A political quiz: Who are Bruce Bastian, John Beck and Doug Holmes?
They are the top three individuals contributing to Utah legislative races so far this year. But Utah disclosure laws don't make it easy to know much about them beyond that, which is one reason a coalition of good-government groups gives Utah campaign disclosure laws an F.
"You have no disclosure of occupation and employer for contributors, no last-minute reporting of contributions," says Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.
His group, plus the UCLA Law School, the California Voter Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, created the Campaign Disclosure Project to rank disclosure laws in the 50 states. It says Utah's laws are 45th worst and rate an F.
One example of problems, it says, is Utah does not require disclosure of a donor's employer or occupation, as do most states and the federal government for federal races. Such information makes it easier to spot if workers for a company or an industry are banding together for or against some candidate.
But Bastian, for example, has only his Orem address listed in Utah disclosures, as the law requires. He gave the most of any individual or group to Legislature races so far this year: $21,000.
He is more than just an Orem resident. He is the retired co-founder of WordPerfect and a gay rights activist who has said in interviews he donates only to candidates who will support gay rights. He gave only to Democratic incumbents this year.
Beck was the No. 2 donor among individuals in legislative races, giving $5,000 to Democratic House candidate Boyd Petersen in Provo. Disclosure forms list just a post office box number in Phoenix for him.
A quick online search showed at least five John Becks living in Phoenix. The former BYU quarterback John Beck was from Mesa and is now with the Miami Dolphins.
But Petersen said the Beck who gave to him is not the quarterback and is in fact his own ex-brother-in-law. "He's a good friend with some extra money," he said. The $5,000 from him amounted to 61 percent of the total raised by Petersen.
Holmes gave $4,250 to Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi. Holmes' Farmington address is listed on disclosure forms. But he is also chairman and co-founder of Parents for Choice in Education, the force behind the failed movement to allow public-money vouchers for private schools. Madsen is on the board of Parents for Choice and is on the board of a charter school.
"Some people may recognize a (donor) name. But most won't," said Stern with the Center for Government Studies. "I think it is more important that the employer's name be listed than the donor's name. It can make such a difference."
Stern recalled that several years ago, reporters in Los Angeles noticed a widely divergent group of people such as cooks, laborers and gardeners each giving exactly $500 to a candidate. Reporters found that a developer who wanted to build a controversial hotel was passing out $500 cash to people and asking them to mail it to the candidate without revealing the money's source.
"It was a clear violation of campaign law, and the firm was fined $800,000," he said.
Stern said that by tracking the employers of donors, citizens often can see the real source of the flow of campaign cash and Utah's lacking such requirements is a real weakness.
For example, the No. 3 overall contributor so far this year to legislative races has been Parents for Choice in Education. It gave $12,248 to a total of 10 incumbents who supported the ill-fated attempt to provide vouchers to private schools.
But disclosure forms do not make it easy to see if employees or officers of private schools also donated money beyond what the group itself provided. Of course, Holmes, co-founder of the group, did with the $4,250 he gave to Madsen.
Also, EnergySolutions which operates a Utah dump for radioactive waste has donated $16,050 in corporate money to legislative candidates so far this year. That was No. 2 overall among all groups behind only Bastian, and it gave to 57 of the 79 incumbents in legislative races.
But disclosure laws do not make it easy to see if EnergySolutions employees and officers were donating more personally beyond what the corporation itself provided.
Among other weaknesses in Utah law, according to the Campaign Disclosure Project, is that "last-minute contributions and independent expenditures are not reported until after Election Day." In federal races, late donations must be disclosed within 48 hours of receipt.
The project also complained that electronic filing of disclosure forms is only voluntary in Utah. If candidates choose to file by paper forms, it delays disclosure. But Stern said while that is a weakness, at least the Utah Election Office is pushing online filings and since 75 percent of candidates are filing electronically, Utah officials should be applauded for that online compliance.
The project also lists what it sees as shortcomings with the lieutenant governor's Web site for campaign disclosure. It said search options are limited, and candidates' complete reports cannot be reviewed online.
The lieutenant governor's office is planning to install a new Web-based campaign reporting system in June. Officials say it will allow citizens to more easily download data, and search for various filings.
By next fall, officials say they hope the system will be updated so citizens can search across individual candidate filings to find, for example, who has given the most to candidates or groups of candidates.
Of note, the Deseret News last week also pointed out a new potentially large loophole in disclosure laws that could keep secret the identity of many campaign donors until after party conventions and primary elections.
It noticed that about 92 percent of the money for the campaign of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. this year came from his own political action committee, instead of donations directly to his campaign. While campaigns must disclose donors before conventions and primary elections, the disclosure calendar for PACs is different and they need not disclose donors until after those elections.After Deseret News questioning, Huntsman disclosed voluntarily who had given to his PAC this year but legally did not need to do so.