As required by legislative rules, the House Ethics Committee has scheduled a meeting next Monday to begin its initial investigation into a complaint made against Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy.
Ethics co-chairman Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, said the meeting will be public. However, if the committee decides that there is enough evidence to proceed to the next step a preliminary investigation then meetings will be closed when testimony is taken from witnesses, as law provides.
"We want to get this started right away," Kiser said. "There is no need to delay this."
This is the first House Ethics Committee business in some years. The committee has not found any legislator guilty of anything, nor sanctioned, in recent memory. One former legislator resigned in the late 1980s after it was clear the House as a whole would expel her over a shoplifting conviction.
Usually, the lawmaker accused of wrongdoing is one of the three legislators who sign the original ethics complaint a way of clearing the air around him or her. And the "suspect" legislator has quickly been found innocent of any wrongdoing.
However, the Walker situation may prove different as Walker didn't request the hearing. Instead, three House Democrats and two Republicans labeled "dissident Republicans" by House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy made the complaint against Walker.
In brief, Walker is accused of improperly, if not illegally, offering a job and a raise to chief deputy treasurer Richard Ellis on condition that Ellis would drop out of the GOP treasurer's race. The two emerged from the May GOP convention in the treasurer's race. In last Tuesday's Republican primary, Ellis thumped Walker 60 percent to 40 percent in the statewide vote.
Walker was backed by GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and most of the Republican leadership of the Utah House and Senate.
Walker denies any wrongdoing. He said he never offered a pay raise to Ellis. And he only told Ellis that Ellis and all other treasurer's office employees would still have their jobs should he, Walker, win the election. Walker said he only tried to ease the minds of good treasurer office employees who might be worried about their jobs.
Ellis said the offers came in March. Ellis went so far as to ask the advice of certain well-known GOP political operatives as to whether he, Ellis, should make the offers public before the May GOP convention. In the end, Ellis did not then make the matters public.
But after a newspaper reporter started asking about any job offers after the GOP convention, in which Walker did much better than Ellis, Ellis filed an official complaint with the state elections office of Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert. Herbert refused to act until after the June 24 primary, saying he didn't want to unfairly color the intra-party race.
After the primary, Herbert referred the matter to Shurtleff, who because he had backed Walker in turn asked a Democratic and a Republican county attorney to investigate any criminal charges.
Totally separate of that investigation, the five House members formally asked for a House Ethics Committee investigation of Walker's actions.
Hard feelings have sprung up within the Legislature over the ethics investigation.Reps. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, and Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, who signed the ethics complaint, were labeled as "dissidents" by Curtis. And Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, who also signed the complaint, said he fully expects some kind of political retaliation by GOP leaders on those who challenge their authority and their backing of Walker.