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Gehrke: Lawmaker-turned-lobbyist helped 911 agency sell $18 million hike

Published March 20, 2017 1:12 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the state's 911 services were lobbying for a new fee that would bring them millions of dollars, they had a face familiar at the Capitol by their side

Former state Rep. Brad Dee, just weeks out of the Legislature, was back, registered as a lobbyist for the Utah Communications Authority (UCA) and helping them navigate the legislative process.

The results were great for the UCA, perhaps less so for consumers. The Legislature passed a new fee of 56 cents a month on all 2.7 million phone lines in the state that will bring in more than $18 million, most of it going to the state's 911 systems.



There's a certain irony to Dee's role on this issue, however, since it was Dee who in 2009 sponsored legislation that instituted a one-year "cooling off" period, intended to prevent elected officials from immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving office.

At the time, Dee explained that the legislation meant that elected officials "may not engage in lobbying that would require registration as a lobbyist for one calendar year" after leaving office.

But there was a loophole. The revolving-door ban didn't apply in cases where the former lawmaker is running a business, or working as a teacher, or is hired by an association and happens to advocate for issues on legislation as part of that job.

Essentially, it only applied if the legislator went on to work as a contract lobbyist, that is a lobbyist who gets paid specifically for lobbying.

The UCA, in this case, could hire Dee to its staff, and Dee, as a staffer for the authority, could lobby the Legislature, as long as he wasn't hired solely for lobbying. In his case, Dee, a former human resource official for Weber County, was also consulting on human-resource issues.

And so Dee was allowed to be on the Hill lobbying for the $18 million increase in funding to the Utah Communications Authority as a registered lobbyist. Dee said he registered as a lobbyist as a precaution after meeting with the lieutenant governor's office to discuss the situation.

Dee has long, as he put it, "had a love for 911 and emergency services." He sponsored legislation in 2014 that created the Utah Communications Authority, which oversees 911 services and the state's microwave and radio networks.

He served as chairman of the emergency communications task force, and traveled all over the state meeting with local officials and ran subsequent legislation and fought for increased funding for the organization as a member of House leadership.

After the agency last year was rocked by the discovery of a $1 million embezzlement that had gone on for years and critical audits by the state auditor and Legislature, Dee said he was approached by the new director of the agency, Dave Edmunds, to help them deal with the Legislature.

"A lot of the people on the board were desirous that they not hire a, quote, lobbyist on issues that pertain to 911, but they wanted someone to work for them," Dee said.

Dee, who was retiring from Weber County and is preparing to leave on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints later this year, agreed.

"I know about as much about this issue as anybody, in fact probably more than most," he said. "I've told them I'd help them as long as I possibly can, until I have a new page to turn."

The halls are crammed full of former legislators who have walked out the doors and become lobbyists, dozens of them, who either predate the revolving-door law or who have waited out their cooling-off period.

But Dee's case raises thorny questions about the lobbying loophole and whether the efforts to crack down on the revolving door need to be ratcheted down even further.

The entire intent of the cooling-off period was to keep legislators from sponsoring bills that could potentially help a future client — essentially using their office as a springboard to a lucrative future as a hired gun in the Capitol's hallways.

And while it's not clear that that's what Dee did in this instance, what is indisputable is that he is where he is today with the UCA in large part, if not exclusively, because of the work he has done advancing the UCA policy and funding issues in the Legislature.

In Dee's case, he is not feathering his nest for the long-term, since he's leaving the state later this year.

He has, however, shown that there is a blueprint that future lawmakers could use to exploit the lobbying loophole and it would make sense to close it down before it becomes a problem.

In 2010, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, sponsored legislation that would close the loophole, but it never even got a hearing, and the proposals haven't been seen or heard on the Hill since.

Given the Legislature's reluctance to police itself, however, don't count on them revisiting the issue any time soon.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

 

 

 

 

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