You would think state lawmakers would want to get the legislative gift monkey off their collective backs. It appears that the 2008 general session will conclude next week with no meaningful reform on the issue, which is regrettable. Public opinion polls commissioned by the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV have consistently shown that Utahns want reform of ethics laws.
The most recent poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, shows three in four Utahns favor reform of ethics laws regarding lawmakers' conflicts of interest, their conversion of campaign funds to personal use and gift-giving by lobbyists.
While it is likely too late for this issue to be addressed this year, it remains a hot-button matter for Utahns in general and the Deseret Morning News specifically. Ethics reforms passed by the Utah Legislature in recent years have been baby steps compared to widespread changes Utahns say are warranted.
In lieu of gift bans, bans on converting campaign cash to personal use or abstaining from votes when lawmakers have a clear conflict of interest, Deseret Morning News reporters Bob Bernick and Lee Davidson have shed considerable light on these issues for several years. They provide a tremendous public service by setting out information and allowing readers to form their own conclusions.
The vast majority of Utah lawmakers are hard-working public servants. We have said on numerous occasions that state lawmakers deserve sizable pay increases. This would enable them to purchase their own meals or event tickets should they need to conduct legislative business or represent the Legislature in some other capacity.
If Utah had a gift ban, people or special interests who invite lawmakers to functions would be privy to the law. If it was understood that a lawmaker was prohibited from accepting a gift, hosts of such functions would know to make arrangements to enable them to pay for their own meals or activity tickets. It may require more work on the part of a host, but if everyone was on the same page, accommodations could be made to help lawmakers comply with it.
At a minimum, the state needs meaningful gift limits and disclosure laws. Of the $250,000 in gifts that lobbyists reported giving to lawmakers last year, less than half named specific recipients. That's ludicrous.
The electorate deserves a law-making process that is accountable. State lawmakers should welcome reforms that enhance public trust because these issues, as our public opinion polls have consistently shown, matter a great deal to Utahns.