October 10th, 2009

Utah’s Unethical Ethics Initiative


photo credit: swilton

At today’s committee meeting, the Central Committee of the Utah County Republican Party passed a motion affirming its opposition to the so-called (and horribly misnamed) "ethics initiative" currently being circulated for signatures and support in the state of Utah. They join a growing list of parties, organizations, and people who likewise oppose this initiative on the grounds that the “ethics reform” it would create is, well, unethical.

Among other things, this initiative would: ultimately appoint five individuals—dubbed “super czars”—to form a commission that would police the legislature; give a lifelong appointment to members of said commission; ensure that the commission members are not accountable to anybody, including any court, the Attorney General, the Governor, or the entire legislature; create a code of conduct for the legislature that is more burdensome and restrictive than fair and reasonable; allow for any three people to file an ethics complaint, thus easily embroiling any legislator into a costly battle to clear his/her name (if innocent); and require that legislators adhere to the aforementioned code of conduct, but not impose any such requirement on the “independent minded” members of the commission. The list goes on.

Much has been said from proponents of this initiative regarding its importance in ensuring our elected legislators are honest and ethical. Problem is, the arguments I’ve heard can essentially be summarized as being part of a deceptive propaganda campaign to place five people into a lifetime, powerful office without any guarantees or even convincing arguments that 1) ethics issues will be more easily and properly resolved, 2) the findings of this commission will be impartial and accurate, and 3) such a commission is needed in the first place.

To be sure, there are instances when legislators act with impropriety or outright corruption. These cases can and should be dealt with as they arise. But the responsibility for reviewing and enforcing any code of conduct is not the responsibility of a limited group of appointed, unaccountable overlords. Rather, the legislator’s (elected!) peers, along with the constituents and delegates who are represented by that legislator, are the ones who determine whether that legislator is guilty and should be punished in some fashion.

Worse still, this initiative would completely reverse a long-standing bulwark of American liberty: the notion that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Any three citizens of Utah could, under the proposal, band together and file a complaint against a legislator, and issue subpoenas as well. Upon doing so, the legislator would alone be responsible for proving his/her innocence, rather than the authors of the complaint having the burden of proof be put upon them. Clearly this is as un-American as it is foolhardy; one can easily imagine a number of parallel complaints being considered through easily-filed complaints of any person and two of his friends, with the legislators in each complaint being burdened in terms of both time and money in order to demonstrate and ultimately prove their innocence to the commission’s satisfaction.

Herein lies both the corruption and the cunning: if passed as proposed, this initiative would provide a two-edged political weapon for opponents of Utah’s conservative Republican majority to advance their agenda by subterfuge and sabotage. First, the remote likelihood that if elected, one might be the target of such an easy and costly complaint, would discourage a great number of people from running for office at all. (Proponents have often dismissed this argument but with no compelling reassurances to the contrary; it remains a very feasible possibility.) Second, sitting legislators who are the target of such complaints might be intimidated in voting a certain way if a potential complaint later filed is perceived as being retaliatory in any fashion. Given the ease by which these complaints may be filed, and the time, stress, and financial burden exacted from the legislator, one cannot simply dismiss these points by saying that it won’t happen. The opportunity is there; even if this political weapon was not crafted for this purpose, it will nevertheless be very enticing and easy to use, when convenient.

I said this in today’s committee meeting, and I’ll repeat it again here: this ethics initiative is no more about ethics than the USA PATRIOT Act is about patriotism, or the No Child Left Behind Act is about not leaving any children behind. These three measures—and countless others—are, in summary and at their core, attempts to consolidate power and centralize control. Sure, their names and talking points sound great in out-of-context theory and may sway the ignorant masses, but this campaign is not and never was about genuine ethics reform.

In Orwell’s 1984, the ruling party had as its slogan: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”. Should this initiative pass, we may as well follow this pattern and affirm that in Utah, “Corruption is Ethical”. At least we’d be honest.

31 Responses to “Utah’s Unethical Ethics Initiative”

  1. Gordon Lightfoot
    October 11, 2009 at 1:11 am #

    Thank you for the report, Connor. I wanted to say thanks before “Talcott” and “Jason” start berating everyone.

  2. Jesse Harris
    October 11, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Just like term limits, such rules are a cop-out for apathetic voters so that they can abdicate their responsibility to someone else.

  3. Cameron
    October 12, 2009 at 10:56 am #

    lol @ Gordon

    I recently attended a meeting with a few legislators who all derided the ethics initiative. But they also sounded as though they believed there was no need for any kind of reform. I didn’t get a chance to ask them directly, but I wonder if there are any areas that they do feel need addressing.

  4. JHP
    October 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    I’m glad that people are starting to see this initiative for what is really is. The trick is going to be to help the average voter understand the problems with it if it gets on the ballot.

  5. JBTalcott
    October 12, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    This editorial from the Davis County Clipper at this link speaks to those concerns voiced by Connor much more eloquently than I can.

