Utahns For Ethical Government - the group that blasted Republican Karl Snow for supposedly being unethical - may have been unethical itself by violating federal election laws, Rep. Howard C. Nielson, R-Utah, charged Tuesday.

Nielson said Utahns For Ethical Government and a second group, Republicans For Orton, failed to report independent expenditures they made during the final weeks of the 3rd District congressional race."They did not register" with the Federal Election Commission, Nielson said. He also claimed they put $50,000 to $60,000 into what he termed an illegal cam

paign, "and I think that is very bad."

Republicans For Orton, which formed Oct. 19, did not spend more than $1,000 and therefore does not have to file as a Political Action Committee, according to Rose Higa, secretary for the group. Higa will report the group's expenditure of $755 as an in-kind donation with Democrat Bill Orton's final Federal Election Commission report, which is allowed by the commission.

Utahns For Ethical Government, which spent at least $4,000, has not registered as a political action committee, nor filed forms disclosing "last-minute" spending, commission spokesman Scott Moxley said Wednesday in Washington.

Moxley said a group must register as a PAC once it raises or spends $1,000 to influence a federal election. Filing registration forms must occur within 10 days of spending or raising that $1,000.

Also, groups must report any "last-minute" spending on campaigns occurring two to 20 days before an election to the commission within 24 hours of the spending. There is no cost for registering a committee or filing expenditure reports.

Scott Norton, spokesman for Utahns For Ethical Government, does not believe his group is a PAC.

"We've not filed a thing," he said. "We are just a citizens group. We are a good-government group; we are not a political action committee. As a good-government group we have the right to publicize our findings. It is a basic free speech issue here - as long as we don't endorse one candidate and we did not."

The group, which formed in mid-October, urged residents not to vote for Republican Karl Snow in radio ads, several full-page newspaper ads and a four-page tabloid inserted in community newspapers in Utah County.

According to the Federal Election Commission, individuals or groups may exercise their right of free speech in federal elections, but if they spend $1,000 or more doing so, they have to report their expenditures.

Moxley said the maximum penalty the commission can impose for inadvertent failure to file required registrations and disclosure forms is $5,000 or 100 percent of the amount of money involved, whichever is greater.

He added that if the commission finds that such a violation was committed knowingly and willfully, the penalty could be up to $10,000 or 200 percent of the amount of money involved, whichever is greater.

Anyone can file a complaint with the commission about election violations; complaints take seven to eight months to investigate, Moxley said.