Sen. Greg Bell, R-Farmington, is on the right track. Bell, an attorney and former Farmington mayor, wants lobbyists to disclose when they've spent at least $10 on a gift to a particular lawmaker.
The reporting threshold is now $50, which some clever lobbyists have avoided by spending just under $50 on meals, event or game tickets or other gifts.
Bell said he introduced the measure because "the public wants more disclosure" in local and state government. This is especially true in the wake of scandals involving top Salt Lake County officials. Meanwhile, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., in his campaign, called for ethical reform in government. In Bell's words, "It's time to take this step forward."
It's time, indeed. Bell is to be commended for taking on an issue that has been politically difficult in the past. We encourage the House and Senate to follow his lead.
Gift-reporting requirements have improved somewhat over the past few years, but there is need for further overhaul of these laws. A wholesale ban would relieve lawmakers of even the appearance of having their votes purchased by lobbyists and others with deep pockets who are able to provide gifts, meals, tickets or other niceties. But some lawmakers say it is ridiculous to suggest they are persuaded by gift-giving and that such laws paint public servants as sullied. Worse yet, they contend, it discourages capable and politically interested people from running for public office.
But the public, in the wake of political scandals in Salt Lake County, should demand public officials to take no gifts from lobbyists and others bent on changing state policy to benefit the special interests they represent. Absent that, there needs to be full disclosure of the gifts that are given.
Bell's instincts are correct: Utahns expect their elected officials to work in the best interest of their constituents and the public at large. Greater transparency in government would go a long way to further the electorate's confidence in lawmakers and other elected officials.