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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Democrat Jean Hill, a candidate for attorney general, said Thursday she would urge lawmakers to set a $10,000 limit on campaign contributions if she's elected in, an effort to reduce corporate influence on Capitol Hill.
"It is no secret that Utah's campaign finance laws are among the most lax in the nation," Hill said. "Under these circumstances, there is a real risk that lawmakers' votes can be influenced by huge contributions from special interests that often have goals contrary to the broader public interest."
Hill introduced three campaign finance proposals Thursday, including the contribution limit. She's hoping in November to unseat Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who she said takes too much money from corporations such as the nuclear waste disposal firm EnergySolutions Inc. The Salt Lake City-based company has donated $31,900 to Shurtleff's campaign since his last election.
She said those donations are particularly worrisome because Utah wants to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by EnergySolutions over whether it should be allowed to import foreign nuclear waste for disposal at its Clive site in Tooele County. "Look at the numbers. I'm concerned about his ethics," she said in response to a question from The Associated Press about whether accepting such contributions made Shurtleff unethical.
Jason Powers, a Shurtleff campaign spokesman, said Shurtleff accepted those donations before Utah became involved in the lawsuit. He said under Hill's logic, the attorney general shouldn't take donations from anyone because there is always the possibility of a lawsuit involving the state. Powers said Shurtleff isn't doing anything wrong.
State law doesn't limit the amount of contributions an individual, corporation or political action committee can donate. The most recent financial disclosure reports show Shurtleff has raised more than $346,000, compared with about $47,000 by Hill.
Hill's largest donation was for $6,000. She received only four others of more than $1,000. Shurtleff has received 10 donations worth $20,000 or more from companies.
"Utah is a no-limit contribution state, but it is a reporting state. So that's the tool the public has to make up their own mind," Powers said. "If Jean Hill wants contribution limits placed on contributions, she's running for the wrong office. She should be running for state Legislature."
Democratic lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully for years to place limits on campaign contributions, but Republican leaders have rebuffed them. Even if Hill were to win her election and submit a proposal to lawmakers, it is unlikely any changes would pass while the Legislature is under Republican control.
Still, she said it is important for the state's top prosecutor to use the bully pulpit to fight for reform. "You're the top lawyer of the sate, you're the representative of the executive branch. You ought to be able to say, 'Here's some sensible laws,' " she said. "We could use that power to really make a difference in legislation."
Under Hill's proposal, the $10,000 limit would be the maximum amount an individual or corporation could give the entire election cycle, including for conventions, primaries and the general election. Federal election laws limit individual donations to $2,300 for each cycle. "This limit would preserve contributors' rights under the First Amendment while eliminating the opportunity to buy votes on Capitol Hill," she said.
The $10,000 limit is similar to a restriction Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman has placed on his own campaign. Huntsman is limiting his contributions to $10,000 per person, per election cycle, according to spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley.
The law also doesn't limit how that money can be used as long as it is disclosed. "This creates the alarming possibility that sitting elected officials could supplement their salary with campaign donations, or raise unnecessary campaign funds during their terms in office and then transfer the special interest money to their personal bank account after they leave office," she said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman has voluntarily placed a $10,000 contribution limit on himself
In addition to the $10,000 limit, Hill proposes making it illegal to use campaign contributions for anything other than political or charitable uses.
Hill also said she would refuse campaign contributions from law firms and other organizations that are bidding on contracts from the attorney general's office. "You don't need a law to do the right thing," she said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)