Salt Lake Chamber scraps plan for pricey ‘off-record’ meeting with lawmakers

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here.

SALT LAKE CITY — It started with a flyer.

Then it quickly unraveled as the Deseret News began asking questions.

The flyer — sent to members of the Salt Lake Chamber — asked for a minimum payment of $2,500 to its new political action committee in order to attend an “off-the-record conversation on tax reform” with some of the most powerful members of the Utah Legislature tasked with proposing new tax policy that would affect all Utahns.

The exclusive Utah Business PAC event promised a private forum June 21 between businesses and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, plus the co-chairmen of the newly formed Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force, House Majority Leader Francis Gibson and Sen. Lyle Hillyard.

After being informed of the event, both conservative and left-leaning advocacy groups started raising concerns about transparency, perception of backroom dealing and worries about financial influence over the biggest discussion facing Utah legislators right now: tax reform.

Late Thursday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Senate President Stuart Adams said Hillyard would now be withdrawing from the event — and Adams did not “wish to engage in nor condone meetings of this nature.”

Soon after, the event was canceled.

The closed-door conversation would have been limited to 25 Salt Lake Chamber business members willing to pay the $2,500 contribution. The flyer said the PAC would contribute some of the money it raised to House and Senate leadership PACs.

“It’s extremely shady,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, when he learned of the event.

Thomas told the Deseret News the event raised a number of issues, including concerns about the transparency regarding expected sweeping changes to Utah’s tax structure.

It was similar concern over transparency that led legislative leaders to scrap a tax reform bill earlier this year amid complaints there was little time for the public to weigh in on the late-session legislation that was largely drafted behind closed doors.

“The public was concerned about backroom deals (during the legislative session),” Thomas said. “This could be another backroom deal happening.”

There was also a question of whether the exclusive event would create an “unlevel playing field” over an issue that affects every Utahn, he said.

“It’s almost using a public issue that’s really concerning for most citizens to profit politically,” Thomas said, adding that what “smells even worse” is that a contribution tied to the event would be made to House and Senate leadership PACs.

“That’s extremely concerning,” he said. “We have no idea what these lawmakers could be promising or saying to these business leaders. It could be anything.”

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here.

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