Thursday, December 03, 2009
Party Lines - What is the real reason Utah’s GOP is against ethics initiative? My View
Utahns for Ethical Government has created a popular initiative backed by credible people, including many former legislators, which will likely qualify for the 2010 ballot and pass.
This frightens those in legislative circles because it challenges so many current practices.
The initiative is needed because it puts an end to much of the legal bribery currently permitted through gift giving, campaign funds used for personal benefit, or jobs offered solely to legislators and their families.
The initiative is needed because it changes how legislative leaders court support by prohibiting legislators from contributing to one another’s campaigns.
The initiative is needed because it changes how some legislators work and play with others in government and the courts by prohibiting threats, intimidation, interference or obstructing others from performing their duties.
The initiative is needed because it requires legislators to disclose their conflicts of interest more thoroughly than they do now, allowing the public to see if they are representing the citizens or themselves.
And, the initiative is needed because it provides for an independent watchdog to bark when legislators don’t live up to their ethical obligations.
When you hear legislators complain that it encourages politically motivated charges, or that it flips the burden of proof for the accused, or that some will choose not to seek public office, then you know they fear accountability and will never impose it upon themselves without the passage of a citizens’ initiative.
But they need not fear too much. The initiative can’t provide any real accountability. The State Constitution gives the Legislature itself sole power to discipline its own members. Also, UEG sponsor Kim Burningham notes that newly passed laws routinely have flaws that are fixed via later amendments and that this initiative is no different. So, there is already an expectation that the initiative will be amended by the Legislature.
Ultimately, real accountability is for the voters who have the final say at the ballot box.
Does that mean that the initiative is without reasonable opposition? No, there are many problems with the initiative.
It has what one author called “aspirational” language that is too vague to be enforceable. While in other places, it defines things too narrowly where a specific person is clearly a target of the authors – either for inclusion or exclusion.
The commission created is by random draw and does not prevent the exclusive appointment of people with similar views and backgrounds.
It inappropriately attempts to regulate candidates who are not public officials and cannot be sanctioned by the Legislature because they are not members. It prohibits a large percentage of the current sources of campaign contributions for campaigns that are largely underfunded. It creates barriers to campaigns joining together for economies of scale that make campaigns less expensive.
It creates a government taking of private funds for pet projects of the sponsors and later commission members. These are subjects for campaign codes that are out of place here.
And, finally, since there are more Republicans than Democrats in the Legislature, it may affect the GOP more.
But it won’t weaken the Republican Party or the Democratic Party to rid themselves of officials who behave unethically.