Wednesday, June 25, 2008

BREAKING: UTAH LEGISLATORS REQUEST A HOUSE ETHICS INVESTIGATION

A bi-partisan group of Republicans and Democrats have filed an ethics complaint today against Rep. Mark Walker (R – Sandy), asking the House Ethics Committee to investigate allegations respecting violations of House ethics rules arising out of Walker’s alleged improper use of his House position in connection with his campaign to be elected as state treasurer. Under the House Rules, the Ethics Committee, jointly chaired by a Republican and a Democrat, must determine whether an investigation is warranted, and may appoint a special prosecutor to pursue the four charges outlined in the complaint against Walker. If he is determined to have violated the House Rules on ethics, he could be disciplined or even expelled from the House. If exonerated of these charges, the complaint would be dismissed.

The complaint against Representative Walker asks for an investigation into four issues: (1) abuse of official position and whether Walker offered a job and a substantial salary increase to Richard Ellis if Ellis would withdraw from the treasurer’s race; (2) potential criminal violations of the election laws and whether another unnamed legislator colluded with Walker to offer assurances that the money to fund the Ellis salary increase would be provided by the legislature; (3) abuse of the constitutional rules on legislator behavior and whether the unusual salary increase received by the treasurer in a bill Walker voted for makes him guilty of an impermissible conflict of interest (and incidentally would have rendered him constitutionally ineligible to be elected as treasurer); and (4) whether these allegations, if accurate and taken together, violate the constitutional limitations on legislative compensation.

The House members who filed the complaint are Representatives Rosalind McGee, Phil Riesen, Neil Hansen, Steve Mascaro, and Sheryl Allen. They delayed filing the complaint until today because they did not wish to have the complaint taken as an effort to influence the election outcome. The group stated in the complaint that all proceedings should be open to the public, in the interest of transparency, and they asked that any member on the Ethics Committee who for any reason may doubt his or her ability to act in a disinterested fashion in considering the complaint “should declare that fact and step down as a judge in this matter.”

If the investigation finds the probability of criminal conduct, the complainants ask that the matters be referred to “authorities with jurisdiction to take whatever future action they may deem appropriate.”

The complaint cites a statement by Justice Cardozo, “Many forms of conduct permissible in a workaday world for those acting at arms’ length, are forbidden to those bound by fiduciary ties. A trustee is held to something stricter than the morals of the market place. Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is then the standard of behavior.” The complainants ask, “Should the bar be any lower for legislators who are servants of the public trust? Should we tolerate conduct from a member of our body which treats a public office as an object of barter?”

The complaint concludes, “Unless our political culture is founded upon principles of stewardship, integrity, and fidelity, we will suffer a loss of public confidence in government policies and those who are its stewards that may be irreparable."

Asked if a House ethics investigation was necessary in light of Lt. Gov. Herbert’s last-minute decision to call for an investigation by the Attorney General, Rep. Phil Riesen said, “It’s encouraging that Mr. Herbert has finally referred this complaint to the Attorney Generally for further investigation. However, these are two separate matters. Irrespective of what the Attorney General – who endorsed Walker -- may conclude, the Constitution makes the House of Representatives the judge of who shall sit as a member, and after all that has gone on in this race and elsewhere, it is time that we take appropriate action to begin to set the People’s House in order. The Ethics Committee has subpoena power, and it is time we use it to get to the truth of what has happened – not behind closed doors, but out in the sunshine.”

Asked if Walker could avoid the ethics inquiry by resigning, Rep. Neil Hansen said, “This is bigger than just Rep. Walker, and it’s important that the inquiry pursue all allegations to determine whether, as has been alleged, other legislators inappropriately and unethically colluded with Walker by giving him assurances that the state budget would be adjusted to provide the $56,000 salary increase which appears to have been the consideration for Ellis dropping out of the treasurer’s race.”

7 comments:

Tom said...

I made the same comment over at KNVU:

Isn’t the complaint, in some sense, moot, as Walker’s term expires this year anyway? If other names become public I could understand the action, but a complaint that culminates in kicking out a guy with only a couple of months left doesn’t make much sense to me.

(Ditto for the Dems in Congress trying to impeach Bush.)

Peter said...

Isn't this a little out of control? Why are they trying to destroy Mark?

Anonymous said...

Kick a man when he is down. Good job, you jerks.

Hairy Nuffer said...

I feel it is not moot, and it is not out of control. Take the other side of the issue: what if Walker didn't bribe him? There should be consequences for such an allegation.

Regardless of the outcome, future politicians will know that they can't make a statement like "He bribed me" without a basis in truth, and if Walker is found in fault, they will know that we won't tolerate such behavior from our politicians.

Anonymous said...

This is GREAT! Finally, we have some legislators with the kahonies to do what is right. Regardless of the outcome this issue needed to be addressed.

The General said...

How can there be an ethics violation? I didn't think Republicans had any ethics.

Tom said...

@HN: re "what if Walker didn't bribe him? There should be consequences for such an allegation"

That doesn't make sense in the context of a House ethics investigation--if there was no bribery, the House Ethics Committee wouldn't have jurisdiction for any consequences. Ellis isn't a member of the House (he's not even an elected official). Walker is. If the post were about the AG's investigation, I could see your point.