Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pledge for Ethics Reform

Just two weeks ago, the coalition of Utahns for Public Schools released their best effort to bring ethics reform to the front and center for the next legislative session in the form of a pledge that legislators were invited to sign if they agreed with the actions that are being called for. A mix of incumbent legislators (17) and candidates (48) have already signed the pledge. The effort is bipartisan in nature with 22 Republicans and 42 Democrats on board with the five points of ethics reform that pertain to campaign financing. They are:
  1. Require full disclosure of any and all gifts and meals, (not including those provided to the entire legislative body), by both the recipient legislator and the provider of the gift/meal when that provider is a registered lobbyist, PAC, or acting on behalf of a company or corporation.
  2. Prohibit legislators or campaign committees from using campaign contributions for anything other than “legitimate” (i.e.: directly related to their campaign for election to public office) campaign expenditures, or for the execution of duties directly related to their public office.

  3. Require that unexpended campaign funds, upon defeat or retirement from the office in which the legislator served while generating the funds, be donated to a registered public charity or political party, or transferred to the School Trust Land Permanent Fund.

  4. Establish appropriate sanctions for legislators and others who fail to comply with the requirements listed above.

  5. Encourage transparency by providing sanctions for candidates, legislators, lobbyists, PACs, PICs and corporations who fail to file timely and accurate reports.
I'm sure it's no mistake that the campaign was launched less than two months before election day. Incumbents and candidates who sign now will benefit since it certainly makes for a strategic campaign move. However, the true test will come when a bill comes before them in the 2009 legislative session concerning campaign finance reform. If they support it then they will be true to their pledge. If not, hopefully we'll take note and hold them to their word. You can see the full list of those who have signed at the Utahns for Public Schools Policy Center.

Unfortunately the UTPS pledge has been stripped down to only include ethics reform related to campaign finances and contributions, a noteworthy and necessary undertaking. But, in August I suggested that what we really need is an ethics commission. This ethics problem is big enough that legislators are already drafting up an ethics reform bill for consideration in the 2009 session, however, they aren't even hoping for the formation of a commission. It may take some time, but we need to keep talking about it. The efforts by UTPS are a great start and hopefully it will make a difference, but it's still not enough!

Yes, Utahns for Public Schools has certainly given us the start we need. We're also getting a big shove by the likes of several unprecedented ethics complaints this year. A big "thank you" goes out to people like Susan Lawrence who are willing to speak up (despite the untimely politicization of it). I'm proud of her for writing a letter "To Whom it May Concern". It had a different effect than she intended, but I hope in the end it will bring to pass much needed change in a system that more closely resembles the mob than a body of elected officials whose actions should be beyond reproach!