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Pacs, pics and politics: business at the legislature.

PACS, PICS AND POLITICS: Businesses at the Legislature

The business of America, Calvin Coolidge once observed, is business. And, in Utah, many hold the view that the business of the Legislature is business. No one could put up a strong argument that the Republican-dominated House and Senate aren't generally pro-business. But, upon closer inspection, what appears black and white to some, is a fine shade of grey.

According to LaVarr Webb, former managing editor and business editor of the Deseret News and now campaign director for the Leavitt for Governor Committee, people too often look at business as a monolith.

"In some quarters, business interests are seen as being all powerful at the Legislature, when in actuality, business interests often conflict with each other, lining up on opposite sides of controversial issues," Webb noted. In matters such as licensing issues, state-assessed taxes on the property of large industries or even clean-air regulations, businesspeople often split into opposing factions.

Webb also pointed out that the powerful influence of other groups, such as the Utah Education Association and the Utah Public Employees Association (UPEA), provides a strong counterbalance to business interests. Both the educators and the public employees are much better at mustering their forces and turning out their members than business groups. These "checks and balances" result in a process where no one group, including business, is over-represented at the expense of someone else, Webb added.

In the opinion of others, however, this "checking and balancing" is nothing more than behind-the-scenes power brokering, where special interests predetermine each year's legislative agenda without input from the citizenry.

Many are concerned that, as a result, people have been taken out of politics. One critic noted that time pressures are so great on legislators that they often take a lobbyist's statement at face value because there isn't time to dig into all the details. Other lawmakers do ferret out the facts, but at great personal sacrifice.

Former state senator-turned lobbyist, Paul Rogers, defends the efforts of lobbyists to represent their clients' interests.

"Good legislation is the product of good information," Rogers explained. And because of all the complex issues facing legislators, there's now more lobbying going on than ever before. Rogers agrees with Webb that business interests are now more diverse than they once were--another reason why lobbying is a "growth industry."

"The lobbyists who are most effective are the ones who do it full-time, not as a sideline," Rogers noted. "However, individuals with a compelling story to tell or with good, hard facts at their disposal can still turn the tide in a committee hearing where the issue is a hotly contested one. Individual citizens still have an impact on lawmakers," he added.

Before 1984, the activities of lobbyists and political action committees (PACS) were only very loosely regulated in Utah. Today, however, both lobbyists and PACS (and PICS, or Political Influence Committees, those for or against a ballot initiative) must disclose political expenditures.

Additionally, PACS and PICS must also show their receipts and identify the individuals who contributed more than $750 in any one calendar year. However, there are no spending limitations of any kind. There are also some pending amendments due to be acted upon in the 1992 legislative session to more narrowly define what "administrative" lobbying is. Look also for the Utah House to adopt new disclosure rules for all its members requiring each legislator to declare potential conflicts of interest regarding his or her business interests, personal interests, and associations.

In a part-time legislature, both conflicts of interest and time restraints come with the territory. The alternative would be a full-time legislature and all the costs and additional bureaucracy that would come with it. Even with all the pressures and controversial issues, most lawmakers still listen when a constituent speaks. With several key issues affecting business to be discussed this upcoming session, why not see for yourself if the system works? Your legislator would likely welcome your call.

G. M. Jarrard is president of Capitol Ideas Group, a Salt Lake-based marketing and communications consulting firm.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Utah House, Senate to debate legislation affecting business in upcoming 1992 session
Author:Jarrard, G.M.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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