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Utah governor fundraising target of court petition

Utah governor fundraising target of court petition

Posted - Oct. 4, 2010 at 5:14 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An independent candidate for lieutenant governor asked the Utah Supreme Court on Monday to declare that candidates can't use a political action committee and a personal campaign account in their bid for public office.

If the court rules in Steve Maxfield's favor, he hopes it could eventually set in motion a process that could result in Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's removal from the ballot in this year's special election.

Maxfield has also said Democratic nominee Peter Corroon could see his candidacy in jeopardy if the court determines that only one type of fundraising account for candidates is allowed, although Maxfield hasn't filed any elections complaints against Corroon.

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Maxfield also wants the court to order the lieutenant governor to forward a previously filed complaint against Herbert to the Utah state attorney general's office to have a special counsel appointed to investigate whether the governor broke any campaign finance laws. Maxfield has also filed a similar complaint against Republican Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

"You won't have any cleaning up of the politics in Utah until we get this resolved," Maxfield said.

The court could make a decision as soon as Friday.

At issue in the petition filed with the court and the complaints filed with the lieutenant governor's office is a line in state law that says state office candidates and those who work on their behalf can only raise money and make expenditures for their elections through their campaign committees.

But state law also allows political action committees to raise and spend money for "political purposes," which is defined as the attempt to influence voters for or against candidates for public office.

Herbert uses a political action committee and a personal campaign account, which Maxfield contends is illegal.

In Utah, it's not uncommon for political candidates and officeholders to use political action committees rather than traditional officeholder or campaign accounts. PACs have much less frequent reporting requirements than traditional campaign accounts.

"These reports are the only means for voters to know who is giving money to candidates and in what amounts, and it is only through these reports that voters can know the extent to which a candidate may be beholden to special interests prior to voting," Maxfield wrote in his petition.

"By running campaigns through PACs, candidates can get through the critical convention and primary election cycles without ever having to file a disclosure report, which is unfair, illegal, and a disservice to voters."

Transferring money from a PAC to a personal campaign account also makes it much more difficult for the public to track who is donating to a campaign.

Elections Director Mark Thomas said the lieutenant governor's office is still reviewing Maxfield's original complaints and the petition filed Monday.

Thomas said it was unclear when a determination on how to proceed with the complaints could be made.

"Maxfield did ask for our office to recuse ourselves and so we're looking at the law, at the complaint, what our options are and so forth," Thomas said. "We just have to review it. It's hard to put any sort of timeline on it."

But the debate over campaign financing in the governor's race continues to boil. The Democratic candidate in the race for governor, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, has been pushing for donation limits of $10,000.

Corroon's campaign manager Donald Dunn claims shady practices are in place by the incumbent: "Inappropriate activity going on between the governor's office, his campaign staff, fundraising activities," he said.

Herbert told KSL's Doug Wright he'd consider reforms, but bigger offices should have a bigger cap.

"If we don't make allowances in our campaign finance reform, then we default to just those who are rich and famous who can self fund," he said.

Herbert also says how long a candidate is able to campaign should affect those caps.

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Story compiled with contributions from Brock Vergakis of the Associated Press and Becky Bruce.

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