Thursday, July 15, 2010

Contributions from Qwest and Comcast

The Utah Taxpayers Association has acknowledged that it receives contributions from both Qwest and Comcast (undisclosed amounts). However, it is also noteworthy that Howard Stephenson (Utah Taxpayers Association President), also receives campaign contributions from both of these companies. This helps to explain the Utah Taxpayers Association's disdain for UTOPIA. Unlike the money that funnels through the UTA, the political campaign contributions are public record.



Friday, July 2, 2010

Ethical problem with the role of UTA

From the perspective of a casual citizen, it appears on the surface that the UTA is a reputable organization that represents the taxpayer. Heck, with a name like "Utah Taxpayers Association," what's not to like? That name says it all. I pay taxes, and therefore, these people represent me and my interests, right?... Wrong.

While there are likely many good and honest members and employees of UTA, you can rest assured that the majority of the funding and influence in the UTA is loyal to its largest contributors. So then, who are those large contributors? Well, unfortunately, they aren't required to disclose this. However, during their ongoing battle with UTOPIA, they did admit that Comcast and Qwest were contributors, which explains their going far and beyond the normal call of duty to "protect taxpayers" by distributing false information and threatening a lawsuit against UTOPIA. I'll save the UTOPIA argument for another day, but it certainly needs to be addressed as it seems to be the number one target for UTA these days, with its own section on their website.

What I really want to present, is the way I see UTA's role in our state's political system. Why does the UTA really exist, and what are its motivations? Below, I've tried to present a model of political influence that may shed some light on its actions and motivations. (click for larger version)

Obviously, that top model is illegal. The second model represents the most common form of influence used today, but gifts, trips, and other perks given to legislators must legally be disclosed. This third model is a more subtle one. This is where a group of politicians and their supporters who otherwise can't make an honest living, decide to create jobs for themselves in an "advocacy group". The companies and groups that would love to buy political influence find reason within the wide scope of the advocacy group's mission statement, to pour undisclosed amounts of money, anonymously, into the group, which in turn buys them political influence free from public scrutiny. To make things even better, those same legislators are the ones who define the rules around such non-profit entities since they are regulated by state law. Hence, no disclosure of memberships or contributions.

Because of the potential unethical ramifications of this "advocacy group" model, the involvement of elected state legislators in such groups is an absolute conflict of interest to the work they have been elected to do, and should be prohibited by law.

I've obviously presented the role of the UTA in a very negative light. I suppose that I have done this because it is the only way in my mind that explains their actions that in some cases seem to represent taxpayers, and in other cases pose blatant disregard for the interests of the taxpayer, to the benefit of certain large corporations. I don't claim to be an expert in political science or state politics, so I encourage anyone to please post comments that either support or counter the idea that the UTA operates in this way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

State Senator Loyalty

The head of the Utah Taxpayers Association is Mr. Howard Stephenson. He is a state senator for district 11 (Salt Lake County). His role as a senator is to represent his constituency in the state senate and to enact legislation in our behalf. This is only a part time role and most, if not all, state senators have other full time employment. As a state senator, he receives $28,308 (see in pay and benefits. It can be assumed that as the top dog at UTA, he is paid significantly more than that from the UTA (perhaps many hundreds of thousands annually or more). It's anyone's guess how much that is, because it is not public information.

Now, it's one thing to make a lot of money as a businessman, an entrepreneur, an investor, or another politically agnostic profession. However, the UTA has a stated political agenda. Obviously, this presents some form of conflict of interest in that he is likely to promote the agenda of his employer over that of his constituents. It would be illegal for him to take money directly from lobbyists, companies, or other entities trying to push an agenda through the legislature. However, there is nothing illegal about doing this if the form of payment is a salary from your employer, even when your employer publicly pushes an agenda. Despite being legal, it is highly unethical, and it is surprising that there is not legislation prohibiting this. Oh wait, these are the legislators we're talking about. Perhaps that explains it.

Stop Utah Taxpayers Association Blog

Welcome to the new "Stop UTA" blog. This blog is meant to be a watchdog site for the Utah Taxpayers Association. Yes, we do recognize the irony in having a watchdog site for an entity that claims to be "your tax watchdog". However, there has been a lot of talk of conflicts of interest, corrupt political motivations, nepotism, and other issues that merit further investigation.

In the forthcoming articles, we will be looking at the various activities of the UTA, to determine if they truly represent the taxpayer and what their true motivations may be. Please read on and check back frequently for ongoing analysis of this organization so you can make a fair and balanced evaluation of their activities.