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House kills campaign donation limits bill

Published March 11, 2014 8:37 am

Dies again • Opponents say it would hurt free speech, transparency.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

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.