    Here is some information for those who are not familiar with
    Kim Burningham.

    Since when did speaking the truth and correcting other people’s misconceptions become “berating”?

  6. Connor
    October 12, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    This editorial from the Davis County Clipper at this link speaks to those concerns voiced by Connor much more eloquently than I can.

    It may speak to the concerns, but it hardly resolves them. Eloquent, yes. Convincing, hardly.

  7. Connor
    October 12, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    Cameron,

    I didn’t get a chance to ask them directly, but I wonder if there are any areas that they do feel need addressing.

    The second half of this article describes a proposal that is being worked on as an alternative to what this initiative would require.

  8. Clumpy
    October 12, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    This is stupid – transparency and minimal loopholes are the only ways to prevent ethical violations. Adding layers to the bureaucracy just entrenches unethics and makes it harder to identify.

  9. JBTalcott
    October 12, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    The “meat and potatoes” of the ethics bill are the ethics rules and guidelines themselves found in Section 36-27-301. Code of Conduct.

    To date I have not heard one critic of the Government Ethics Reform initiative address even one of these rules. I wonder why that is? Practically all of the criticism has been directed at the 5 original sponsors of the initiative who may select the pool of candidates to be selected to serve on the committee if the Legislature is unable to do so, or the 5 member ethics committee who haven’t even been selected yet.

    The essay above is full of “emotionally charged words and expressions” specifically designed to create fear and mistrust such as:

    horribly misnamed unethical super czars not accountable embroiling costly battle deceptive propaganda campaign appointed unaccountable overlords un-American foolhardy corruption and the cunning subterfuge and sabotage consolidate power centralize control.

    I find it hard to believe that this type of rhetoric is being used to attack this man and his role in the initiative:

    Karl N. Snow

    Is it possible to be any more misanthropic than that?

  10. Connor
    October 12, 2009 at 10:25 pm #

    The “meat and potatoes” of the ethics bill are the ethics rules and guidelines themselves found in Section 36-27-301. Code of Conduct.

    It does little benefit to one’s body to eat a meal of “meat and potatoes” with a side helping of rat poison, a glass of antifreeze, and for dessert, a slice of moldy, month-old cheesecake.

    In other words, ignoring the rest of the proposed bill and elevating the “meat and potatoes” above the rest is hardly a responsible action. One must take into account all of the items in the bill, for if passed, they would all become enforced as law. The meat and potatoes of any bill may be just fine, but if encumbered by all sorts of burdensome and unethical requirements, then who cares how good the meat and potatoes are? They do not stand alone.

    Practically all of the criticism has been directed at the 5 original sponsors of the initiative who may select the pool of candidates to be selected to serve on the committee if the Legislature is unable to do so, or the 5 member ethics committee who haven’t even been selected yet.

    The criticism is not directed at the sponsors themselves, but at the fact that these people would require an impossibility in order to skew the final result of who inevitably will end up on the commission. It’s fixing the outcome, and if not patently unethical itself, it’s pretty ridiculous.

    The essay above is full of “emotionally charged words and expressions” specifically designed to create fear and mistrust…

    Ahhh, adjectives and nouns!

    I find it hard to believe that this type of rhetoric is being used to attack this man and his role in the initiative:

    I have said nothing about Mr. Snow, nor do I care much about who he is. What I care about is the role created by him (and for him) and others on this commission.

    As a wise person once said: “Never give a power to your friend that you wouldn’t want your enemy to have.” I don’t care if I liked and agreed politically with every person on this commission; the fact that the position exists at all is troublesome.

  11. Neil
    October 13, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    Is Utah trying to join the Russian Federation or what? Whats so hard about understanding correct principles in Government? Just makes me sick.

  12. JBTalcott
    October 13, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    Wow. The whole argument that I am reading is based upon the ASSUMPTION that there are not twenty honest, ethical, and impartial citizens in the entire State of Utah that members of the legislature could suggest to their leaders that those leaders would be comfortable having on the 5 member ethics committee to initially serve 3 or 5 year terms. I am grateful that my suspicion and distrust for Utah’s elected leaders does not rise to this level.

    The article linked to is from the Provo Daily Herald. It is important to note that every other major newspaper in the state along with KSL has come out strongly in favor of the Government Ethics Reform initiative. The KSL editorial board, and the editors of the Dereret News could hardly be considered liberal. This is the way I see it, your mileage may differ. :)

  13. Connor
    October 14, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    The whole argument that I am reading is based upon the ASSUMPTION that there are not twenty honest, ethical, and impartial citizens in the entire State of Utah that members of the legislature could suggest to their leaders that those leaders would be comfortable having on the 5 member ethics committee to initially serve 3 or 5 year terms.

    No, Mr. Talcott, you’ve incorrectly framed the opposition. As the Herald article correctly notes, the presumption that both sides of the aisle will unanimously agree on a pool of 20 candidates is patently absurd.

    I quote from the article:

    Today’s initiative pushers, however, seem to think they’ve hit upon a scheme for ensuring that only impartial and ethical people are picked for the commission.

