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Some ethics bills advance, while calls arise for more

Published January 28, 2013 9:09 pm

House • Amid the A.G. scandal, there are calls for more reforms.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Amid yet more calls for ethics reform amid a scandal involving new Attorney General John Swallow, lawmakers took some first steps Monday to advance bills designed to prevent election shenanigans.

The House Government Operations Committee endorsed three such bills and sent them to the full House, including:

• HB44 by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, passed unanimously to require pollsters to identify who paid for a survey at the end of their questioning.

That aims to avoid "push polls" that try to sway opinions by statements that may not be accurate. Hughes said, "They ask if you knew the guy was a scoundrel, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for him."

Former Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, defeated in last year's primary, helped draft that bill after he said a lot of push polling occurred in his race last year —  but who was behind it was never disclosed.

• HB38 by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, passed 5-3 to spell out what campaigns may do if they receive larger-than-allowed anonymous donations. Current law is silent on that, which Powell said could lead to mischief.

The bill would allow giving the money to a nonprofit charity or to state or local government general funds. The bill also would raise the current limit for accepting anonymous donations from $50 to $100. In the last election cycle, legislators received $8,813 in such anonymous donations, forms show.

•Â HB262 by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, passed unanimously to preserve the right of unaffiliated voters to vote in primaries by changing party affiliation at the polls. That is currently allowed, but previous legislation would make that ability disappear after this year. Hall says that would decrease voter participation.

Some party leaders historically have worried that opponents' supporters may try to invade primaries to try to elect a weaker candidate. However, reform groups see efforts to keep unaffiliated voters out of primaries as muffling the voice of voters in elections.

Meanwhile, Democrats and one key Republican renewed calls Monday for even tougher reforms — including campaign contribution limits — growing out of the scandal where Swallow is accused of helping to broker a bribe for a large donor to his predecessor.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is also chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said his party "will support, demand, and pursue serious ethics law changes that include a complete review of the current law laws and regulations, including a $10,000 limit on contributions in statewide races and a $5,000 limit on legislative campaigns."

He said Utah has one of the worst laws in the nation, and is "one of just four states that allows unfettered and uncontrolled torrents of money to pour into campaigns."

Also, Powell, a Republican who has often pushed ethics reform, says he will introduce a bill — which he plans to call the Governing Under the Influence Act — to ban anyone from donating more than $9,999 in an election cycle to candidates for state office.

"As a state, we recognize the hazards posed by driving under the influence of alcohol, and we make laws to prevent the damage caused by that influence," said Powell.  "In similar fashion, we should recognize the hazards posed by the influence of lobbyists, corporations and special interest groups when they donate such large sums of money to our elected officials and candidates."