Robert Gehrke: Did a Utah senator quit the Legislature over perceived conflicts of interest? Here are the details.

State Sen. Jake Anderegg, who has a new consulting position, resigned from the Legislature on Thursday, citing a ‘significant change’ to his employment situation.

In his letter of resignation from the Utah Legislature, Sen. Jake Anderegg points to a “significant change” to his job situation that made it impossible for him to continue as a lawmaker.

Recently I’d started looking into that change and, more specifically, if his new career path created a conflict of interest with his role as an legislator.

Anderegg’s resignation came less than a week after I received a response to an open records request for a contract the senator had signed with Utah County to plan and secure state and federal funding for road projects.

I tried to contact Anderegg on Thursday after his resignation had been submitted, but he did not respond to my call or text.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Jake Anderegg discusses discussion on SB0200, during a Senate committee meeting, on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

Until last year, Anderegg — like many legislators have in the past — worked for Zions Bank as vice president of community development. In December, state records show, he incorporated a consulting business, Think Utah Consulting, LLC.

His private clients don’t have to be disclosed on his legislative financial disclosure forms, so we don’t know how many there are. But he did have a contract with at least one public client: Utah County.

Under the contract, which I received last Friday as part of my records request, Anderegg would use his “knowledge of transportation, infrastructure, business, economic development, and other related issues” to review transportation and development plans at the county. Anderegg would identify at least three priority projects and work out “plans for state and federal funding sources.”

One of the “deliverables” he was required to provide was, “Demonstrable success securing outside funding for recommended transit and other public infrastructure projects.”

In exchange for 20 hours of work a month, the county agreed to pay $4,000 monthly for his services.

Anderegg and County Commission Chairman Tom Sakievich signed the contract on Jan. 17, 2023 — the opening day of the legislative session.

Anderegg did not register as a lobbyist and would not have had to unless he communicated with the Legislature or executive branch on Utah County’s behalf. While it would not be unprecedented, it would be highly unusual for a state senator to be a registered lobbyist.

For years, former Sen. Howard Stepehenson was a registered lobbyist for the Utah Taxpayers Association. Stephenson rationalized the arrangement by claiming he did not lobby the Legislature on the association’s behalf, only the executive branch.

When Stephenson was still in the Utah Senate, an expert who tracks legislative ethics nationally once contacted me thinking it had to be a mistake, since they had never seen a legislator who was also a lobbyist anywhere in the United States.

In Anderegg’s case, as the senator who represents a swath of Utah County that includes Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, there is a fairly clear potential for a conflict of interest, where Anderegg could be advocating for his constituents, his client, or both — or, potentially, where the interests of his client and his constituents were at odds.

It also creates an ethically problematic scenario where a sitting senator is soliciting “government relations consulting” business from companies or government entities with issues before the Legislature.

Utah’s legislative ethics rules are notoriously weak. But they do state that, “Members of the Senate and House shall not be paid by a person to lobby, consult, or to further the interests of any legislation or legislative matter.”

There really can’t be much debate about whether securing state funding for transportation and development plans is a legislative matter.

Anderegg’s decision to step aside appears to have caught Utah Senate leaders off-guard. Thursday morning, hours before the announcement, Senate President Stuart Adams sent out an invitation to potential donors announcing an October 10 fundraising event for a dozen senators. Anderegg was among them.

In his resignation letter Thursday, Anderegg wrote that serving in a part-time Legislature comes with “the very real challenge of balancing public service with a professional career.”

“At the first of the year, I had a significant change occur in my employment, which has made my ability to maintain that balance and serve effectively in the legislature very difficult,” he wrote in his resignation. “As such, to allow myself to focus on my career and providing for my family, please accept this notice of my resignation, effective Oct. 15, 2023.”

If there is a positive outcome from this, Anderegg at least eventually recognized the issues it raised — at a minimum the perception of conflicts — and did the right thing and stepped down, rather than trying to sustain the untenable situation.

Correction, Sept. 8, 8:15 a.m. • This story has corrected information about the Utah Legislature’s ethics rules and added details about a Utah Senate GOP donor event.