Without some measure of transparency, there is no way for voters to know who is flying our elected officials around the world
The curtain fell on the World Cup with an epic final between Argentina and France last week, with Argentina taking home the trophy on penalty kicks.
But questions about the government of Qatar paying for two Utah officials – Attorney General Sean Reyes and Senate President Stuart Adams, along with two of Adams’ grandchildren – to attend an early tournament match between England and the United States.
The most asked by readers is: How is this legal?
Well, it’s legal because there are no Qatar-specific issues pending before either official and nothing in Utah law prevents any public official from accepting travel paid for by a foreign government. State law prohibits lobbyists or companies from paying for travel or tickets to sporting events, but not foreign governments.
There was a recent attempt to shine at least some sunlight on these junkets during the most recent legislative session which was scuttled at the last minute.
Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, sponsored HB 90 last session that would have required lobbyists hired by foreign governments to register with the state — as all lobbyists must — and would require elected officials who accepts a gift, including travel, from a foreign government to disclose those benefits annually.
“To me, that’s a big transparency issue because to me that’s a gift to an elected official and I wouldn’t be getting it if I wasn’t in this position,” Pierucci said at the hearing on the bill.
The bill had broad bipartisan support, with 61 of the 75 members of the House co-sponsoring the measure. It flew through the House with a unanimous vote but was then stalled for nearly six weeks in the Senate. Then, on the last night of the session, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, removed the disclosure requirement from the bill before it passed.
When the change went back to the House, about an hour before the end of the session, Pierucci had little choice but to go with it. There was, she said then, “much more incremental change” than she wanted but “a compromise was reached and I will continue to work on this issue.”
Bramble told me Wednesday that he doesn’t have a problem with disclosure if a foreign government pays for travel directly, but he was concerned that officials could be “triggered” if a foundation or association that received money from a foreign government paid for gifts. or travel.
“Maybe we don’t even know,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a blind side.”
Pierucci said he is working on a bill for the future and I hope it goes better this time.
To be clear, her original bill would not have banned such travel, no matter how well-intentioned. It would not prevent officials from going on international trade missions, whether paid for by the state or a foreign government.
It would not prevent elected officials from going to exotic locations for conferences – like the one Reyes attended last week in Los Cabos, Mexico – although, after covering some of these conferences, some they usually involve optional meetings in the morning and a lot of it playing on the beach and schmoozing with lobbyists later in the day.
All the bill would do is let voters know which foreign governments are giving officials gifts — sometimes, as in the case of the World Cup junket, lavish gifts.
The fact that there was any opposition to such a modest proposal should probably raise more questions about how common this practice is, because, let’s face it, no one would know nobody ever Reyes and Adams made a trip on a Qatar dime if I hadn’t happened. to find out about it.
So how are we supposed to find out next time?
Maybe we could file open records requests, but that doesn’t always work. Case in point: I filed a records request with Reyes’ office for anything that mentioned Qatar or the World Cup and got nothing back but a printout of a newsletter about the World Trade Center Utah trade mission to Qatar and an email about how respond to an ingredient. upset that Reyes went to the World Cup.
There was nothing about an itinerary or meetings. No, “Hey, I’ll be out of the office. If you need me I’ll be at the World Cup.” Nothing about any of the consultations Reyes was supposed to have made with the Qatari government or meetings he was supposed to have with previous Qatari officials about human trafficking and cyber security.
And because official calendars are inexplicably exempt from disclosure by the Legislature, there was nothing to be found there, either. (Reyes’ office said the trip was organized through Attorney General Alliance, not his office.)
Finally, it is worth noting that Qatar has not been shy about courting attorneys general in the past. Attorney Generals from Nevada, Arizona, New York and Montana visited the country. And former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi was paid $150,000 a month to lobby for Qatar after she left office.
Certainly, elected officials have legitimate reasons to travel abroad and there are cases where it is reasonable for a foreign government to pay for that travel. There is also the potential for foreign governments to offer posh junkets and tickets to sporting events with little, if any, official action or benefit to the state.
It is up to us, as voters, to decide where that line is and the only way we can make that decision is if we know when and where those elected officials are going and what government is picking up the tab. In that context, disclosure is not a “gotcha” issue. It is the bare minimum that people who are supposed to work for us should need.