Monday, October 6, 2008

"Pay to play" or just "business as usual"?

Former Representative Susan Lawrence recently illustrated a good example of why lawmakers should take reform seriously in the next session. She wrote a letter detailing alleged unethical behavior by Greg Hughes that occurred nearly two years prior. The complaint was leaked by Representative Riesen who claims that the public had a right to know about it. I agree, despite the spotlight this is going to put on Lawrence who says that she is saddened by the premature release of the information.

After reading the complaint I began to wonder, if Susan Lawrence was confronted with a deal to trade votes for cash, how many others were approached with the same deal? How many of them might have taken them up on it and how many turned them down like Lawrence did? According to a footnote in the complaint:

Corroborating these allegations respecting the attempted bribe of former Representative Lawrence, complainants are aware that another legislator, within the same time frame, also was offered equivalent campaign contribution assistance in exchange for a "yes" vote on the anticipated voucher bill. This legislator, like Lawrence, declined the bribe. We have not included this allegation in the complaint because, according to present information, the person making the bribe was not a legislator.
I recently received information that Representative Paul Ray will possibly be testifying this week in the ethics hearings. He has spoken to others about a bribe that he received and those who have heard him talk about it say that he was offered $100,000 if he would change his vote on the voucher bill from nay to yea. He also reported the attempted bribe to the FBI. Why then, I wonder, if he was comfortable in making an official report to the FBI did he not report it as an ethics violation to his colleagues? Is it because he knew he wouldn't get anywhere by ruffling feathers and complaining about something that happens all the time? Is it because he would lose "all influence" in the House, a promise reportedly made by Hughes to other people who have tried to report abuses by those in power?

I was curious to see if I could find a contribution by a voucher-tied donor so I started looking at 2006 campaign contributions. I wasn't able to find anything that came close to $50,000 or $100,000, but I did find the same trend that I found when I looked at the contributions to school board members in 2006. I thought that it was worth showing how not only voucher PACs like Parents for Choice in Education donated large sums of money, but other sources that could be tied to possible bribes. There is no proof as to whether or not the money came with strings attached, but at the very least I believe it demonstrates how it's common place for money to be influential in a campaign.

When I was searching for the smoking gun I looked at the contributions to every candidate that voted in favor of HB148. I looked at the donors that might be tied to Greg Hughes or another known voucher-pushing-lawmaker. I included contributions made by Parents for Choice in Education since the voucher vote was at the crux of the matter, as well as contributions from Stephen Urquhart who was the sponsor of HB147. Due to the ability of funds to be filtered through the party I also included the contributions made by two Republican Party PACs. When I didn't find a whole lot in terms of people who had the opportunity to vote on the voucher bill, I turned my efforts to candidates who ran in 2006 but lost to their opponents. That's when the money painted a much different picture. The only other candidate that appeared to have the same pattern was that of Gage Froerer who won his bid for candidacy. All the other candidates listed below him in the table lost their bids. And what about contributions from the same voucher-tied donors for Lawrence and Ray? Well, they didn't get any. That raises some questions as to why not. Is it because they refused to change their vote?

Lastly, when we talk about campaign ethics we have to think about the contributions that might have been made, but not reported. Surely, if someone is willing to unethically take cash for a vote they might also be willing to "forget" to report said cash. Could it be that the trading of cash for votes is so common place in our current system that people think nothing of it? It happens all the time, right? We'll need someone with subpoena power to ask the hard questions if we really want to get to the bottom of this.

2006 Contributions to House Candidates in Tight Races


Parents for Choice in Education PAC

Utah Republican Party & Utah House Republican Election Committee

Committee to Elect Stephen H Urquhart1

Other Large Contributions with possible links to voucher votes

Total Funds Raised

Total Funds Raised by Opponent(s)

Gage Froerer


$14,629+** & $2,000+***




$1,925 (Frandsen) $0 (Herbst)
Jess Clifford


$11,050.75** & $2,500***




$24,346 (Gowans) $1,882 (Garrard)

Denna Detton Ely
$8,255+** & $4,500+***
$24,957 (Duckworth) $400 (Froehle) $190 (Roose)
Thomas Wright
$2,471+** & $3,500+***

$42,494 (McGee)

Phillip M. Conder
$2,281+** & 2,500***
$16,833 (Fisher)
Sandy Thackeray
$7,968.89** & $2,000***

$47,625 (Moss)

Duane Millard
$3,384.92+** & $2,000***

$27,205 (Hemingway)

Robyn Bagley
$6,022** & $2,000***

$38,313 (Morgan)

+ Multiple Contributions by the same PAC were added together.
** Contributions made by the Utah Republican Party
*** Contributions made by the Utah House Republican Election Committee
1 Contributions were listed from either "Stephen Urquhart" or "Committee to Elect Stephen H. Urquhart" or "Commitee [sic] to Elect Stephen H. Urquhart"
2 Committee to Elect Howard Stephenson
3 Salt Lake County Republican Party


Jeremy said...


Thanks for the time you put into researching stuff like this. It will be interesting to see what types of ethical reform are proposed in the upcoming session. Your post is a great argument for a far more aggressive contribution/gift disclosure requirement for all candidates for public office.

Mr. Sirh said...

Wow! Good work Sara! You are absolutely right.

I read this on KSL:

"When asked if he [Hughes] offered to arrange for Lawrence to get campaign money if she’d change her vote, Hughes said, “No. At the time that she was running, she had a tough challenger, and we were looking to help colleagues as we would help any colleague. And we were trying to garner money and support and, uh, we talked about some groups that would be more inclined to help lawmakers in terms of how they vote.”

Then I read about your claims that Lawrence did not get the money from the donors that you mentioned in your post. I could not believe it so I checked it out for myself. It is true! Not a single dollar from any of the donors you mention in your post. It is clear that she did not agree to the terms and conditions on which the money was offered and therefore did not get the money.

If he was so eager to help her, I would like for him to show us which funds he is responsible for donating to her campaign. I hope that he will be asked that question tomorrow in the ethics hearing.