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Panel members: Utah needs campaign contribution limits

By John Daley | Posted - Sep. 10, 2010 at 6:33 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Should Utah enact limits on the amount of money that can be given to a political campaign?

Millions of dollars are being raised in the campaign for governor, much of that from donors giving tens of thousands of dollars. Utah is one of just a few states with no limits on campaign contributions.

Last year, a board formed by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman recommended Utah establish limits, but both major party candidates are ignoring the thresholds they suggested.


I think the average citizen is quite cynical about the process. Whether there is special influence by money or not, certainly that appearance is there.

–Dee Rowland


Last year, Huntsman formed the 19-member Commission on Strengthening Democracy. It eventually urged Utah adopt individual contribution limits of $10,000 every two years for statewide races -- a proposal lawmakers essentially ignored.

One member of the panel says a majority of the group believes the voice of average people can be drowned out by big money, discouraging voters from participating.

"I think the average citizen is quite cynical about the process," says Dee Rowland with the commission. "Whether there is special influence by money or not, certainly that appearance is there."


The best thing is to just have as much disclosure as possible, as quickly as possible. Let the voters decide on things like that.

–Dave Hansen


But another committee member, Dave Hansen, chair of the Utah Republican Party, worries specific limits can be too arbitrary.

"The best thing is to just have as much disclosure as possible, as quickly as possible," he says. "Let the voters decide on things like that."

Gov. Gary Herbert says he doesn't believe in limits. Instead, he favors full disclosure. Democratic challenger Peter Corroon says he'll try to enact limits if elected, but won't impose any on his campaign.

Meantime, Utah is increasingly an outlier on the issue -- one of just four states with no campaign contribution limits. A series of scandals recently led Illinois to enact a $5,000 individual limit, plus provisions forbidding contractors doing business with the state from contributing to state candidates.

"If you don't have any regulation, it is the easiest place to manipulate the system," says Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "In our state, we would see contributions in the size of tens of thousands of dollars, followed soon thereafter with contracts."

Meantime, one of the other candidates for governor, Independent Farley Anderson, wants to make a campaign issue of money in politics. He says he's refusing to accept any corporate or special-interest money.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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