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In Utah, conflict of interest disclosure available with a click

Monday, June 22, 2015 23:26
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By The Sunlight Foundation

(Image credit: Utah State Senate)

The Open States team interacts with the websites and data portals of all 50 states (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico), so we see a lot different ways states choose to provide legislative data. Sometimes we find something really innovative a state is doing: One such state is Utah, which is prominently publishing conflict of interest information online for all state lawmakers.

Utah law requires legislators to disclose conflicts of interest because of a section of the state code called the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). While most states require this information to be disclosed, Utah provides it in accessible avenues: on the Senate site and on each House member’s page (for example, Democratic state Rep. Susan Duckworth). While many other states mandate this sort of disclosure, most also demand a written request to access it — another positive aspect of Utah’s system.

One reason this data is available is the hard work of journalists and activists working as the Utah Media Coalition involved in the Save GRAMA campaign resulting from a 2011 attempt by the legislature to change the law. (They continue to monitor the state of GRAMA and other public records laws as part of the Utah’s Right project.)

Because this information is so easy to access, Utahns can answer their own questions about their legislators. For example, they can compare Republican state Senator Curtis Bramble‘s votes on high-profile Medical Marijuana bills to his financial stake in a company called Medical Cannabis Payment Solutions:

Screenshot showing stocks owned in Medical Cannabis Payment Solutions
State Senator Curtis Bramble’s disclosure form.

We’re pulling these forms into Open States. You can find them in the API:

Screenshot showing conflict of interest forms in Open States API
Conflict of interest forms under “links” in the Open States API.

However, although Utah provides easy access to this information, their laws relating to legislative conflict of interest could be stronger. For example, there is not even an option for Utah state legislators to recuse themselves on votes that present a financial conflict of interest.

Sunlight applauds Utah’s work to make conflict of interest forms accessible to the public, and hope to see more states follow its lead.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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