Saturday, January 12, 2008

Republican Stranglehold On Lobbying Gifts May Be Over!

What do you get when one party remains in power for too long? A jaded bureaucracy. A party that can't see that something so clearly wrong is wrong. Based on the Utah populace's evolving opinion on lobbying gifts, however, the Republican party will either start seeing the wrong, or they may be thrown out of office on their ears.

Maybe I should be a Democrat. I agree with them on a lot of things. My dad was a Democrat. My mom was, too, but I think she is more unaffiliated with any party these days.

One of the silliest conventions in the Utah State Legislature is the constant refusal to remove, on the whole, the greatest conflict of interest in the Legislature, the bribe, otherwise known as the legislative--or lobbying--gift. While Democrats haven't been completely immune to the siren song of bribes, they have been on the forefront of trying to either abolish or severely limit bribes in the Legislature, while the republican 'good-ole-boy' network has grown quite fond of them, thank you very much.

Legislative bribes are the greatest conflict of interest in the Utah Legislature.


Utah has lost an excellent advocate of reducing legislative bribes in Ralph Becker, but Salt Lake City has gained an equally estimable chief executive. I can only hope that other Democrats will champion the cause of which Becker has been at the forefront for the past several years--because it's unlikely that the Republicans will.

But, perhaps, the people of Utah will shame them into it.

A new Deseret News/KSL poll found that 38% of Utahns want to ban legislative gifts all together. Twenty-six percent want to follow Becker's lead in limiting such gifts to $5. I am in the camp of Becker and the 26%. But banning them outright would not be such a bad thing, either.

As I said during last years legislative session:
A legislator's constituents are the people who elected them, not the ones who want to wine and dine and improperly influence them.
I'm putting my money this year on the Democratic horse in this race. And I hope the Republicans who, by the logic of fellow legislators, can't be persuaded to agree that legislative gifts are an abhorrence, can be by the logic of the people of Utah.




13 comments:

  1. I work at Dan Jones and worked on this survey. I talked to many people who considered themselves very conservative and very Republican who had no hesitation saying gifts should be banned. I hope the Utah GOP will start representing the values of voters and make some much need ethics reform.

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  2. Raymond,

    I envy your job. I think it would be very fascinating to talk with Utahns all over the state and find out what they think and what motivates their thinking.

    Thanks for your insight.

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  3. Frank,
    I completely agree! :)

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  4. Excellent,

    I knew we had some common ground!

    It was funny...as I was writing this article, your comment on my Ron Paul article came in, and I thought, 'This will be funny. When Don sees this one, I'll bet he agrees with it.'

    And I was right. ;-)

    Interesting how we're diametric opposites on the Ron Paul and racism issue and so similar on lobbying gifts.

    Thanks.

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  5. This is one thing I would hope that most people could agree on, and judging by the polling numbers we do. About the only people I can think of that wouldn't agree would be those Legislators taking advantage of the system and the lobbyists who gain their favor.

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  6. Frank,

    Will you call, or send me an e-mail?

    801-706-6203, or democratamicus@aol.com.

    Thanks Frank

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  7. Frank, California limits members of the state assembly to a maximum of ten dollars. Why can't we do that?

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  8. WP,

    I agree. It would solve a plethora of problems, not the least of which is that it would make it much more difficult for lobbyists to take legislators and their wives (and sometimes families) to dinner, not to mention all the other questionable hand holding that goes on between the bribers and the bribees.

    I'll need to think about it some more, but my current position is that if I ever make it to the legislature, I would likely be a bit lonely compared to other legislators, because my only lobbyists would be the people who live in my district. If they want to bring a lobbyist expert with them to advocate a position on an issue, that would be great, but I'd make it very clear that I'll buy my own lunch, thank you.

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  9. As part of any reform, we should ban all donations from any individual who isn't a voter in your district or who doesn't have business operations in your district and all donations not from an individual. That would effectively shut out the powerful money groups and large corporations from being able to outright buy legislation. If you can't vote at the ballot box and no directly affected businesses in that district, you have no right to influence the election with your money.

    Bye bye union money, bye bye PCE money, bye bye Qwest money. I can live with that.

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  10. I agree Frank, that it is a problem. With so many legislators in safe districts, they don't feel accountable to their constituents, only to those who help finance their campaigns or improve their quality of life through gifts.

    Lobbying has become a huge industry here in Utah and if you want to see last generation's legislators, go to the Capitol during the session and hang out in front of the House chamber, and there they are, the who's who of legislure's gone by.

    Gifts is just one mechanism by which lobbyists gain access, campaign contributions is the other. Even Republican legislative leaders who run unopposed garner huge donations. This allows these leaders to donate to other Republicans in order to sustain their support for that leadership position.

    It is interesting that most of these legislators don't perceive anyting wrong with this sort of thing. I perceive that it is because it is a common business practice in the private sector. If you want to build a better business relationship with another company, you take their representative to a Jazz game, buy them dinner or give them some tickets to the Symphony. In my own business dealings, I have attended more Jazz games at other's expense, than I have at my own.

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  11. Zero is so much easier to enforce than some arbitrary dollar figure. Everyone understands zero quite well. There's nothing to quibble about.

    But I remember the case of Rep. Linda Smith (R-WA), who was swept into office with the 1994 Republican revolution. She spent two terms in Washington fighting for reforms such as Jesse suggests for Utah. She quickly made herself persona non grata in DC. The political machine works on money and she was working against that machine.

    The idea of doing without lobbyist funds and being able to raise funds only from your own district was just too scary for the class whose power was based on the traditional approach. After two terms, Smith's own party encouraged her to challenge Sen. Patty Murray; a race in which Smith was highly unlikely to prevail. Smith wanted to try to follow her own advice on fundraising, which meant that she was unable to campaign competitively. She pulled in 42% of the vote, but many (both Republicans and Democrats) in DC were happy to see that she wasn't returning to stir the pot of serious campaign finance reform.

    The problem with restricting lobbyist gifts/money/favors/etc. is that you have to get a bunch of politicians that owe their position to such lobbyists to vote for these kinds of restrictions. They aren't incentivized to do so.

    We'd have to recruit a whole class of new politicians that promised from the outset to personally forego lobbyist favors and fight to outlaw such favors. We'd have to get enough of them elected that they could challenge the current power structure. That's a tall order.

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  12. I agree. Zero is better. Over time, people accustom themselves to forget the gravity of a situation.

    It would be good to get a whole new class of politicians--in Utah and in Washington D.C.--who are committed to not taking bribes from the burgeoning lobbying industry.

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  13. Obi Wan,

    I got in big trouble from my company (I was new, so it could have been worse) by attending an ice hockey game with a vendor at the vendor's expense.

    I haven't done it since.

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