Embattled state GOP Sen. Stephen Rees, who will probably face a Democratic-sponsored ethics investigation, has found an unlikely ally - House Democratic Whip Kelly Atkinson.
Atkinson, D-West Jordan, said Wednesday that the Democrats' ethics investigation "is politically motivated by one or two (Democratic) senators who fear Steve Rees will reapportion them out of their districts. It's cheap. It's wrong and I'll speak out against it."Atkinson said no ethics investigation on Rees, a Republican leader from West Valley City, should be called.
Unfortunately for Rees, Atkinson and other House Democrats who may feel as Atkinson does have nothing to do with a Senate ethics investigation. Only senators will be involved.
There is "probable cause," says State Democratic Chairman Peter Billings Jr., that Rees, who is the Senate's chairman of the reapportionment committee, used his Senate leadership position to "profit personally."
There is no love lost between Atkinson and Billings. Billings defeated Atkinson for the party chairmanship two years ago in a bitter contest.
Rees is a director and chief fund-raiser for the Institute of Research and Evaluation, a non-profit corporation that evaluates teenage sexual abstinence programs and recommends those programs to school districts. He makes a flat $65,000 annual salary at the institute and is mostly responsible for raising $250,000 last year for the firm.
The institute has received $150,000 from the state Office of Education to evaluate and recommend teenage sexual abstinence programs. Four school districts currently use the Rees-recommended programs at the urging of the senator.
Rees supported the $150,000 appropriation, and some say he's shielded teenage sexual prevention funding while other education programs were trimmed back.
But Atkinson said he made the motion to appropriate $300,000 for the programs in fiscal 1992 (Rees' firm will get none of that money). "Steve never said a word in the committee hearing, only to declare a possible conflict of interest in voting aye on my motion," said Atkinson.
In addition, Rees admits he's solicited funds from large corporations who have registered lobbyists at the Legislature. But Rees maintains he has done nothing wrong, broken no ethics rules.
In defending Rees, whom Atkinson calls a man of high integrity, Atkinson says at the root of the ethics investigation is a Democratic senator who has openly questioned Rees' actions and who "is afraid Steve will reapportion him out of his district in 1992." Atkinson refused to name the senator, but other sources said it's Sen. Scott Howell, D-Salt Lake.
Howell said Wednesday night that he may sign the required letter calling for a Rees ethics investigation. But he said he wants further study into Rees' action first. Howell said, "I do think they (the Republicans) will try to reapportion me (out of his current district). But I'm running again regardless of what they do. I've been told that Rees says I'm the No. 1 target in redistricting. But that's not the reason for it (the ethics investigation). Rees may be not guilty, but it's up to the ethics committee to determine that. What I've heard (of Rees' actions), it smells stinky to me."
Meanwhile, State Republican Chairman Richard Snelgrove said Wednesday Billings should apologize to Rees and retract the call for an investigation. "If Mr. Billings wants to call for an investigation, he better produce facts concerning the laws or rules that were broken. He should put up or shut up," Snelgrove said.
Billings said particulars of the investigation will be included in the Democrats' formal request for an ethics hearing.