Democrat Jean Welch Hill says the campaign fundraising and spending practices of her opponent, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, are perfectly legal under Utah's loose rules. But she says many should be outlawed.
She proposed on Thursday campaign reform that would set limits of $10,000 on donations, which would have wiped out many huge contributions of up to $80,000 from individual corporations that Shurtleff accepted this cycle. Utah now has no donation limits at all.
And she wants to ban spending any campaign money for personal uses which Shurtleff has done to buy clothes, pay for dry cleaning, pay family members for campaign work and purchase electronic gadgets.
"In my experience, corporations generally get what they pay for. They certainly don't make such expenditures without expecting something in return," Hill said at a Capitol press conference. "People (also) donate to a campaign to help a candidate get elected, not to buy them clothes or improve their lifestyle."
In response, Shurtleff said big donors "get absolutely nothing" from him other than to support the job he has done. "There is not a single case you can point to of getting 'tit for tat.' Nothing. Go look for it."
Amid Hill's call for reform, the Deseret News evaluated Shurtleff's fundraising and spending during his current four-year term. Some of the more interesting findings include:
• Shurtleff accepted $222,500 from multilevel marketing firms, such as Pre-Paid Legal Services (which gave him $80,000), USANA ($71,000), Xango ($20,000), AGEL ($20,000), Nu Skin ($17,000) and others. Donations from such firms accounted for $1 of every $5 that Shurtleff raised in the four years.
Multilevel marketing is sometimes attacked as akin to a pyramid scheme and has attracted legal action in other states. For example, a Wyoming Attorney General investigation in 2001 led to fines for Pre-Paid Legal Services for its multilevel marketing system. The firm is the top corporate donor to Shurtleff this cycle.
• Shurtleff accepted $59,400 from "payday loan" companies in four years. The companies charge annual interest rates averaging 521 percent interest in Utah for short-term loans. Shurtleff has been a defender of the industry, saying the loans often are a better deal for the poor than bouncing checks or paying other late fees.
• In what can be tricky for a politician in Utah, Shurtleff accepted $21,000 from beer, wine and spirits companies, and $9,000 from tobacco companies.
• On the spending side, Shurtleff spent just under $4,000 on clothing from such stores as Mr. Mac, Men's Warehouse, Dillard's, Cabela's and A.A. Callister.
He spent $231 on dry cleaning. He spent $1,629 on parking at the airport. He spent just under $10,000 on gifts. He paid his wife at least $4,440 for work on his campaign. He spent $267 on some headphones from Brookstone. He spent $487 on a "kindle," a device to read books in electronic format, from Amazon.
• Shurtleff's campaign paid $2,0223 for damage to a motorcycle he borrowed from Timpanogos Harley-Davidson when he crashed and severely hurt his leg last year. Shurtleff said he had borrowed it to ride as attorney general in a ride to honor fallen officers. But he said he didn't think the state should pay for the damage, so he paid for it out of campaign funds.
• Shurtleff gave away 28 percent of what he raised over the four years. He gave more than $266,000 in donations to other politicians and political groups. His campaign gave nearly another $79,000 to charities.
Hill attacked some of that fundraising and spending, such as the money Shurtleff took from payday lenders.
"This industry is under intense scrutiny and will likely be the subject of legislative action during the next legislative session. During the Legislature's deliberative process, the Legislature's top attorney should be an independent adviser, not a payday lending shill," she said.
Hill also attacked the $31,500 that Shurtleff has taken from EnergySolutions since his last election.
"This is troubling because EnergySolutions is currently engaged in litigation against the state of Utah, and the state is currently seeking to intervene in the litigation. Under the ethical rules of the legal profession, an attorney who accepted money from an opposing party would be disbarred, but under current Utah election law, this obvious conflict is perfectly permissible," Hill said.
Shurtleff said, "Why is she attacking me for taking legal donations from legal companies in Utah that employ a lot of people and pay a lot of taxes? You should ask her what she is doing to make Utah safer, instead of helping her to attack me."
While not speaking specifically on the Shurtleff-Hill dispute, but on state government ethics in general, state Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, and House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, have said recently that some consideration of ethics legislation including maybe restricting the personal use of campaign funds is possible in the next legislative session.
Curtis, for example, previously told the newspaper, "In 14 years in the Legislature, I have never used campaign funds for personal use. And I have no problem" in limiting use of such money for personal spending.Of note, Shurtleff raised more than $1.2 million during the four years of his current term which is 25 times more than the $47,960 that Hill has raised to oppose him. Six different corporations or political action committees gave more by themselves to Shurtleff than Hill raised from all her contributors combined.
Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.