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Editorial: Get 'dark consulting' out of Utah politics

Published February 13, 2014 2:00 pm

Make campaigns more transparent
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will." — Master Yoda

As members of the Utah Legislature know better than most, getting elected the first time is the hard part. After that, the powers of incumbency make any elected official difficult — not impossible, but difficult — to dislodge.

Thus the best time for lobbyists or special interest groups to get their hooks into all politicians, to own them forever, is to be present at the creation of each one's career. And the easiest, and stealthiest, way to do that is to help someone gain a seat in the abbreviated process that is used to fill vacancies.

That is why Sen. Todd Weiler's SB97 is a good idea.

The Woods Cross Republican's bill, passed Monday by a Senate committee, would require the disclosure, not just of cash donations to candidates, but also of the many efforts often made by registered lobbyists or special interest groups to help a political neophyte break into elective office.

As Weiler explained, to a committee room full of people who already knew, the "services" that lobbyists provide to those seeking to fill a vacancy — organizing meetings, preparing campaign materials, introducing them to the powerful and connected — don't show up as donations under current law.

But such gifts — Weiler rightly calls it "dark consulting" — can make all the difference, not only in who gets chosen in the days or weeks set aside to choose a new official, but in who that new office holder is likely to be beholden to for the rest of her career.

The process is abbreviated, and only involves the members of a state or local committee of the political party of the person vacating the office. So a pop-up organization, run by people who know the territory, can be the difference between success and failure for a candidate.

Even if the Count My Vote initiative is successful in shoving aside the exclusionary caucus and convention system for a more open primary election format, the process used to replace lawmakers and elected executive branch officials who resign or die before their terms are up is likely to remain as it is.

Weiler's bill would also improve existing state campaign finance disclosure laws by requiring more transparency in the case of elected officials who take trips or attend conferences on a lobbyist's dime.

This bill deserves to become law.