Bill would require pollsters to disclose who is paying for survey

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2013 7:10 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Those political polling entities that call during dinner conversations may be required to better disclose themselves.

A bill designed to increase openness in political polling unanimously passed the House Government Operations Committee on Monday. HB44 would require pollsters to indicate who is paying for the survey.

"Responding to polls that are better disclosed helps people understand who is polling," said the bill's sponsor, House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

Hughes said he had personal experience in his election with push polls — something that groups or individuals use to try and influence or change people's opinions under the guise of a conducting a survey.

"It's the uglier side of campaigns when you find yourself the subject of them," Hughes said, explaining that he was happy to bring the bill to the committee when former Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, another victim of push polling, brought it to him.

Thousands of dollars can be spent on push polls.

"It's disturbing that someone can spend that much money and not report any of it," Daw said. "If we have funds that aren't accounted for, we lose more in the public trust or the public process."

Disclosure creates a paper trail, Hughes said.

"Once you have the name of the entity, you can review financial disclosures, campaign disclosures and see if anybody is behind it," he said. "These are merely mechanisms to figure out who is part of this and who started it."

Vic Arnold, with Utahns for Ethical Government, said he was very much in support of the bill. 

However, Brian Chapman, with BCR Political, a small consulting firm in Provo, voiced his concerns about the bill.

"Disclosing that alters the response, as it shifts the focus on who's paying for the poll," Chapman said.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, asked what would have to be disclosed and how in-depth the disclosure would have to be. 

"The bill requires that those polls disclose to the respondent, either at the beginning or at the conclusion of the interview, the name of the person or entity paying for the poll," Hughes said.

Powell expressed some concern about the constitutionality of the bill, but Hughes said similar bills have been passed in other states.

If people want to engage in campaigns in Utah, Hughes said, there is a structure and a process to follow.

"If they see the rules and the process and they don't agree, then they don't have to engage in that process," he said.

The bill will now go before the full House for a vote.

E-mail: rlowry@desnews.com

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