    This is a daydream.

    The idea is that the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate (both of the majority party), along with two minority leaders (one from each house of the Legislature), would have to agree unanimously on the pool of 20 candidates from which five names would be drawn from a hat. Those five would constitute the ethics panel.

    Yet there’s a dangerous land mine buried here. Even this seemingly innocuous first step raises the specter of politics. Think about it: how often do the leading Democrats and Republicans agree unanimously on anything? So what happens if they deadlock on picking the pool of panelists?

    Could a minority be motivated to stall for political reasons — perhaps to throw the pool to someone else with whom it is ideologically aligned? Yes. This scenario rises in plain black and white.

    It is important to note that every other major newspaper in the state along with KSL has come out strongly in favor of the Government Ethics Reform initiative. The KSL editorial board, and the editors of the Dereret News could hardly be considered liberal.

    I reject the whole “liberal” label, since people on both sides of the aisle oppose liberty. The label doesn’t matter. The editorial boards of the aforementioned papers have written plenty of things with which advocates of liberty will disagree. Here’s one example of many.

    So, you have a few editorial boards writing in praise for the initiative you support. Congratulations! This hardly makes the initiative worthy of implementation or state-wide support; it just means a few people agree.

  14. John B Talcott
    October 14, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    Calling something absurd does not make it so. Neither does referring to something as a daydream. I completely understand the arguments put forth by the Daily Herald Editors which represent the views of those few individuals and completely reject those out of hand as nothing more than unwarranted assumptions with no factual support whatsoever.

    As I see it all of the criticism that is coming from the ultra conservatives on this issue is based upon fear, suspicion, and mistrust. Often times those individuals most fearful of what others might do are projecting their own lack of scruples to their perceived enemies. In my opinion attacking the original sponsors of the initiative and their motives is merely a smokescreen for those conservatives to hide behind to avoid having to address the real issue which is the Code of Conduct spelled out in section 36-27-301 of the proposed initiative.

    Some examples from Section 36-27-301(2)(a):

    (ii) No legislator, while serving in office may act as a lobbyist.

    (v) A legislator shall not use any confidential information acquired as the result of serivce in the legislature in furtherance of a personal interest.

    (vi) A legislator, while serving in office, shall not accept a gift from a lobbyist.

    From Section 36-27-301(2)(b):

    (i) A legislator, while serving in office, shall not use or threaten to use the legislator’s office, including the legislator’s power to sponsor legislation, control or influence ourcome in committees, or vote on bill, in furtherance of any personal interest.

    (iv) A legislator, while serving in office, shall not use government facilities or employees in furtherance of a personal interest.

    (vi) No legislator, while serving in office, shall attempt unduly or unconstitutionally to influence the ourcome of any matter to be decided by a public body or public official.

    I believe that there are many conservative Republican legislators who do not wish to be held to these standards of conduct and accountability, but obviously they cannot come out and publicly admit to that fact. Instead they have created the “red herring” issue of the 5 original sponsors of the initiative attacking their motives, ethics, and character—all to avoid discussing the topic of Government Ethics Reform itself. True to form, the ultra conservative editors of the Provo Daily Herald have jumped on the same bandwagon to beat the same drum.

    I also believe that the vast majority of Utah’s citizens will be able to see through this ruse and will rise to the opportunity to put the Government Ethics Reform legislation on the ballot next November. The bottom line is that the “business as usual” legislature has failed for years to enact meaningful ethics rules that they themselves should follow. That pervasive inaction has given rise to the citizens having to do that job for them through the power of initiative granted them by the Constitution of the State of Utah.

    That’s how I see it. Your mileage may differ. :)

  15. Connor
    October 15, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    I completely understand the arguments put forth by the Daily Herald Editors which represent the views of those few individuals…

    Ah, yes. When it’s an editorial board you agree with, you parrot the name of the entire paper to buoy up further support for your pet project. But when another paper’s editorial board writes something with which you disagree, it’s only “the views of those few individuals”. Even handed, for sure….

    As I see it all of the criticism that is coming from the ultra conservatives on this issue is based upon fear, suspicion, and mistrust.

    Um, no. Our criticism stems from a horribly written initiative using a few labels an politically-packed words as a mask for something far more devious.

    Consider the latest editorial from the “few individuals” at the Herald:

    Voters need to understand the plain language of this initiative, because it is laden with problems.

    For example, those pushing the ethics initiative frequently claim that the oversight commission it would create is strictly advisory, so Utahns need not fret overmuch about its powers. Looking at the plain language, however, which describes what would be on the ballot in November 2010, gives a more alarming picture.

    The referendum, if passed, would make this state law:

    “The commission is vested with power and jurisdiction … to do all things, whether herein specifically designated or in addition thereto, which are necessary or convenient in order to accomplish” the broad purpose of ethics enforcement.

