The Utah House of Representatives is on the verge of tearing itself apart.

Cooler heads may prevail — but as of this week there are hard feelings, political retribution, and some public careers may end this November because of the infighting.

The latest: Both House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, and Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, could face separate House Ethics Committee investigations this summer.

If three House members — the number it takes to file an ethics complaint — decide to take action against one of them, most likely an opposing group of three will file a separate complaint against the other. And the bloodletting may not stop there.

The Utah Legislature, both House and Senate, has in the past been loath to take any ethics actions against one of its own.

Lawmakers would say that's because they don't have any ethics problems — so no complaints are filed.

The reality is much different.

In the old-boy club of the 104-member, part-time Legislature, it is "you leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone."

What's going on now is almost unprecedented.

Lawmakers can take any "intangible" gift from any paid lobbyist. If the gift is valued at more than $50 a day, the accepting legislator is supposed to have his name listed in the lobbyists' report. But being smart people, lobbyists have found all kinds of ways of getting around that naming requirement — from paying a portion of an expensive gift to get the lobbyist's share under $50 to many other kinds of dealings.

Lawmakers can raise campaign cash from anyone, in any amount, and spend it on anything, including just giving it to themselves. This has led to all kinds of things — like paying for car repairs, donations to their churches, clothing purchases, buying gasoline to drive around their districts and so on.

And nearly every incumbent legislator raises most of his campaign cash from special-interest groups — some getting 100 percent of their campaign cash from groups or individuals that want something from the Legislature. And some lawmakers hire family members to help them in their campaigns — so they are in reality paying family members with lobbyists' money.

Finally, conflicts of interests among the part-time lawmakers, most of whom must make a living outside of the Legislature, are rampant. The conflict of interest rules are so lax, that two legislators last summer — one the head of a water district, another seeking a permit to build a nuclear power plant — were in cahoots with each other, one selling water, one buying his water; and both were sitting on an interim committee dealing with energy development and not declaring any conflicts. In fact, both say they didn't have to declare a conflict because under legislative rules those weren't conflicts.

But do we see any ethics complaints about the above? Of course not. Because legislators have adopted such flabby rules or laws that there aren't any infractions.

Instead, we are now seeing ethics complaints about a job bribe offer, about an alleged agreement to allocate funds for the job bribe and about a he-said-she-said incident of touching and improper language between a legislator and a female intern.

Inside all of this are some really bad feelings.

As one conservative lawmaker puts it: "We're seeing those who are unsuccessful in legislation, now going to court and threatening ethics investigations" to get what they want.

On the other side, a moderate House Republican says that for the last decade GOP conservative leaders and conservative House Republicans ran roughshod over Democrats and moderate Republicans who wouldn't play along with their deals and now dare (gasp!) to publicly criticize the majority's actions.

Said one House Republican: "Six years ago, even after the political battles, I could still call every member of the House a friend. And we are not there now. We're having a very hard time" in the House, and things could get even more ugly before collegiality returns.


Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com.