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Golf, meals and flowers among lobbyist gifts

Golf, meals and flowers among lobbyist gifts

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Expensive meals, multiple rounds of golf and flowers are among the gifts state lawmakers received from lobbyists in the past three months.

Which lawmakers received those gifts, however, largely remains a secret.

In Utah, there are no limits on what a lobbyist can buy a lawmaker and the majority of legislators who receive gifts aren't identified unless they had a meal that costs $50 or more or in a few other cases.

Financial disclosure reports due Friday show most of the gifts lawmakers received this summer came in the form of free meals, although only a handful of lawmakers are identified by name.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, and his wife had a $116 meal in Newport, R.I., paid for by AT&T Inc. lobbyist LJ Godfrey. Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, had a $178 meal at the Log Haven restaurant in Mill Creek Canyon paid for by Utah Taxpayers Association lobbyist Royce Van Tassell.

A lobbyist for 1-800-CONTACTS Inc. bought flowers and books for legislators, but the report doesn't say which ones.

The reports come at a time the Legislature is under increasing scrutiny for its interaction with lobbyists and campaign donors. An ethics hearing that began this week is focused on whether a Republican lawmaker tried to bribe a colleague to change her position on an issue and established a 'pay to play' system among lobbyists.

One of the witnesses in that case is Elisa Clements, executive director of the pro-voucher group Parents for Choice in Education. Her report shows that she spent about $200 on meals on lawmakers in July. None are identified.

Lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have called for ethics reforms for years, but have been rebuffed by Republican leaders. This year, they'll try again.

About a dozen lawmakers, including a few Republicans, have signed a pledge that calls for identifying the recipients of all gifts. The pledge also calls for requiring lawmakers to file their own financial disclosure reports to make it easier for the public to see who is giving freebies to legislators.

Currently, about 480 lobbyists file individual reports every three months. The Lieutenant Governor's Office is responsible for overseeing financial disclosure reports and it relies on whistle-blowers to make sure the lobbyists are being honest. "The public is a great tool. So is the media in a lot of cases. If they see something that they're aware doesn't match what is on the report, they can always contact us," said Spencer Hadley, deputy office administrator.


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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