Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Senator Stephenson's Blatant Conflict of Interest

I'll lay out the plain and simple facts. You try to process the paradox.

March 30, 2009: Governor Huntsman signs H.B. 345 (Elected Officials - Restrictions on Lobbying sponsored by Rep. Dee) and the bill becomes law. What does this bill do? It simply says that a former legislator is not allowed to register as a lobbyist for one year after leaving office. Why? Because a former legislator could exercise undue influence over their former colleagues. Of course, there are loopholes in this law, but we're talking about the intent of the bill for the purpose of this post.

If there is a concern that a former legislator could possibly exercise undue influence, what does that say about a powerful, current legislator? What about a powerful, current legislator who is also a registered lobbyist? What about a powerful, current legislator who is also a registered lobbyist AND the president of the Association that he/she lobbies on behalf of?

Here come the plain and simple facts!

  • Senator Howard Stephenson is a powerful Senator serving on an influential committee, namely the Senate Education Committee.

  • Senator Howard Stephenson is a registered lobbyist for the Utah Taxpayers Association.

  • Senator Howard Stephenson declares a conflict of interest with legislative subject areas involving the Utah Taxpayers Association.

  • Senator Howard Stephenson is the President of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

  • The latest issue of the Utah Taxpayers Association newsletter boasts the defeat of HB150 that would have made the State Board of Education seats a fair, open and non-partisan election. From the newsletter:

    "Reflecting the Association’s broad mandate, the Taxpayers Association’s key bills fell into four categories this year: Education Reform, Government Transparency, Taxes and Miscellaneous. In education reform, we continued to champion parental involvement in their children’s education by making sure HB 2 did not cap the number of Utah charter schools. In addition, we beat back a challenge to the committee which recruits and nominates candidates for the state school board. With a membership balanced between representatives from the education and business communities, this board has done a remarkable job of recruiting candidates with a broad array of backgrounds to run for the State School Board. Despite the board’s well-documented success, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss sponsored HB 150 to eliminate the committee. Although the House approved HB 150, the Senate Education Committee did not approve it." (emphasis added)
  • Senator Howard Stephenson is a member of the Senate Education Committee and voted "nay" on the motion to recommend H.B. 150!!
Can you see how blatant and wrong this is? Senator Stephenson openly admits a conflict of interest and at the same time admits that the organization that he is the President of and registered lobbyist of is the one whose "key bill" they "beat back" and that the Senate Education Committee which he is a member of "did not approve it" and he boasts it openly and publicly. Wow!

Perhaps this is something that can be discussed at the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy. Their next meeting is on May 21 (location to be determined) and the focus for the meeting is lobbying regulations. They even want our opinion so this is our opportunity. We can continue to allow the people in charge to continue to abuse the system, or we can get involved and try to make a difference. If we don't try then we only have ourselves to blame.