to be a matter of clear record."
Bangerter also called for full disclosure before elections and said there needs to be a "tightening of lobbyist disclosures, of how much they spend and on whom they spend it."