Deciding how to best reform campaign financing is a difficult political task - which is why a campaign finance reform bill has yet to pass. We have repeatedly said that reform just for the sake of reform is not wise.
The best way to deal with the problem is through full disclosure. And there should be severe penalties for any violation. A full disclosure provision would allow voters to see the origin of every cent a candidate receives.For example, in last Sunday's edition of the Deseret News, Washington correspondent Lee Davidson reported that outsiders provided 71 percent of all donated money Utah congressional candidates received so far in the 1997-98 cycle. Representatives from both parties explained this by saying Utah has long had a reputation as a tough place to raise money compared to other states.
Current disclosure laws show that Democrat Lily Eskelsen, opposing incumbent Merrill Cook in Utah's 2nd District congressional race, had $223,246, or 86 percent of her $259,896 campaign chest, donated from outside the state of Utah. Seventy-three percent, or $205,480, of Cook's $281,175 campaign total came from outside Utah. The donations are from individuals and political action committees (PACs).
Whether that state vs. out-of-state donation ratio is good or bad is up to the voters to decide, as it should be.
Trying to place tight limits on individual and other donations is fraught with peril. While it seems like a simple and straightforward solution to the the problem of campaign finance abuse, it's not. That's because there will always be complexities and loopholes in the various House and Senate proposals that allow those on both the political left and right to exploit them.
Which is why a suggestion made by Utah Sen. Bob Bennett last year merits serious consideration. The senator supports any organization, group or person being allowed to donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. But there must be full disclosure.
That way, the donors and the amounts they give would be readily accessible via the Internet and by other means. The jury of public opinion would hold candidates accountable for amounts received and could track subsequent votes on measures affecting those contributors.
Campaign finance reform is a topic that needs to be seriously addressed by both parties. Whatever the ultimate solution, it must include full disclosure.