Friday, January 19, 2007

Utah Republican legislators: too righteous to be ethical

In the U.S. Senate, after a failed attempt (45-55) to fillabuster the Finegold-Obama ethics bill by the GOP leadership, the bill passed albeit without key provisions thanks to Utah's senators. Sen. Bennett introduced an amendment that would allow astroturf non-profits like those used by Jack Abramboff to continue to lobby Senators sans reporting. And horribly enough, it passed. Worse yet, the bill was weakened substantially by ethically lacking senators who didn't want an independent Office of Public Integrity like other countries have and preferred the current self-regulating system that worked so well that the 109th Congress lost 3 members to felony charges (2 convicted and sentenced) and another resigned because of what would be felony charges. Others lost who should have been investigated, indicted, and convicted. Even this watered down version was too much for Sen. Hatch, who was one of two senators to vote against the ethics bill.

And if you think that's terrible, at least they are letting it come up for consideration (although I bet Hatch and Bennett filibustered like good GOPers), unlike their state level colleagues.
But Legislative leaders have issues with outright banning meals, because food is often paired with lunchtime meetings during the session. In addition, lawmakers say they're not about to be pressured into passing new laws based solely on what the Governor does.

Rep. Greg Curtis, House Speaker: "He chose to do this in the state of the state, in a very public forum. To my knowledge, I haven't been able to obtain a copy of the executive order. And it seems to have been done for a very public purpose."

Every year St. Rep. Ralph Becker has introduced ethics reforms, and every year the GOP majority have kept his bill from coming to a vote. According to the non-partisan center for public integrity, Utah ranks 47th in "Legislator Personal Financial Disclosure," garnering a grade of "F." This means that legislators rarely, if ever report conflicts of interests (i.e. and vote on a bill/amendment that effect them personally). I remember a friend of my parents was a state senator in the early 1990s, and when a bill came up on taxing small aircraft, he announced that he could not vote on the matter since his family owned one. They all look at him in shock and horror, and not because his family was wealthy enough to afford a private jet, but that he disclosed it.

In prior years, when ethics bills have come before the state legislature, Legislators took the bills as a personal affront to their morality. They assumed that the sponsor was accusing them. One even cried during his speech, babbling something about his wife. I wish I could find the test of that, I can't remember what was said, but I remember it was rich.

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