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'Anonymous' campaign contributions over $50 targeted in House bill

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 8:11 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Kraig Powell describes it as "strange issue, a strange problem."

Some candidates for elected office — most often local school boards or city councils — receive sizable anonymous campaign contributions. They sometimes appear in the form of an envelope of cash left on the doorstep of their homes.

The problem is, the anonymous donations sometimes exceed the $50 limit allowed by law. 

"This is a huge loophole," said Powell, R-Heber.

Powell's solution to the problem, proposed as HB493, would require candidates to submit anonymous contributions that exceed $50 to the treasurer of the respective governmental body for which they are seeking office.

For instance, someone seeking a county office who receives an anonymous contribution of more than $50 would be required to submit any cash over the reporting limit to the county treasurer. People seeking election to state level offices such as attorney general would submit the cash to the lieutenant governor's office. 

On Monday afternoon, the House Government Operations Committee, gave its support to the bill, sending it to the House for further consideration.

Some committee members expressed concern about turning the cash over to government when it was given for a political purpose. 

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, argued that what donors need is more education about the appropriate way to donate to campaigns.

Powell said his research of other states' policies indicates that anonymous campaign donations that exceed established limits either end up in government coffers or are given to charity.

The problem with giving the money to charity is anonymous donors may not approve of the choice of charity. Then again, Powell said, because the cash is given anonymously, there's no way to vet the choice.

Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, agreed with Chavez-Houck. "I think its an education issue here," he said. "You're going to get to the point you're going to forfeit the money."

Frank said he would prefer that lawmakers reconsider "the charitable aspect of this."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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