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.

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