SL County's New Rules Block Hiring of Lobbyist

SL County's New Rules Block Hiring of Lobbyist

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John Daley ReportingSalt Lake County's new ethics rules designed to help diminish the power of money in the political process have already stopped the county from hiring a particular lobbyist.

The county's new auditor wanted to spent $25,000 to fund a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Trouble is, the lobbyist picked for that contract had given money to the auditor's election campaign.

The catalyst was a series of scandals, including Guzzler-gate, in which the auditor--Craig Sorenson--admitted he used a county credit card to steal roughly ten thousand dollars in gas.

The eventual upshot was a set of new get-tough ethics rules passed by the county council in December. One says if you give a campaign contribution to a candidate, you can't be awarded a county contract for at least six months. Now that new rule has tripped up one county official, none other than Sorenson's replacement, the new auditor Republican Sean Thomas.

Thomas applied to hire a new lobbyist to watch out for issues affecting the county's budget up on Utah's Capitol Hill. The group picked for that $25,000 contract? Legislative Executive Consultants. Trouble is,one of the group's lobbyists--David Stewart, County Republican Party vice-chair--gave $500 to Thomas' campaign. And two of the group's other lobbyists-- Suzanne and Cap Ferry--gave $100, effectively disqualifying the group from that contract.

Thomas says he disclosed the conflict when applying for the lobbyist and has no problem with the rule.

Sean Thomas, (R) Salt Lake County Auditor: “I think it's an interesting thing. I believe in the reform. I was a strong supporter of it. I am subject to it and believe that the appropriate thing has happened.”

Traditionally Salt Lake County has relied on a stable of lobbyists,; the Tetris Group currently is paid 140-thousand dollars to lobby on the hill, and even the surveyor has a lobbyist. The new mayor is pulling the plug on the auditor's lobbyist proposal.

Peter Corroon, (D) Salt Lake County Mayor: “We have lobbyists that are working up on the hill. If someone needs some lobbying done, we've got people that we pay pretty well and they can do it for us.”

The man viewed as the architect of the new rules says this is proof they are working.

Alan Dayton, (R) Former Acting County Mayor: “It just makes it so we are above the very appearance of impropriety.” Q- So this is what ethics reform was designed to accomplish? “Right. The contractor that was selected was disqualified under the reform. So we live by our own rules and die by our own rules.”

We left messages today with the lobbyists in question David Stewart, and Legislative Executive Consultants, but our calls were not returned.

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