The public, which gave the Legislature only a 51 percent approval rating based on a recent Deseret News/KSL poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, likely will not be pleased with the latest gift-giving figures. Lobbyists apparently will set a record this year when it comes to gifts they showered on state lawmakers during the 2000 session.
Some lobbying reports have yet to be compiled, but $86,698 was reported spent so far entertaining Utah's 104 lawmakers during the session that ended March 1. That compares with $66,122 spent by lobbyists during the 1999 Legislature. Because of loopholes in reporting laws, only about $10,000 came with lawmakers' names attached.In poll after poll, the public has made it clear it does not want lawmakers to accept gifts from lobbyists, period. Appearances matter, and the best way for legislators to distance themselves from any charge or hint of influence peddling would be to have an all-out ban on all gifts, the same as many other states already have imposed.
According to the results of another poll commissioned by the Deseret News/KSL-TV, 69 percent of Utah residents don't want lawmakers to accept any gifts. Polls conducted in previous years have shown similar results.
Ironically, lawmakers complain about how they're viewed by the public. They feel they're getting a bum rap. Failure to -- again -- pass legislation that at least would curtail some of the lobbying excesses, makes lawmakers their own worst enemy.
A bill that would have reduced anonymous gift-giving from a $50 daily limit to $25 didn't even get as much as a vote on the Senate floor. That bill fell far short of what most Utahns say they want, but it at least represented an attempt at compromise.
Trust must be earned and guarded jealously. By accepting lobbyists' gifts, lawmakers not only erode the public's trust but raise questions about their own integrity and ethics, an unfortunate thing considering the overwhelming majority of Utah's lawmakers are honest and honorable.
That makes a gift ban in the best interests of both lawmakers and voters. Why that never seems to matter is anyone's guess.