    That’s a blank check for the commission, with no check or balance. Who decides what’s necessary or convenient? The proposed law makes the commission immune from any court ruling. So the conclusion must be that the panel itself would decide what was “necessary and convenient.”

    That’s not merely wide latitude; it’s a virtually unlimited mandate.

    You’re right, Mr. Talcott, it’s “business as usual”—big-government proponents using a few epithets and sound bytes to ram their agenda through an ignorant electorate in order to achieve by subterfuge what they cannot by persuasion and reason.

  16. John B Talcott
    October 15, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    Let’s be honest here Connor. What exactly are you so afraid will happen should the initiative become law? Please be specific.

  17. Lyall
    October 16, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    john,

    would it do any good if he told you? speaking of honesty…

    (btw, he already has)

  18. Connor
    October 16, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    John,

    What exactly are you so afraid will happen should the initiative become law?

    That’s a horrible question, and I think you know it. Here’s why:

    Your question is akin to asking what’s wrong with having an unrestrained monarch, or an authoritarian dictator. It’s asking somebody to demonstrate specific (and as yet unknown) concerns with a complete unknown.

    Yes, it’s possible (though the odds are very, very, very low) that the people on this commission will do the right thing, be ethical themselves, and that there won’t be any trace of corruption in their dealings. It’s possible. It’s also possible that a king or a dictator can be a wonderful person, and that his rulings, programs, and actions will be welcomed with open and thankful arms by his subjects.

    But history demonstrates the way these things go. That’s why our American experiment rejected the long history of conquest and domination through big government and centralized power, and implemented a system of limited government, diffused and localized power, and sovereignty in the individual.

    Your initiative follows the pattern of kings (or czars, if you prefer that one), and thus your question requires that one totally deny the history of the entire world to have a straight face while responding.

  19. John B Talcott
    October 16, 2009 at 11:49 am #

    Wow. What fear, mistrust, and suspicion of one’s fellow Utah citizens. You replied “It’s asking somebody to demonstrate specific (and as yet unknown) concerns with a complete unknown.” That is the point I have been trying to make all along. The arguments that I have read all seem to be voicing concerns about that which is unknown and hasn’t even happened yet, “but by God it’s going to be real bad because those ‘Liberals’ are behind the whole thing”. Give me a break.

    Since my question was avoided by attacking the question, let me rephrase your honor.

    Within the powers granted to the 5 member ethics commission by the proposed legislation what specific actions could the committee possibly take that would represent (a) an abuse of that power (b) an attempt to wrest power from those in the legislature who currently have the most power (c) any action that would be unethical, blatanty partisan, or unfair.

    Please be specific and give each a number so they may be easily rebutted with factual information. Thanks.

  20. Sean
    October 16, 2009 at 11:08 pm #

    Wow, what “fear, mistrust, and suspicion” the American Founding Fathers had towards their fellow citizens! There is wisdom in having limited, specific powers of government, John.

  21. Josh Williams
    October 16, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

    I want to reply to some of Mr. Talcott’s comments.

    Connor’s point in comment #10 was that he doesn’t have a substantiative problem with the basic ethics rules and code of conduct (yet.) His problem was in what was tacked onto them. His problem was in the implementation and the enforcement.

    So, reiterating parts of the bill that Connor has not objected to is not a very convincing criticism.

    …..Instead they have created the “red herring” issue of the 5 original sponsors of the initiative attacking their motives, ethics, and character……

    I do not believe Connor has mentioned nor criticized the authors of the bill, specifically. If the authors of the bill are guilty by extension, that is a little beyond the scope of this post, IMO.

    To imply, however indirectly, that just because Connor opposes this particular bill means that he is against ethics reform in general, or in support of those who do not want ethics reform, is simply not true.

    More succinctly:

    You oppose the “ethics reform bill” in particular; therefore you oppose ethics reform in general.

    This is an example of an “overwhelming exception.”

    If you did not intend to imply this, then I apologize. feel free to disregard the preceding.

    Accusing him of fear and mistrust and paranoia, whether it is true or false, is an Ad Hominem attack which quite beside the point. It bears no weight to the truth value of Connor’s original criticisms of the bill.

    Within the powers granted to the 5 member ethics commission by the proposed legislation what specific actions could the committee possibly take that would represent (a) an abuse of that power (b) an attempt to wrest power from those in the legislature who currently have the most power (c) any action that would be unethical, blatanty partisan, or unfair.

    This is a criticism which IS more to the point!

  22. John B Talcott
    October 17, 2009 at 8:01 am #

    Sean, do you mean to tell me that Connor’s statement in #10 “The meat and potatoes of any bill may be just fine” to mean that he doesn’t have a substantive problem with the basic ethics rules and code of conduct? If so, that is stretching the truth beyond the point of recognition.

    Connor names the sponsors of the initiative “Super Czars” and makes the accusation that they are part of a “a deceptive propaganda campaign to place five people into a lifetime, powerful office”. He also refers to the ethics committee as “a group of appointed, unaccountable overlords”. Whether attacking the sponsors as a group, or individually makes no difference. It is still an attack on their motives and character.

