Utah will remain one of only four states that have no campaign-donation limits. The House killed the latest attempt to create them on Monday.
It killed HB297 on a 35-38 vote. Several lawmakers argued that limits essentially violate freedom of speech, or could lead to less transparency by forcing people to circumvent limits by diverting money to a variety of groups before it reaches candidates.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, pushed the bill to create donation limits for individuals, political action committees (PACs), labor unions and corporations — something pushed unsuccessfully for years.
It would have limited donations to $10,000 for a two-year cycle to statewide candidates and PACs; $5,000 to legislative candidates, school board candidates, and judges; and $40,000 to a political party.
“These are generous,” King said. He added it would help ensure that officeholders are not too beholden to large donors and send a message “that we are acting with integrity. That is important.”
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the current system ensures better transparency because even huge donations are allowed, but must be reported. He said caps force people to funnel money through a variety of PACs instead. “What they’ve done is created a circuitous route. You don’t know who is giving,” he said.
Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, also said it may interfere with freedom of speech by limiting how much people can give. Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, complained no limits would be put on volunteering, but limits would be put on money — which he said is not fair.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said with recent scandals that forced former Attorney General John Swallow to resign, people have a perception that politicians can be too beholden to big donors — and the bill is needed to help change that. “What people think is true is true,” he said.
Last week, the Senate also stripped a donation limit from campaign-finance reform coming from that body.