Group Says Utah Flunks Utility Reporting Survey

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's utility regulators finished at the bottom of rankings for transparency in reporting nongovernment income, according to a survey by the Center for Public Integrity.

Utah was one of 26 states whose public service commissioner earned a failing grade from the nonpartisan government watchdog center. Public service commissioners are responsible for setting rates for electric, natural gas and telephone services.

The center based its rankings on responses to a 43-question survey. States earned points when they required commissioners to disclose their outside employers, earnings from those employers and their investment and business client relationships. Points were similarly given when the same information was required from commissioners' spouses.

Utah received zero points out of a possible 100. Washington state topped the ranking with 92.5 points.

Survey author John Dunbar said Utah is notorious for its lack of financial disclosure.

Utah state law prohibits commissioners or their staff from having a financial interest or conflict of interest with any public utility, but there is no disclosure law on the books, he said.

"It's not enough just to have that statute," Dunbar said. "An official who votes in favor of an issue that benefits a client can only be held accountable if their relationship already has been disclosed. You are always going to have a problem when you regulate ethics. Ethics laws were designed for lawyers to come up with loopholes."

Utah Public Service Commissioner Ted Boyer disagrees.

"The law is there. It's enforceable. We are bound by it, and we comply with it," Boyer said. "I don't know of any instances in which that has been abused or breached. If I had a disclosure form I would just fill out the form saying I don't own stock in PacifiCorp, a telephone company or Questar."

Utah's three-member commission is made up of two former gubernatorial appointees: Ric Campbell, former director of the Utah Division of Public Utilities; and Boyer, former executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. Commissioner Ron Allen is a former state senator.

Campbell, the commission chairman, said commissioners are prohibited from accepting gifts, don't receive any outside income and have travel expenses paid from the commission's budget, not by utility or business interests.

Still, Sue Ashdown, a Salt Lake resident and former Washington, D.C., lobbyist, said she'd like to see Utah adopt a disclosure law.

At national conferences, "regulators were all very cozy with the utilities. The average person has no idea that this kind of thing is going on," Ashdown said. "These companies do not spend that kind of money, throwing the kind of parties that I saw them throw, if there weren't some benefit to it."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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