Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More Trappings for the Utah Legislative Aristocracy

As if lobbying gifts aren't enough, now it comes out that Utah legislators are converting leftover campaign funds for personal use. That's pretty embarrassing. Is the fact that one makes less in the legislature than in his or her private job excuse enough to pay one's self from one's campaign funds? Nope.

A recent Utah poll indicated that Utah legislators were rather out of step when it comes to lobbying gifts (bribes). Most Utahns think such 'gifts' should be either severely curtailed or banned. Most legislators (and more Republican legislators than Democrat legislators) have disagreed up to this point. I'll bet a poll of Utahns would similarly indicate contrary feelings about legislators' application of campaign funds for personal use.
While campaign finance reform bills have been introduced in the past, major reforms continue to die. No bill has yet been filed in the 2008 Legislature that would curtail the unregulated fundraising and spending of legislative campaign cash.

Meanwhile, Utah continues to have one of the nation's most wide-open set of campaign laws.

State candidates can raise campaign money from anyone, in any amount. They can spend the money in any amount on any legal activity or purchase. The only requirement is disclosure — they must say where they got donations of more than $50 and list all their expenditures. It's legal to give campaign money to themselves, with the only requirement that they pay income taxes on the gifts.
Want to avoid that conflict of interest of having a lobbyist pay for a front-row Jazz ticket for you? That's easy--just pay for it yourself...out of your campaign funds, which probably came from the same lobbyists that would have taken you to the Jazz game in the first place. Because you deserve it!!
Analysis shows that about 98 percent of the $848,000 in campaign money donated to legislators during the nonelection 2007 year came from special interests such as corporations, lobbyists and political action committees.
Did your car break down? Campaign funds will take care of that! Who cares if you already get a per diem for being in the legislature. You deserve it!

Does that pesky legislative job not pay as much as your civilian job? Campaign funds to the rescue!

Campaign gifts, mostly from the same lobbyists who lavish the legislators with

The reason legislators keep so many campaign funds is because they can. Utah campaign finance laws are some of the most lax in the country. But they deserve it..because they're the aristocracy, right?

lunches, hunts, and Jazz games, have been used for all of these purposes and more.

How about giving money to a different candidate. Not so bad, but the people who donated to you donated to you. How about giving money to your husband to run for a completely different political office? Well....it's legal, isn't it? ;-)

While we're fixing the day-to-day lobbying gift problem, why don't we fix the other one as well. Campaign donations, in addition to being reported, as is already required, should not be transferrable, except for specifically designated causes.

Repaying yourself for previous personal loans to your campaign? That's legitimate. Buying clothes for yourself and your spouse? That's not.

It appears, by the way, the a lot more of these gift-getters have an "R" by their names than those who have a "D". But regardless of party affiliation, what can be going on in these people's minds? Someone interviewed by the Deseret News stated that
...the main reason so many politicians raise so much money — year after year even if they don't have an election — "is because they can. Lobbyists are always willing to give, in part to keep up good relations" with a legislator.
Do they think they deserve it? Maybe so, because, after all they're the Utah aristocracy...aren't they?




15 comments:

  1. Frank,
    I don't care how many issues you and I disagree on, we need people like you up on the Hill!

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  2. Frank, you went on with another well-written blog and then you end it with, "It appears, by the way, the a lot more of these gift-getters have an 'R' by their names than those who have a 'D'." You mention this point as if you just could not finish the blog without a personal slam to the republican party. Simple mathematics demonstrates there are far more republicans in the legislature than democrats (76 to 28) and therefore if every legislator received a single $50 gift there would obviously be far more republicans receiving gifts than democrats. Cut the republican gifts in half and there are still almost twice as many as the democrats. Wouldn't it be better to suggest the elimination of gifts altogether rather than make party implications?

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  3. Shhhhh! Darn it Frank, the scam was supposed to be a secret.

