"This bill is not about integrity; it's about good public policy."
With that comment from Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, the Utah House of Representatives passed the second of two tough bills requiring lobbyists to disclose how much they give to lawmakers, and requiring political candidates to disclose the sources of campaign contributions before elections.But both bills were softened considerably by amendments before they passed. And though opposition to the measures crossed all party lines, both bills passed overwhelmingly.
"I believe in the public's right to know," said Rep. Glen Brown, R-Coalville, the co-sponsor of the controversial lobbyist disclosure bill. "There is genuine concern on the street that government is driven by money. This bill does not prevent one action of a lobbyist. But what you (opponents) are worried about is . . . you don't trust the electorate. You fear they will be too tough on you come election time. But that's all part of accountability."
The House first passed HB65, which requires candidates for elected office to report all contributions seven days before each election in which they are candidates and again at the end of the year. That could mean up to four reports a year if a candidate faces a party convention, primary election and general election.
However, if the candidate faces no primary election, he or she would have only two disclosures to make: one seven days before the general election and the other at the end of the year.
"Current law, quite frankly, does not pass the public smell test," said House Majority Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo, the sponsor of the bill.
Harward's bill not only requires year-round disclosure, but it requires disclosures in non-campaign years, disclosure of contributions for leadership races and ongoing disclosures of campaign balances after the election is over.
Despite some opposition by lawmakers who said the reporting requirements were "too burdensome," the bill passed by a 73-0 margin.
The real fight in the House occurred over HB94 - a bill rewritten four times in an effort to reach a compromise acceptable to both Republicans and Democrats. Democratic and Republican party officials had called for such ethics reform.
But even that wasn't enough to stave off a lengthy floor fight. The bill, as presented to lawmakers Friday, would have required registered lobbyists to disclose all gifts to elected officials valued at $25 or higher. But on a motion by House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, the reporting threshold was raised to $100 - a motion that passed 37-31. An earlier attempt to put the threshold at $50 failed by a 32-40 vote.
Though the bill eventually passed by a 67-4 margin, many lawmakers were not happy with the idea.
"My constituents trust me," said Rep. Jack Arrington, D-Ogden. "They don't want me to be restricted."
But Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful, a co-sponsor of the bill, said lawmakers should beware accepting free tickets, free lunches and other "tiny steps" that could lead toward unethical practices. "It is by the tyranny of tiny steps we find ourselves here," he said. "We need to make sure we don't step too far."
But Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake, argued that the bill only requires lawmakers to take smaller steps, but does nothing to prevent unethical practices.