Utah lawmakers are expected to be experts on a myriad of topics during the 45-day legislative session. That’s why lobbyists are so vital to the process. They can provide valuable information to help lawmakers understand and make decisions about issues.
What happens if a lobbyist lies to a lawmaker?
Right now state law prohibits intentionally giving false information to officials. The punishment is up to $100 fine and a one-year suspension of their lobbying license.
That law is basically unenforceable because it’s nearly impossible to prove whether a lobbyist provided false information on purpose.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City) wants to put more teeth into the statute.
“The policy says you can’t lie, but it’s impossible to prove that you lied,” says Thatcher. “What good is that law?”
Thatcher wants to penalize lobbyists who intentionally, knowingly or recklessly provide false information - putting the onus on them to make sure what they’re saying to lawmakers is factually correct.
“If you’re a lobbyist, I want to make sure you know what a proposed piece of legislation actually does before you start working against it. I’m simply taking an unenforceable law and giving it a mechanism so that some standard of proof can be met.”
Thatcher says some lobbyists are absolutely crucial to the process on the hill because they have a deep knowledge of byzantine issues like water law. But, he says there are other lobbyists that are simply “hired guns” who aren’t experts but are good at getting lawmakers to do what they want.
“We have to trust that the information they’re giving us is accurate. I like to keep a list of people that I’ve caught lying to me and those who have not. There are certain lobbyists that, if they give me information, I am not going to believe them.”
Thatcher says his proposal would strengthen the process because it would prevent bills from passing or failing based on a lie. He also says it would vastly improve the atmosphere on the Hill if lawmakers could better trust the information being given to them.
“Sometimes you look in someone’s eyes and you know they’re lying, but you can’t prove it. Imagine a world where a legislator can say to a lobbyist ‘put it in writing’.”
Thatcher’s bill wouldn’t change the penalties already in law. It would simply make them more enforceable.
“I don’t want to put people in jail for this, I just want them to not behave badly. I have all the interest in the world to keep them from lying.”