Students offer bribes to Legislature in protest

By Blair Dee Hodges, Staff Writer

A small group of U students calling themselves Nuclear Reaction are planning to protest the Utah Legislature by offering them a little extra cash under the table.

Katie Savage, an environmental studies graduate student and self-proclaimed “campus organizer,” said the group plans to offer “the people’s bribe,” a symbolic gesture advocating against legislative bribes, by leaving $1 bills on the floor of the state Capitol rotunda March 10. Savage and five other members of Nuclear Reaction are gathering volunteers and donations.

Savage assembled the group with the belief that the Legislature is too influenced by lobbyists and special-interest groups.

“We’ve been trying to talk with our representatives up on the Hill for a really long time,” Savage said. “We’ve sent e-mails, met with them in person. But still, again and again they don’t do what we want them to do. We decided, well as long as they’re just doing what powerful, financial interests tell them to do, why not just try to bribe them?”

The message of the protest is simple, Savage said.

“We’re trying to bribe (lawmakers) for some meaningful ethics reform,” Savage said. She said the protest tells legislators to “please accept our bribe and start listening to the people of Utah rather than the powerful political action committees and corporations that are funding you.”

Savage said gifts from various lobbyists in the form of dinners or entertainment is evidence of ethical problems on the Hill.

“We’re just doing what hundreds of lobbyists are doing there every day, which is bribing our legislators,” Savage said. “We’re just trying to get in on a piece of that action.”

Danielle Endres, a communication professor at the U and faculty adviser for the group, said Nuclear Reaction intends to uniquely use creative events to generate publicity.

“While other groups concerned with similar issues focus on direct lobbying or educational campaigns, this type of nonviolent rally is designed to raise general awareness,” Endres said. “I think this student group adds a nice and important component to the other groups.”

Savage said the group does not anticipate any legal difficulties in offering the symbolic bribe and has no intention of causing trouble or being arrested.

Kirk Jowers, director of the U Hinckley Institute of Politics, said ethics reform has recently come to the forefront of Utah politics. Jowers, who was appointed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to head the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy, said he is glad to see groups such as Nuclear Reaction become involved in the political process.

“I love peaceful protests and participation in any form that can get people motivated, and it’s especially effective when it gets noticed by the public, the press and public officials,” Jowers said.

The commission, which aims to increase political involvement in Utah, will address concerns highlighted by Nuclear Reaction, including ethics reform and lobbying, in a meeting March 28.

Jowers said the commission will not have an impact on this legislative session, which ends March 11. The commission will meet once a month until Oct. 26, when he hopes to have specific recommendations for the next legislative session to consider.

“The governor put this group together wanting us to take our time, deliberate and really come up with some compelling and persuasive recommendations that the Legislature can act on in the next session,” Jowers said.

While Jowers and other commission members hammer out specific policy proposals, Nuclear Reaction hopes to raise awareness through peaceful but quirky protesting. Jowers said he is pleased to see other Utahns become involved in the political process and that smaller groups such as Nuclear Reaction can make an impact.

“Bigger groups have a better chance at being seen or heard,” Jowers said. “But that doesn’t mean that small groups shouldn’t make their case because you never know what fire that will spark. Most worthwhile things take a real, sustained effort to get people’s attention.”

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