    My ad hominim accusation as you call it is based on these words that I picked out of his essay posted in #9 and reprinted here:

    horribly misnamed unethical super czars not accountable embroiling costly battle deceptive propaganda campaign appointed unaccountable overlords un-American foolhardy corruption and the cunning subterfuge and sabotage consolidate power centralize control.

    Now if these words and expressions don’t portray “fear”, “mistrust” and “paranoia”, I don’t know what would. In my experience persons who use such words exhibit those very traits themselves.

    I repeat and empasize my claim that the none of opponents of the Government Ethics Reform initiative to date have addressed any of the rules listed in the Code of Conduct of the proposed legislation which are the core issue in ethics reform. Rather they have created the “Red Herring” of attacking the motives of the original sponsors, the ethics of a committe that hasn’e even been chosen yet, and the lack of “oversight” over an independent committee.

    I strongly believe that the purpose underlying these “Red Herring” arguments is the fact that the ultra conservatives in the legislature and their loyal supporters simply do not want to have their power encumbered by having to conduct themselves (for the first time ever) according to a clearly spelled out code of ethical conduct.

    As proof I offer the fact that not one opponent of the initiative has come out in support of any of the Code of Conduct provisions of the initiative while voicing their concerns about the ethics committee itself.

    It is important to note that there are at least 15 former legislators who have signed on in support of the initiative. It is truly a bi partisan effort to improve the ethics in our legislative branch of goverment.

  23. Connor
    October 17, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    Sean, do you mean to tell me that Connor’s statement in #10 “The meat and potatoes of any bill may be just fine” to mean that he doesn’t have a substantive problem with the basic ethics rules and code of conduct?

    The point of that comment, which I think was rather self-explanatory, is that even if the ethics mandated in your initiative were agreeable to 100% of voters, if any other part of the bill is seen as unethical, immoral, unjust, or unduly restrictive, then there is a strong case to be made against supporting the whole effort.

    I don’t need to comment on whether I agree with the ethical mandates in this initiative because it’s entirely beside the point. With so many other problems in this proposal, it’s not even worth spending time on debating its main intent.

    It’s like funding a war. Let’s say, for example, that our country was involved in a war that had the full support of every single person in the nation. A bill comes up for funding the troops and providing for their ongoing material support—a crucial component of maintaining a well-supplied armed force. One group of legislators adds all sorts of earmarks to the bill—unrelated expenditures to benefit special interests in their districts, museums, educational campaigns, recruiting advertisements, etc. While everybody agrees that the troops need funding, those who object to all of these unnecessary add-ons have reason to reject the entire bill, since the good portion has been so corrupted with layers of waste.

    Applying your current argument to this situation, you would question these people as follows: “Why are you opposed to funding the troops? Where is your patriotism? Why are you so fearful of museums and mistrustful of those managing the money?” To say in the ethics situation that I or anybody like me is against ethics, or that we are “fearful” of the unruly beast this bill would create, is intentionally misleading. (Those who use deception to promote their agenda do, after all, love their red herrings.) There are numerous legitimate concerns about this proposal, despite whether the core ethical mandates are worthy of implementation or not.

    Connor names the sponsors of the initiative “Super Czars” and makes the accusation that they are part of a “a deceptive propaganda campaign to place five people into a lifetime, powerful office”.

    No, I didn’t. Read the post again. I said that the five individuals on the commission would be “super czars” (a term widely used for these people; by no means did I first use its application) and that the proponents (not just the commission members) are part of the propaganda campaign. You’re incorrectly conflating the two.

    Whether attacking the sponsors as a group, or individually makes no difference. It is still an attack on their motives and character.

    I am neither disparaging their motives nor their character. I am, however, vociferously disparaging their proposed power. Your complaint here is akin to saying that the colonist’s rejection of King George was “an attack on [his] motives and character.” While both his motives and character were worthy of complaint, their opposition was to his office and power. They did not want an authoritarian across the seas determining their laws and administering their (in)justice. As I said at the end of comment #10:

    As a wise person once said: “Never give a power to your friend that you wouldn’t want your enemy to have.” I don’t care if I liked and agreed politically with every person on this commission; the fact that the position exists at all is troublesome.

    I have made no mention of these people specifically; you bring them up, as you did in comment #9, to somehow justify their worthiness of this office. My opposition has nothing to do with the person, their motives, nor their character. I oppose giving anybody such power.

    Now if these words and expressions don’t portray “fear”, “mistrust” and “paranoia”, I don’t know what would.

    Imagine such words being used against an individual with whom you disagree vehemently. George Bush? Vladimir Putin? Mao Zedong? Super Dell? Whoever the person, you cannot sincerely say that you would never use such words if you strongly opposed a person, his policies, or some unjust law. The fact is that you do not like my opposition to your initiative, and thus you feel the words are unfairly applied. Thus you call me fearful, mistrustful, and paranoid, instead of responding to the concerns themselves. Bad form, sir.

