As lawmakers, we take transparency and campaign finance reform very seriously. An open and transparent government is and should be expected by those whom we represent.
The public concern surrounding the allegations and purported wrongdoing of our attorney general is not surprising. The public trust shared by all elected officials is damaged when these issues surface.
When these very public circumstances arise, there is a cacophony of voices that immediately clamor for campaign finance reform. "What did he/she know and when did they know it?" and "How much did they receive and from whom?"
A recent column in the Deseret News by Richard Davis, professor of political science at Brigham Young University, asserts that it is time to reform the system at the federal and state levels ("Time fo real reforms in campaign finance laws" Feb. 6). He claims the Utah Legislature must pass significant campaign reform limiting how much an individual or corporation can donate including banning large donations.
While I appreciate the professor's thoughts, meaningful and lasting campaign finance reform must include additional components as well. If we want to protect the political process from corruption, there is only one effective approach.
I do not believe the federal election approach of capping contributions (with the McCain-Feingold Act) has slowed the flow of money into campaigns and elections by a single dime. It has, however, created a circuitous path from the donor to the campaign coffer that few can follow. Congress had the best of intentions to limit the effect of special interest money, but what we got instead was a slew of unintended side effects. Loopholes in the law were exploited, and now super PACs have ever-increasing resources to perform electioneering, while the civility of races has greatly suffered.
Utah must take the lead in transparency and campaign finance reform. Voters deserve to see the amounts of political donations and who made them. This brings greater accountability to the political process.
The Utah Legislature's campaign website is the perfect example. Anyone from the public can see where the donations are coming from and who made them. If your state senator or representative received a donation that you and other constituents felt was out of line, you can call them on it. This allows us to know who is behind the donation and empowers us to better understand the motivational factors in play.
However, if a corporation or a PAC makes a donation and you've never heard of them, how do you know what their interests are and where their actual money comes from? The easy answer is, you don't. Utah citizens deserve better.
Campaign Finance Reporting by Corporations, HB43, requires corporations (including nonprofits) that choose to get involved in the political process to disclose who their donors are and how much they donated. It also requires these corporations to notify potential donors that their donations may be used to influence the outcome of an election.
The purpose of this bill is to bring uniformity to the disclosure process and prevent corporations from shielding donors. In some circumstances, shell corporations are set up by individuals to funnel millions of dollars into the political process with the intent of influencing the outcome of a local election. Utah's citizens deserve to know who is seeking to influence their vote and why.
Utah's citizens deserve a government that conducts the business of the people in openness and with full disclosure. I sincerely believe that when it comes to campaign contributions, Utah's citizens would be better served with a name or organization attached to a dollar amount. Knowing the "who" and not only the "how much" is the only and true way to provide transparency and accountability.
I feel certain that if HB43 becomes law, the quantity of these "behind the scenes" donations will be curtailed significantly. Anyone tempted to take any donation, regardless of the amount, will know that the public will have full disclosure.
This campaign finance reform will deliver real results, rather than creating "feel good" limits which have proven to be ineffective. This is the way that we bring donations out into the sunshine of the light of day.
Steve Handy is representative of Utah House District 16.
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