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Editorial: Legislature again puts a stop to needed contribution limits

Utah should limit contributions

First Published Mar 12 2014 05:28 pm • Last Updated Mar 13 2014 12:02 pm

Governments and politicians aren’t at the top of the lists of most trusted institutions. Utah scandals involving former Attorney General John Swallow added to the mistrust in Utah — or should have.

This year’s Utah Legislature, feeding a reputation as self-serving and all too ideological, missed another chance to regain some public trust when it killed – yet again – a measure to limit campaign donations.

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The Beehive State is one of only four states that allow donations of all amounts from any individual, political-action committee, labor union or corporation. And, although some reporting is required, most voters find out who the big contributors are only after an election.

Rep. Brian King has repeatedly sponsored a bill to limit each donation to $10,000 in a two-year cycle to statewide candidates and political committees; $5,000 to legislative candidates, school board candidates, and judges; and $40,000 to a political party.

Although those limits are more than generous, King once again couldn’t muster a majority vote.

Legislators again made some nonsensical arguments against putting restrictions on those who give them sizeable donations and who believe they are buying, if not votes for their interests, at least more access to the politicians than ordinary voters have.

Several lawmakers made the argument that limits violate freedom of speech, although 46 states haven’t found that to be true.

An even less plausible argument was made by Rep. Greg Hughes, majority whip, who said restrictions would actually lead to less transparency. Such a law would "force" donors who want to exceed the limits to divert money to a variety of unidentified groups that would then deliver the cash to candidates, Hughes said.

Hughes seems to be suggesting that lawmakers and their contributors would naturally try to cheat. No wonder the public’s trust in government is waning.

Utah legislators have long feigned righteous indignation that anyone would assume donations, no matter how large, could lead them to act against the best interests of Utahns.

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Utahns are sophisticated enough to dismiss that weak argument. In fact, there is no good reason to allow unlimited donations. Utahns deserve representatives who pay as much attention to their constituents as they do to campaign contributors with deep pockets. There is only one way to ensure that big donors don’t exert too much influence, and that is to restrict donations.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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