New ethics initiative targets political money

New ethics initiative targets political money

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Using campaign donations for personal use would be prohibited under a new citizens' ethics initiative in Utah.

A group calling itself The Peoples Right LLC will begin holding public hearings on the initiative Tuesday in Duchesne and Price.

In Utah, elected officials can spend campaign contributions on anything they want -- houses, boats and swimming pools included -- as long as they disclose it.

Utah also doesn't place any limits on who may contribute to a campaign or how large contributions can be.

"That is, in my book, a very thinly veiled bribe and is the basis for a lot of political corruption. If we can remove the money from politics, or at least place some insulation between money and politics, we will have done a great service on cleaning out some of the corruption that exists," said Wayne Crawford, a Sandy physician's assistant who is one of the initiative's sponsors.

Under the initiative, corporations and unions would be prohibited from directly donating to campaigns. A $1,000 limit would be placed on individual donations and those from political action and political issues committees.

Violating the contribution limits and the ban on personal use of campaign contributions would result in a Class C misdemeanor.

After the hearings, the group will need to collect about 95,000 signatures by April from registered voters in 26 of the state's 29 Senate districts to get the initiative on the 2010 ballot.

The group is likely to face opposition from Republican state lawmakers, who control the Legislature and contend there is no culture of corruption at the Capitol. They say that disclosure is better than contribution limits or bans.

Legislative leaders have been trying for months to quash another ethics initiative sponsored by a group called Utahns for Ethical Government, which is largely comprised of former state lawmakers.

That group's ethics initiative calls for the creation of an independent ethics commission and a code of conduct for state lawmakers.

Crawford says he supports all efforts to bring greater accountability to elected officials, but believes his initiatives are a simpler way of accomplishing that goal.

"Legislators are every year telling the people what they shall and shall not do in the form of laws," he said. "They can handle the routine lawmaking, but when it comes to ethics reform, they have proven through their track record they are unable to accept what actually needs to be done."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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