In a legislative appropriations hearing earlier this year, Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, requested $50,000 in funding for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
He did not indicate that he was a member of the museum’s unpaid board of trustees. Nor did he disclose that relationship on his annual conflict of interest forms, which ask lawmakers to list the entities or organizations for which they serve on the board of directors “or in any other type of paid leadership capacity.”
“It was just an oversight,” Kitchen told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday when asked about his forms. “I’m pretty open about my affiliation with UMOCA and so I suppose I just didn’t realize that it was left off that declaration. I’ll go ahead and get that cleared up immediately, though, now that you brought that to my attention.”
He indicated to The Salt Lake Tribune shortly afterward that he had updated his form with the state to include all of his nonprofit board positions.
Justin Lee, director of elections in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said the language is not specific on whether lawmakers need to disclose unpaid board positions.
“It’s not 100% clear and maybe something the Legislature wants to take a look at,” he said.
But Mark Thomas, chief of staff for the Utah Senate, said that as a backstop to their annual forms, lawmakers should also orally disclose on the floor any organizations they have an interest with.
“Regardless of whether something’s listed on here or not listed on here, if there’s a conflict of interest they are required to verbally state it,” he said.
Kitchen’s appropriation request was ultimately not approved but came to The Salt Lake Tribune’s attention as part of a larger look at government funding provided over the years to UMOCA.
The organization has struggled financially dating back to at least the 1980s but has continued to receive money from government agencies. It recently sold off a substantial portion of its permanent collection and spent restricted endowment money — without first seeking permission from donors — to pay off some of its debt, financial audits show.
There are countless examples in the Legislature about how the day jobs and personal interests of Utah’s part-time citizen lawmakers affect bills. Some see this intersection as an advantage that allows lawmakers to bring their personal expertise to the policymaking table, while others raise concerns about the potential for self-dealing.
A Salt Lake Tribune analysis found in 2017 that one of every four bills was sponsored by a lawmaker with a deep professional or personal interest in them. Under Utah law, legislators are required to file annual conflict-of-interest disclosures laying out their business and financial interests but cannot abstain from voting on any bills.