Utahns for Ethical Government contacted me recently about their proposed ballot initiative for ethics reform in the Utah Legislature. The initiative creates an independent panel that would investigate legislator ethics violations and recommend action back to the legislative leadership. In addition, a “Code of Conduct” is set down by the initiative. Amongst them:
- Legislators are prohibited from spending campaign funds on non-campaign personal expenses.
- Legislators are prohibited from contributing to one another’s campaigns with money from their own campaign funds.
- Legislators cannot be paid lobbyists during their terms of office or for 2 years thereafter.
- Legislators and their family members cannot accept gifts from paid lobbyists, such as meals, Jazz tickets, and golf fees. Gifts do not include light refreshments of negligible value.
- Legislators, when in doubt, can ask for a written opinion by the Commission that determines in advance whether an action contemplated by the legislator would violate the Code of Conduct.
- Legislators are prohibited from making threats, intimidating, or improperly interfering with or obstructing the duties and decisions of the courts and other employees of state government who are exercising the duties of their offices.
- Legislators are prohibited from accepting donations to their campaigns from corporations, non-profits, partnerships, and unions.
- Contributions to a legislator’s campaign funds are limited to $2500 per individual and $5000 per PAC in any 2-year election cycle.
- Money remaining in a legislator’s campaign account that is not spent within 5 years in a subsequent election campaign by the same legislator is transferred to the State School Fund or a Commission-selected-and-approved charitable organization of the legislator’s choice.
- Legislators must file forms annually (with the Ethics Commission) which disclose financial and business interests that could create potential conflicts of interest. The disclosures will be available to the public. As under current law, legislators must file reports with the Lt. Governor of financial contributions they have received.
- Legislators cannot be members of corporate boards when their position as a legislator is a contributing factor in their board appointment and they receive compensation for serving.
Not surprisingly, some legislators don’t like the idea. Senator Sheldon Killpack, in a “Did you read the initiative?” moment said that an ethics commission is undemocratic, in spite of the fact that state governments have appointed commissions since the dawn of state governments. Killpack says, “You’re putting a lot of control into one person’s hands…” Were that only true. The five member commission is appointed by the leadership of the legislature, drawn at random from a pool of 20 independent-minded citizens who are chosen by unanimous agreement of the president of the Senate, speaker of the House, and the two minority leaders of the Utah Legislature.
Ironically, Senator Killpack co-chaired the committee that was unable to establish ethics review on their own. The reason being fear that bogus ethics violations could be politically motivated. In other words your neighbors might send over a cleaning and repair team to your house because they are hoping you’ll be evicted for neglect.
I support Utahns for Ethical Government and their ballot initiative. I hope you will too.