For years the idea of imposing limits on the amount of cash that can be donated to Utahns running for office has had little traction on the hill. But thanks to the antics of the ethically-impaired former Attorney General a House committee passed a bill out favorably for the first time in state history to cap donation limits for candidates running for office.---
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, pitched his House Bill 297 to the House Business and Labor Committee as one designed to help restore the public's faith in the system, and to especially air out the lingering aroma left on the campaign process by the deeds of former Attorney General John Swallow. A special House Investigative Committee found that Swallow had subverted multiple campaign laws in courting cash from special interests, many of whom also had given Swallow very hefty campaign contributions.
King admitted his bill was not perfect but that it moved closer toward a solution to help repair the damage done to the system in the Post-Swallow world of Utah politics.
“This is an incremental change to increase the likelihood that the public views us with integrity and views the process as one that has greater integrity,” King said.
King's bill would set campaign contribution limits during election cycles that would limit individuals, labor organizations, Political Action Committees, and Corporations from donating more than $10,000 to one state office candidate; $5,000 to a judge, a candidate for the School board and a candidates for the Legislature; $40,000 to one political party; and $50,000 combined that is donated to political parties, labor organizations, PAC's or a combination thereof.
The bill was supported by many on the committee, including Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi who admitted that he was originally opposed to the bill until Senate Bill 54, the “Count My Vote” compromise bill was passed, that if signed into law, allows for candidates to bypass caucuses in favor of primaries. Count My Vote critics have blasted direct primaries for favoring wealthier candidates who can afford mass-media campaigns as opposed to interacting directly with delegates. For Anderegg contribution limits would at least slow special interests down from trying to buy off primary elections. “At least this helps level some of that playing field,” Anderegg said.
Others, however, believed campaign limits would simply cause greater problems. Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who chaired the committee and also led the special investigative committee looking into Swallow's hidden dealings, worried limits would drive more fundraising underground. During the Swallow investigation he said he found that it only took about 15 minutes to set up a number of dummy PACs that could funnel a large donation from one source to make it appear as if it had come from multiple sources.
“The more that we try to limit or prohibit what people can contribute, my concern is that we'll have more hidden and dark money,” Dunnigan said. “That's what we found in our investigation.”
It was a concern shared by other lawmakers but in the end the committee passed the bill out favorably with 10 aye votes to 5 nay votes.
The bill will now head to the House floor for further debate.
To read House Bill 297 click here. To contact Rep. King about his bill click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.