Thursday, December 03, 2009

Party Lines - What is the real reason Utah’s GOP is against ethics initiative? GOP View

By Todd Weiler- Republican

The Utah Republican Party stands for ethics in government.

Its platform demands “honesty, integrity, morality, and accountability” from public officials and provides it will “work to expose and stop corruption.”

Elected representatives are answerable to the people and are empowered only by the consent of the governed.

A small group of anti-voucher activists have recently began calling themselves Utahns for Ethical Government (“UEG”).

They are currently collecting signatures in an attempt to place their 21-page initiative on the ballot.

UEG’s initiative removes responsibility for ethics in government from the people and their elected representatives, and places it in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable commission — the members of which will likely be chosen by sponsors of the initiative.

UEG’s promotional materials fail to mention that Utah recently enacted sweeping ethics reform: House Bill 345 (Lobby Restrictions), House Bill 346 (Campaign Report Amendments), Senate Bill 156 (Gift/Meal Provisions for Public Officials), Senate Bill 162 (Campaign Fund Use), House Joint Resolution 14 (Ethics Training), and Senate Joint Resolution 6 (Legislator Communication with Judiciary). In addition, a recently-created Ethics Standing Committee has been meeting all year to prepare recommendations for additional ethics reform in Utah.

The initiative proposes:

(1) Creating a powerful unelected commission that would make its own rules, issue subpoenas, and compel the production of documents and witnesses without any judicial review;

(2) Allowing any three people to begin an ethics investigation that could potentially ruin the reputation of the accused;

(3) Implementing sweeping changes that lawyers are calling unconstitutional as they are “void for vagueness”, inappropriately delegate powers, and deny due process;

(4) Treating the accused as guilty and requiring them to prove their innocence;

(5) Permitting the accusers to participate in the investigation while excluding any involvement by the “accused”;

(6) Imposing new requirements but failing to define them in a way that would allow elected officials to know precisely what conduct is prohibited; and

(7) Limiting a part-time legislator’s ability to earn a living.

Voters should be aware that if the initiative is enacted, hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars could be flowing to private attorneys instead of education, transportation, and other needs. Any three people can initiate a complaint that could potentially rack up tens of thousands in fees.

In Alaska, one man filed over 20 ethics complaints against Sarah Palin that resulted in over a half a million in fees. Since the attorney fee provision is at the end of the 21-page document, I doubt many of the signers of the petition are aware of the unfunded mandate.

If passed, I expect the initiative will be challenged on constitutional grounds thereby costing taxpayers even more in legal fees.

Although the Utah Republican Party strongly supports government ethics, openness, transparency and responsiveness, it vehemently opposes the UEG’s fundamentally flawed initiative.

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