Lobbyists and Legislators Avoid Disclosing Gift Recipients

Lobbyists and Legislators Avoid Disclosing Gift Recipients

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Legislators found a way to avoid being identified as recipients of lobbyists' gifts at a recent golfing trip to St. George.

The law requires a lobbyist spending more than $50 a day on a legislator or state employee to report the recipient's name.

So at the March 3-5 golf trip, some legislators let the lobbyists pay $49.99 of their green fees, and paid the rest themselves, the Deseret Morning News reported Tuesday

A bill that would have lowered the legislator-naming gift threshold to $10 died in committee this session.

Lobbyist Robin Riggs confirmed that the lawmakers paid part of the fees to keep their names off the report.

Riggs reported spending more than $441 on breakfasts, lunches and golf games for lawmakers -- but never exceeding the $50 limit. According to Riggs' report, he spent $49.99 on golf in St. George on March 3 and again on March 4.

Having legislators pick up part of their round of golf or expensive dinner is just the latest twist in legislators' efforts to avoid being identified as recipients of gifts of lobbyists.

Several years ago it was common practice for some lobbyists, working together, to split the cost of a Jazz ticket or round of golf, each taking half or a third of the cost to get each lobbyists' share under $50, and thus the legislator's name wouldn't be listed.

Legislators changed lobbyist reporting rules to prevent use if that particular device.

New lobbyist financial disclosure reports were due Monday night.

From early reports, it appears that the University of Utah provided the most -- just over $10,000. That included almost $7,000 in basketball tickets and meals to lawmakers and their spouses. No single gift exceeding the $50 reporting limit.

Due to the Capitol renovation, lobbyists were not able to hold receptions in the Capitol rotunda this year and some had to spend more money to host receptions in downtown hotels, providing vans or other transportation for legislators from Capitol Hill.

Rural lawmakers, for example, were treated to six breakfasts, each costing $102, courtesy of Michael Peterson of the Utah Rural Electric Association.

The Utah Education Association's lobbying tab was just $59.66 for a lunch, breakfast and reception, while the Utah Public Employees Association spent $573.21 for meals, candy and pens.

John T. Nielsen, who lobbied against a bill that initially threatened to tax Intermountain Health Care, bought dinner for 155 legislators and their family members at the Hale Center Theater in mid-February at a cost of nearly $2,000.

The News reported spending $3,375 to give legislators copies of the newspaper through the session.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said during his election campaign that his top executives and staff would not be accepting gifts but some have. Currently, the governor's office does not have a policy on accepting gifts, Huntsman's spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi said.

"It wasn't an issue this session," Kikuchi said. "We are reviewing the possibility of a policy."

The head of Huntsman's rural affairs office, Gayle McKeachnie, who also is a Utah State University trustee, accepted $51 in tickets to a USU basketball game.

Several lobbying groups reported providing refreshments not only to legislators but also to the governor's staff.

Cornerstone Research and Development reported spending $325.18 on hot chocolate for lawmakers and Huntsman's staff on Jan. 11 and Jan. 14.

Neways Inc. and NuSkin Enterprises gave away more than $2,500 in product samples to lawmakers and their staff members and also to members of the executive branch.

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

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