Push for ethics initiative will continue, backers say
Utahns for Ethical Government, which saw its drive to get rigorous ethics rules on the ballot snuffed out by a Supreme Court decision, said Wednesday that it will be back, aiming to get the measure before voters in 2014.
"The need is undiminished," said Kim Burningham, chairman of the group. "The public concern is still intense. The problems with ethics in our state Legislature have not yet been solved and the concerns are not going away, and I underscore, neither are we."
The group also said a member of the House of Representatives or a staffer of the body may have broken the law by signing a fraudulent name to the group's petitions.
David Irvine, an attorney for UEG, said the group found a fraudulent signature on one of its electronic petitions and traced the Internet-provider address to a state computer. The Department of Technology Services said it came from a House of Representatives computer while the House was in session in 2010.
It is a class A misdemeanor to fraudulently sign a petition. Irvine said the attorney general and Salt Lake district attorney have been made aware of the bogus signature.
"Those who oppose electronic signatures claim the voters cannot be trusted," Irvine said. "Perhaps legislators need to look more carefully at the mischief created among themselves."
Irvine said it was the only instance of fraud among approximately 130,000 signatures gathered by the group and noted that, because it was submitted online, they were able to trace it back to its origin.
Based on the time that Irvine said the signature was submitted, it came in while the House was debating a constitutional amendment to create an independent ethics commission.
Irvine submitted an open-records request to the House to find out who the computer was assigned to, but House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said Wednesday that the address Irvine requested belonged to one of the desktop computers in the House, but they could not figure out who the computer was assigned to at the time.
"We don't know who would have had access to that computer on those dates in that time period," she said.
Lockhart also said that, because a federal judge has sealed the petitions, it's impossible to know if there are other instances where false names were submitted.
"We have no way of knowing if this is pervasive. It's interesting that this example alone makes the case that e-signatures are unreliable and you can't verify them," she said.
She said that, even if someone in the House submitted a false name, it may not have been a crime because the lieutenant governor had determined that electronic signatures aren't valid, so the signatures were not being submitted on an official petition.
Lockhart said the whole episode may simply be a ploy to smear the Legislature and muster support for UEG's 2014 initiative push.
"They have motivation to make the Legislature look as bad as possible and make the case that there need to be changes," she said.
Lockhart said UEG's 2010 effort had major problems and probably was unconstitutional and the Legislature enacted its own ethics reform in 2010.
"We have made changes, positive changes in my opinion, to disclosure and ethics and training," she said. "The landscape is different than it was in 2010 in terms of what the Legislature has independently enacted."
Ethics drive hits a dead end at Utah Supreme Court
R Utahns for Ethical Government's drive to get an ethics initiative on the ballot came up short after the Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that UEG missed an April deadline to submit more than 94,000 signatures to the lieutenant governor to get the measure on the 2010 ballot.
They continued gathering signatures, but the court held that they had to start from scratch and, therefore, couldn't qualify for the 2012 ballot, either.