    I strongly believe that the purpose underlying these “Red Herring” arguments is the fact that the ultra conservatives in the legislature and their loyal supporters simply do not want to have their power encumbered by having to conduct themselves (for the first time ever) according to a clearly spelled out code of ethical conduct.

    Ah yes, I fear ethics! Please.

    First off, I am neither in the legislature nor am a loyal supporter of any politician. I am a thorn in the side of many, and only agree with and support a very, very small handful of our legislators. I do not stage my opposition on anybody’s behalf but my own.

    Your “strong belief” that the arguments I’ve presented above are in fear of a loss of power and opportunity for corruption is completely erroneous. Further, your inability to actually understand the points I and others have articulated above (and elsewhere where you have frequently been commenting) demonstrates your unwillingness to understand the opposition. You cannot defend the other parts of the initiative, and so you hold up the ethics requirements as the summum bonum for all to focus on. But the Devil, as they say, is in the details.

    It is truly a bi partisan effort to improve the ethics in our legislative branch of goverment.

    Ah, yes… because bi-partisanship confers a status of acceptability! That a few individuals have chosen to support the initiative is neither a surprise nor a reason for others to follow suit. Others may choose to ignore the many legitimate concerns this initiative contains; as for me and my house, we’ll continue to encourage others to see this initiative for the unethical, Machiavellian scheme it is.

  24. John B Talcott
    October 17, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    Cut the crap Connor, do you or do you not agree with the ethics rules in the proposed initiative? Let’s hear some honesty for a change instead of tapdancing and parsing words.

    Your opinions on those ethics rules of conduct certainly frame your opinions on the rest of the initiative and put those opinions in perspective. I’m calling you on your B.S. right here and now. It is certainly not beside the point as you say. You are willing to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” since you say the initiative as it is currently written can lead to an abuse of power by the 5 sponsors of the initiative (Super Czars) and the 5 members of the ethics commission (Czars) whose names are picked from a hat. What I am saying is that by refusing to voice an opinion on the ethics rules themselves you are proving my point that the your other arguments are nothing more than a smokescreen and a Red Herring put up to avoid having to discuss the core issue of the initiative. You are not fooling anybody by digging in your heels on your denial that this is exactly what you are doing. Especially me.

  25. Connor
    October 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    John,

    You make me chuckle.

    That is all.

  26. Jesse Harris
    October 17, 2009 at 8:41 pm #

    Let’s hear some honesty for a change instead of tapdancing and parsing words.

    Says the guy who won’t discuss the mechanics of the ethics commission and instead changes the subject.

  27. JBTalcott
    October 18, 2009 at 1:33 am #

    Among other things, this initiative would: ultimately appoint five individuals—dubbed “super czars”—to form a commission that would police the legislature;

    This is essentially wrong. Only in the event that the leaders of both parties fail to agree on a list of twenty names, would the five initial signers of the initiative (super czars) provide that list for from which the 5 members of the ethics commission would be randomly selected. Once the initiative becomes law, the legislature is free to amend the way that committee members are selected any way they wish.

    give a lifelong appointment to members of said commission;

    Here there seems to be some confusion. The 5 members ethics commission serve only 5 year terms. To set up a system of rotation the first two names drawn will serve only 3 year terms initially. If the reference is to the five initial sponsors of the initiative, it is highly likely that the legislature would take these five persons “out of the loop” so as not to have a lifetime appointment to be the default system for selecting candidates to be on the ethics committee should the legislative leaders fail to meet their responsibility. It would be foolish to believe they would not do so. The sponsors of the initiative have publicly stated that the way this was set up was just to get the process started.

    ensure that the commission members are not accountable to anybody, including any court, the Attorney General, the Governor, or the entire legislature;

    This reference shows a complete misunderstanding of how an “Independent” Ethics Commission operates. If the committee were set up to answer to any of the 3 branches of government, especially the one it is charged with the ethical oversight of, then it would no longer be an independent committee. Giving the legislative, judicial, or executive branch “authority” over the committee would defeat its purpose in that any one of these could put pressure the committee to back off if one of their friends were going through the formal hearing process. Forty other states have an independent legislative ethics commission already in place. The authors of the initiative studied the practices of every other state and tried to incorporate what works the best in those states into Utah’s ethics reform proposal. The fact that all of the proceedings and communications of the ethics commission except for the initial investigation to see if a complaint has merit will be subject to Utah’s open meeting laws. The press and the public will “oversee” every action of the independent commission as they carry out their duties. This is a far cry from the current legislative practice of making many major decisions behind closed doors in private meetings or in party caucuses.

    create a code of conduct for the legislature that is more burdensome and restrictive than fair and reasonable; This statement is most interesting in that the code of conduct is deemed “more burdensome and restrictive than fair and reasonable”, and yet the author of those strong statements refuses to discuss any of those rules, flippantly proclaiming the code of conduct to be “beside the point”. They seem to be “on point” in the original essay tearing down the Government Ethics Reform initiative, but later in the discussion move to “beside the point”. Very interesting indeed.

