Bill Limiting Personal Campaign Contributions Gets OK

(KCPW News) A bill that would require individuals to report election contributions of $1,000 or more has moved on through a House committee. HB 39, which applies to contributions made that are not in coordination with a campaign, sailed through the House Government Operations committee with unanimous approval.

Utah law has different reporting requirements for different kinds of election contributions, depending on whom the contribution is coming from and where it’s going. After the investigation of former Attorney General John Swallow, many legislators feel more transparency in the process is needed, and Republican Rep. Doug Sagers noticed an area where election law could be improved upon.

“I believe that any type of campaign expenditure or anything that goes on in a campaign should be open and subject to public scrutiny,” Sagers said. “It’s just a matter of basically allowing the sun to shine in on what really takes place.”

Sagers’ bill would require any person’s independent expenditures over 1,000 dollars to be reported to the state if those expenditures could affect a campaign in any way—for instance, if someone independently spends $1,000 or more on mailers or political ads, that would have to be reported. Previously, such expenditures could be made without any financial disclosure, so long as there was no coordination with a campaign or a political group.

Republican Rep. Kraig Powell said it’s peculiar that Utah doesn’t have any regulation in this area of election law.

“This is for a brand new area of Utah law that I’ve studied in the past,” Powell said. “It’s interesting that we do not require individuals—just individuals—to report these kind of expenditures. So I think that this is a major policy decision, a major change.”

Powell added that the bill has a “good goal” in mind, and he can’t think of any reason the bill shouldn’t pass. He also cautioned his colleagues from dismissing the bill outright.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, I don’t think we should be passing so many laws,’ but if you take a proposal like this, you need to confront Rep. Sagers, look him in the eye on the merits and say, ‘Here’s why I think this is a good bill or why I don’t think this is a good bill,'” said Powell.

Jenn Gonnelly of the Utah League of Women Voters spoke in favor of HB 39.

“We believe that financing of campaigns should have the most open prospect to the public. The public should be able to see where the money is coming from, and that this ensures greater participation in the campaign system,” Gonnelly said.

HB 39 passed unanimously in the House Government Operations Committee. The entire House will get a look at the bill next, which is one of a handful of bills drafted in reaction to the John Swallow controversies of last year.

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