Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke said Tuesday that Utah needs to raise the bar when it comes to its ethics standards, calling for tougher lobbyist rules, campaign contribution limits and laws governing the conduct of public officials.
Cooke also said he would agree to refuse any campaign contribution over $2,500 from individuals and $5,000 from group, if his opponent, Gov. Gary Herbert, would do the same.
"I’ve talked to people when I knock on their doors who say, ‘Why does my vote count when others can buy access and I can’t?’ So we’ve got to change the belief that government can be bought," Cooke said.
But Herbert’s campaign said such limits don’t work. And the governor defended his ethics record, saying he signed legislation banning the personal use of campaign funds, limiting lobbyist gifts to $10, expanding financial disclosure and creating an independent ethics committee.
"Bottom line: We aren’t just talking about ethics reform; we are actually doing it. And we will continue to call for openness, transparency and accountability in state government," Herbert said in a statement.
Cooke, a retired two-star general, is proposing a two-year ban on state officials and legislators becoming lobbyists, and closing a loophole that allows former officials to lobby if they are engaged by a company, as opposed to becoming a lobbyist-for-hire. He would also ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and close loopholes that let lobbyists avoid the $10 gift limit if they invite a group of lawmakers to events.
He said he would impose the limits on campaign contributions and restrict how the money can be spent.
And he proposed strengthening Utah’s independent ethics committee, suggesting it should be more transparent and give the committee more latitude to investigate alleged wrongdoing.
He blamed Herbert and Utah legislators for passing opposing efforts to strengthen the ethics laws, such as the ballot initiative proposed by the group Utahns For Ethical Government.
The group’s chairman, Kim Burningham, said that, while it cannot endorse Cooke’s candidacy, it does support his proposed ethics reforms.
"Utah should be a leader in ethical standards among politicians, but we are not," said Burningham, a former legislator. "We are at the back of the pack and that needs to be changed."
Scott Ericson, Herbert’s campaign manager, said that campaign limits didn’t work at the federal level and led to Super PACs and a complete lack of transparency.
"It’s just created major problems about how campaigns are run at the federal level and I don’t think we want it in Utah," he said. "Full disclosure is a much better way to do it. Let the public decide."
Ultimately, Cooke said he believes there needs to be public financing of elections and limits on how much can be spent.
So far, Cooke has raised just under $150,000 for his campaign, compared to $1.1 million raised by Herbert, according to reports filed this week.
Cooke raised $95,000 since mid-April, with his largest contribution of $10,000 coming from stock trader John Netto. It is the only one Cooke received that would have exceeded his proposed contribution limits. Labor unions were Cooke’s leading donors.
Herbert raised a total of $265,099 since the Republican convention. His biggest donations were a $25,000 contribution from Alan Hall of Island Park Investments, which puts money into Utah technology start-ups; $20,000 from WordPerfect co-founder Alan Ashton; and $12,500 each from Mike Peterson of Deseret Power and Ned Diesenghal of Epic Oil Extractors.
Resource extraction companies and medical companies were the leading industries giving money to the Herbert campaign.
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