    allow for any three people to file an ethics complaint,

    That is a vast improvement over the system currently in place where it takes 3 members of the legislative body to file an ethics complaint against one of their colleagues. Bob Bernick Jr. of the Deseret News said it best. “ The Utah Legislature, both House and Senate, has in the past been loath to take any ethics actions against one of its own. Lawmakers would say that’s because they don’t have any ethics problems — so no complaints are filed. The reality is much different. In the old-boy club of the 104-member, part-time Legislature, it is “you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.”

    thus easily embroiling any legislator into a costly battle to clear his/her name (if innocent)

    This is playing fast and loose with the facts. The ethics commission is empowered to hire an executive director who must be an attorney. That executive director along with the staff is the first to receive the complaint. Upon a thorough investigation to determine if the complaint has merit within 60 days of receiving the initial complaint the executive director issues a recommendation to the committee that the complaint be dismissed or that further plenary action be taken. Following that advice the commission itself decides whether to dismiss the complaint or to hold a formal hearing. If the committee should decide that a formal hearing is warranted, at this time the legislator who has been charged is entitled to representation by an attorney of his own choosing at no cost to himself.

    and require that legislators adhere to the aforementioned code of conduct, but not impose any such requirement on the “independent minded” members of the commission. The list goes on.

    This is a specious argument at best. The duties of the “volunteer” ethics committee are clearly outlined in the document. They have a clearly defined framework in which to carry out their duties. They do not campaign, raise funds, run for office, meet with lobbyists, vote on legislation, or any of the activities that give rise to ethics complaints directed at legislators. In fact, the commission members who in all probability will be chosen from a list drawn up by the legislators themselves must meet more stringent qualifications than any other government official. Those qualifications include having demonstrated integrity through leadership and service, being educated and experienced in ethical matters, being willing and able to be impartial in their regardless of their political persuasion.

    Much has been said from proponents of this initiative regarding its importance in ensuring our elected legislators are honest and ethical. Problem is, the arguments I’ve heard can essentially be summarized as being part of a deceptive propaganda campaign to place five people into a lifetime, powerful office without any guarantees or even convincing arguments that 1) ethics issues will be more easily and properly resolved, 2) the findings of this commission will be impartial and accurate, and 3) such a commission is needed in the first place.

    The “lifetime powerful office” nonsense has already been addressed. The remaining points will
    be addressed one at a time. (1) Doubt that ethics issues will be more easily and properly resolved
    The current system has the legislators themselves reviewing behind closed doors ethics complaints that can only be brought about by three of their colleagues. This system is inherently flawed in that since all of the legislators must work together, they are hesitant to file complaints against one another even if they know wrongdoing is taking place. As we saw last summer in the case of Greg Hughes and Phil Reisen when one legislator files a complaint against another then there is an angry counter complaint filed against the accuser. Hughes was cleared in a closed door meeting with a “hung jury” four Republicans found him innocent and four Democrats found him guilty. The charges against Reisen were dropped, again by a partisan four for, and four against partisan vote.

    (2) Doubt that the findings of the commission will be impartial and accurate. Again, all of the work of the committee is subject to Utah’s open meeting laws. Public scrutiny will quickly reveal if the commission is out to get someone. The formal hearing will be public. The voters who care to be involved will hear the testimony and see the evidence given on both sides. They will be able to read the recommendation passed on by the committee to the legislature. One of the most important provisions is that the prior debate and discussion and the final vote of the legislature whether to reject or uphold the findings of the commission must be done in public and each legislators vote recorded in the public record.

    (3) Doubt that such commission is needed in the first place. This comment is so misinformed that it doesn’t merit a response.

    To be sure, there are instances when legislators act with impropriety or outright corruption. These cases can and should be dealt with as they arise. But the responsibility for reviewing and enforcing any code of conduct is not the responsibility of a limited group of appointed, unaccountable overlords. Rather, the legislator’s (elected!) peers, along with the constituents and delegates who are represented by that legislator, are the ones who determine whether that legislator is guilty and should be punished in some fashion.

    The legislator’s elected peers currently have the responsibility to receive and hear ethics complaints and they have failed miserably in the last 20 or so years. How in the world would a system in which the legislator’s constituents are involved in the investigation and hearings concerning ethics violations work? By no stretch of the imagination would the “constituents” who voted the legislator into office be impartial and unbiased. Delegates who are represented by that legislator is a new one on me. The term “delegates” in this context just doesn’t make sense.

    Worse still, this initiative would completely reverse a long-standing bulwark of American liberty: the notion that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Any three citizens of Utah could, under the proposal, band together and file a complaint against a legislator, and issue subpoenas as well. Upon doing so, the legislator would alone be responsible for proving his/her innocence, rather than the authors of the complaint having the burden of proof be put upon them. Clearly this is as un-American as it is foolhardy; one can easily imagine a number of parallel complaints being considered through easily-filed complaints of any person and two of his friends, with the legislators in each complaint being burdened in terms of both time and money in order to demonstrate and ultimately prove their innocence to the commission’s satisfaction.