    Please send donations to:

    The Committee to Elect Obi wan
    P.O. Box 8304
    Tooele, UT 84074

    ReplyDelete
  4. With Don's endorsement, it looks like your strategy of "I'm a Republican but I don't suck like other Republicans and I'm willing to talk smack about Republicans" is finally paying off.

    Brown-nosing the Democrats won't get you much in the long-run, but keep on trash-talking the GOP and telling everyone how good Ralph Becker is.

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  5. The realization that the elections are rigged greatly reduces the incentive for an incumbent to behave ethically.

    (Want to make elections more representative and competitive? Start at FairVote.org)

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  6. Is there somewhere where you can see the campaign contributions and what they spent it on for the state legislature. I know you can see what Groups gave to the U.S. senators and Congressmen at Opensecrets.org.

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  7. Mr. or Ms. Anonymous,
    It's not about brown-nosing Democrats. It's about integrity, openness and honesty in doing the public's business. I'd much rather have a conservative with Frank's integrity in office than most of the jokers who are up there now. At least with Frank I know his opinions (misguided as they are sometimes ;) ) are coming straight from him and not some lobbyist lackey who's bought himself an agenda.

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  8. You act as if this is the first time anyone has ever heard of this. The fact is that it's been going on since before I was born. And guess what? It's the same for federal legislators, only at a much higher price.

    I'd love to see gifts outlawed. Period. I'd love to see a requirement that unused campaign funds must go to the treasury. (I'd almost say that they could go to a charity, but it's easy to see how that could be abused.)

    I'd love to see the laws change, and I'd be glad to help apply pressure. But I'm not holding my breath. Until politicians feel that their positions are threatened (i.e. voters will oust them) unless they make such changes, they will not be incentivized to do so. Politicians may pay homage to such reforms, but we will never see the reforms unless voters get ticked off enough to get serious about it.

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  9. Something almost as effective as the force of law is public shaming. Write up a pledge for candidates to sign detailing that they'll eschew lobbyist money, refuse gifts and not treat campaign funds as a personal piggybank. Post the results of who signs and who doesn't somewhere conspicuous. Anyone who doesn't sign will look suspiciously shady.

    Of course, that's getting really close to dirty politics...

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  10. Chad,

    I'm actually surprised you would care about that nuance. There are Democrats on the hill who are very frustrated with their fellow Democrats about this issue, and yes there are more Republicans, but from my perspective, one person from either party taking the kinds of gifts they are receiving is too much.

    Anonymous,

    You don't know me very well, and I don't know you either, because you wouldn't identify yourself. Don did a very good job of characterizing my interests and motivations for you.

    Scott,

    It's not the first time I've heard about it, and I'm sure it's not for anyone else, but the beginning of the legislative session is a good time to bring it up. I agree with you that voters should apply the needed pressure. Republicans or Democrats who can't see that this wrong is wrong should be replaced.

    I like Jesse's idea, or something close to it.

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  11. Assembly persons in California can receive up to ten bucks from lobbyists Frank. What do they know that we cannot do here?

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  12. That sounds like about the right amount. Five or ten bucks allows them to get the little trinket from the Utah housing expo or the free copy of the Salt Lake Tribune sent to them, for example.

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  13. GREAT RANT Frank! I was laughing the whole time. It is another one of those "The Emporer is naked." moments.

    Jesse has the right idea. There will never be any change until we make it harder for them to take the money than it is for them to ignore us they will continue to take the gifts.

    Keep up the good work.

    LL

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  14. Yes! All the emperors are naked, and all they see is each other, so they don't think anything's wrong.

    By the way, I hope I have not been herein interpreted as throwing all Utah legislators into the same "aristocracy" bucket. Particularly, those who don't flaunt the bribery issue, and even as well, those, like Pat Jones, who realize they made mistakes and are correcting them, are not in that bucket.

    Pat Jones and others like her are true servants of the people.

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  15. No one has answered Ryan's question: where do we go to see these campaign contributions? If they all have to be disclosed, how do we as citizens get a hold of them, to begin connecting the dots between politicians' votes and their cash cows?

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