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Utah House lawmakers kill campaign finance disclosure bill

The proposal would’ve asked candidates to sort their expenditures into categories.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) This Jan. 19 2021, file photo shows members of the House of Representatives partitioned by plexiglass as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance on the opening day of the legislative session. Representatives narrowly killed a bill aimed at bringing greater transparency to campaign spending.

A bill on clarity in campaign finance reporting died in the Utah House on Wednesday by a narrow vote — though few lawmakers spoke up during debate to voice particular concerns with the measure.

The legislation, SB92, would’ve called on Utah’s political candidates to sort their campaign expenses into predetermined categories as a way of increasing transparency in the state’s political spending. While state law already requires candidates candidates to list the reason for their expenditures, Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, told the House, “there’s incredible variety in how people report that, a lot of creative reporting.”

SB92 aimed to smooth out those differences by providing candidates with classification options.

The legislation cleared the Senate unanimously and won the support from a House committee this week. But it ended up faltering in the full House, which voted 33-37 against it on Wednesday.

The bill contains a list of specific expense categories, including advertising; campaign; loan repayments; signature gathering; supplies; contributions to other candidates or political committees; and travel expenses. If SB92 had succeeded, the state’s elections office planned to offer candidates a drop-down menu listing these available classifications and allowing them to select one for each expenditure.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison expressed concern about a bill provision calling for a study of voting methods that could make elections more accessible to the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Specifically, this review would explore online voting options that Harrison said could put election security at risk.

“The technology does not exist to safely and securely conduct voting via electronic voting,” Harrison, D-Draper, said.

Aside from her comment, no other specific concerns about the measure surfaced during the floor debate.

A recent Salt Lake Tribune investigation identified reporting gaps in campaign finance disclosures filed by state lawmakers since 2015. As part of its analysis, The Tribune sorted through five years of campaign reports and sorted each expenditure into categories similar to the ones proposed under SB92, a measure sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan.

The paper’s review showed that around 51% of the nearly $10 million in expenditures that the Tribune examined were for their campaign expenses, like mailers, signs and advertisements — leaving millions of dollars available for other purposes.

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