Remember the children's song, "This is the song that never ends. . . ."?
OK, all together now, "This is the Salt Lake municipal campaign finance reform that never ends. . . ."Hmmm - doesn't quite have the same ring, but you get the idea. After 18 months of deliberation, task forces, legal review, amendments, revisions and public comment, the Salt Lake City Council is still working on an ordinance limiting city election campaign donations and expenditures.
"I would love to get this monkey off our back," said council Chairman Bryce Jolley.
The council considered the proposed ordinance yet again this week, and yet again put off any action. The three new council members - Carlton Christensen, Roger Thompson and Tom Rogan, especially Rogan - want more time to study it out and decide if they can live with it.
In its current form, the proposed ordinance would limit individual campaign contributions to $1,000 for City Council candidates and $5,000 for mayoral candidates. Violate it and you're socked with a $500 fine.
The ordinance would also limit total campaign spending to $10,000 for City Council candidates, $260,000 for mayoral candidates. The figures are an average of campaign spending since 1987 (adjusted for inflation). These limits would be voluntary since courts have held that mandatory limits on campaign spending violate free speech.
Candidates would be asked to accept or reject, in writing, a "campaign contract" with the city agreeing to the voluntary limits. However, if the candidate accepted the contract and an opponent later refused it, the former would have three weeks to back out of his own commitment.
The intent is to broaden the field of candidates, since campaigning has increasingly become a rich man's game. Christensen, however, said the ordinance as drafted may have the exact opposite effect because regular folks would be intimidated by all the required paperwork.
"If you make the limit too low and the restrictions too much, you may be discouraging these people," he said.
In any case, you won't have to worry about it for a while. The council won't consider the ordinance again until April 23 - or, maybe, July. If the council hopes to make the ordinance effective by the next municipal election cycle it will have to take action on the ordinance within the next few months, but at the glacial pace it has taken so far even that might be beyond the pale.
Stay tuned. But don't hold your breath.