This article from the SL Trib is certain to set you off this morning. Before reading it, I recommend you take your state-issued Prozac. Done? Ok. In summary, it examines the influence the LDS Church indirectly exerts over the state legislature. I say indirectly because, according to IRS Tax Exempt law, the LDS Church is barred from directly engaging in politics. Any tax exempt entity is.*
Now, anyone who lives here knows that’s not the case. The legislature are puppets on the strings of the LDS Church and ultra-conservative groups like the Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute. It was surprising to many this year when the church didn’t hold their annual pre-legislative meeting to pass down the word on high to what would and would not be allowed to go down. Most elected officials, when asked, deny that the church directly lobbies the legislature, which in that direction (church to legislature) is true. However, that doesn’t stop the legislature for asking for the Church’s input on a range of issues. Like Caesar at the coliseum, a thumbs down from the church means the death of a law.
“People should understand that on a few occasions, the LDS Church does give input on issues. But that is all, and I am always told to vote my conscience and represent my constituents,” says Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem. “The myth that they tell you how to vote is just that — a myth.”
See here’s the loophole – the LDS Church tells legislators to “vote their conscience” while tapping their nose and winking like an epileptic. Rep. Stephen Handy apparently missed this memo of subliminal conscience tampering and reached out to the LDS Church to ask if it had a position on “one matter of public policy”.
“I was told on this matter that I should proceed or not according to my conscience. I think it’s only normal for members of the Legislature, whether they are LDS or not, to consider the views of the state’s largest constituency.”
According to the LDS Church’s numbers, the “state’s largest constituency” represents about 61% of the state population (with 40% of the state active in their membership). Ignore for a moment that that headline number is most likely over-reporting active members, it means that those representatives are ignoring anywhere from 1/3rd to more than half of the state population in their legislative decision making and representing only the constituents that they talk to at the ward on Sundays.
Wayne Niederhauser, the Senate Majority Whip, says he has been lobbied by the LDS Church, but always in a “soft sell” way.**
“I was never told how to vote. Church representatives merely stated the church’s position on the issues.”
Taking lessons from the mafia, the LDS Church walked into Niederhauser’s office, looked around for a bit, and said, “Nice office you’ve got here. It’d be a real shame if something happened to you in the next primary caucuses.” Freshman representative Brian Doughty didn’t pay attention at legislative orientation day and tried to introduce legislation this year to modify the Utah Liquor Commission to include members that were, ya know, consumers of the product they regulated.
“I would have to have approval from the LDS Church for something such as that to be considered. I did not consult with the LDS Church and got the bill out of committee. It was next to be debated when the board was wiped of all remaining bills as we finished our work on House bills.”
Doughty’s bill was sent to sleep with the fishies even though it passed committee.
In another case of lobbyists writing the laws that are passed, Patrice Arent recalls a time where legislative membership listened to the Eagle Forum’s dog whistle instead of the LDS Church’s.
“I recall one year when an abortion bill was being considered. An amendment was made for an exception which would have allowed for an abortion in very limited circumstances. This was the precise position of the LDS Church. In fact, the language came from the LDS Church.† Everyone in the Senate knew that, but only Democrats would vote for the position of the LDS Church,” out of fear that many Mormons had stricter stands on abortion than their own church. “I think the same thing happened in the House.”
If you’re so motivated, you can file a formal complaint (form 13909) with the IRS with regards to violation of the LDS Church’s tax exempt status. It probably won’t do any good, but if it scares them into backing down a bit, perhaps it’s worth it.
*They were fined a meager $5,538 in 2008 for failing to report financial contributions to the Prop 8 battle in CA.
**Let’s hope someday the LDS Church doesn’t have to become a used car salesman, or they’ll never hock those lemons.
† *cough cough* Sorry I was choking on that blatant interference of the LDS Church in state legislation.