    This argument suffers from both misinformation and slanted over simplification. During the “vetting” process before formal charges are made, the burden of proof is upon the complainants. They are required to show sufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an ethics violation has taken place. Failing to meet that threshold the initial complaint goes no further. Once the burden of proof is such that the executive director recommends to the commission that the complaint go forward and the committee agrees at that time a formal hearing is scheduled. It is at this point that as with fiduciary standards in the law of partnerships and corporations that the burden of proof shifts to the legislator. Since the legislator has a fiduciary responsibility to his constituents and to the citizens, this is a common procedure for hearing and adjudicating ethics complaints.

    Herein lies both the corruption and the cunning: if passed as proposed, this initiative would provide a two-edged political weapon for opponents of Utah’s conservative Republican majority to advance their agenda by subterfuge and sabotage.

    Here we go with the fear, mistrust, and paranoia argument that has been denied on more than one occasion on this blog. The as yet unnamed and undefined “agenda” is really scary. Especially when it is advanced by the unproven and unsubstantiated “subterfuge and sabotage”. The former president of the University of Utah, a former assistant Vice President of BYU, the former Clerk of the Utah House of Representatives, a former lobbyist for Common Cause, and a former Republican Representative and member of the U.S. Foreign Service are the MISCREANTS behind this SUBTERFUGE AND SABOTAGE. Maybe if we hurry and capture these enemies of the state they can be housed at Guantanamo in the interest of Utah’s security. Red alert, red alert, conservatives in danger, conservatives in danger.

    First, the remote likelihood that if elected, one might be the target of such an easy and costly complaint, would discourage a great number of people from running for office at all. (Proponents have often dismissed this argument but with no compelling reassurances to the contrary; it remains a very feasible possibility.) Second, sitting legislators who are the target of such complaints might be intimidated in voting a certain way if a potential complaint later filed is perceived as being retaliatory in any fashion. Given the ease by which these complaints may be filed, and the time, stress, and financial burden exacted from the legislator, one cannot simply dismiss these points by saying that it won’t happen. The opportunity is there; even if this political weapon was not crafted for this purpose, it will nevertheless be very enticing and easy to use, when convenient.

    Since all of these points have been previously rebutted my only response at this point is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

    Back to you Connor.

  28. vontrapp
    November 3, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    JB, basically, your assurances come down to one simple point. The public will oversee the ethics committee. If the public were willing to oversee ethics then the ethics reform debate would be moot. Since they (we) are not currently willing to do so, it is folly to think that the birth of a new committee will fruitfully bear “public oversight”. Also you say that the legislature needs oversight, but yet they will still be the ones choosing the committee members. You say that currently anyone who sticks his/her neck out with an ethics complaint is subject to a retaliatory one. Imagine an ethics committee in the bag of the “good ol boys” club, will that be any better? Will it be any worse?

    Finally, Connor alludes to this political weapon. You say it gives constituents direct access to the ethics resolution process. Yet in fact it is not direct at all, as it goes through a committee completely apart from and uncontrolled by the people. You might say that sure it can be used as a weapon with frivolous complaints, yet it may also be used as a weapon against corruption by the people. Not so, it still has to go through committee, and the committee, true to it’s new found power, would be quick to move through complaints corollary to their ambitions, and quick to dismiss anything the opposite, include complaints on “good club members”. Taking the next step further, there will undoubtedly be a plethora of pending complaints on any legislator, from which the committee can pull bargaining power against any legislator for votes, appointments, or what have you.

    You say that an attorney must be appointed as a “gatekeeper” for complaints. There is no law, standard or even notion that an attorney must have ethics at heart in his proceedings, or thorough investigation and well established merit as his procedure. The only reason attorneys look for merit, and the only merit they look for, is “what can my client get out of it?” Thus this attorney will look for “merit” unto the committee, for which he is a client, and will be thorough only in pleasing the committee.

  29. Connor
    November 17, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    Her’s another grand slam from the Herald.

  30. Laura Warburton
    April 22, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    This initiative is dead this year. I’m glad. Not because we don’t need ethics reform, because we do, but because it wasn’t written well enough.

    However, the claims in this blog are misleading and some are outright lies.

    If you want to be a responsible voter and not just a sheep, PLEASE read the initiative yourself. Stop letting other people decide your fate.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Government Ethics Reform Referendum: A Trojan Horse (For Tax Consumers) « Utah Rattler - January 12, 2010

    […] Government Ethics Reform Referendum: A Trojan Horse (For Tax Consumers) 2009 December 1 by utahrattler Disclaimer: I am a private individual and do not run a campaign, political action committee and am not a registered lobbyist etc.  I would also suggest checking out the unethicalreform’s commentary page which includes the bill and commentary thereon (Connor Boyack has also chimed in). […]

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.