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Follow the money

Published January 18, 2011 1:01 am

Fix law on county party finances
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's important for voters to know who is paying for political campaigns. In the case of county political parties in Utah, however, that has been impossible because the law that requires the parties to file financial reports is defective. Fortunately, that is about to change.

Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, has filed a bill in the upcoming Legislature to fix the problem. HB32 would require county political parties that receive contributions of at least $750, or spend at least $50, to file reports. One would be an annual summary due in January. Others would be interim reports due a week before the county convention, a week before a regular primary election, a week before a general election and on Aug. 31.

The finances of county political parties may seem like small potatoes. But Salt Lake County, to cite just one example, has the second-largest government budget in the state, and its officials who are elected at-large represent more people than a member of Congress.

In politics, money talks. Campaign contributions pay for everything from conventions to consultants to yard signs. The people who fork over that money have influence with candidates and party officials. If party finances are a black hole, they are open to abuse, especially in a state where there are few limits on contributions. So voters should be able to keep an eye on the money, and where and to whom it flows.

When The Tribune reported earlier this year that few county parties filed financial reports with the lieutenant governor — the state's chief election official — a controversy arose over whether the state law actually required the reports. Some arithmetic in the law made the matter dubious.

Grover's bill, which was recommended by a legislative committee on government operations and political subdivisions, should eliminate the ambiguity. That's a good thing, because without required reports there can be no transparency in campaign finance, and money could be laundered through county parties.

The next job, of course, would be to create contribution limits, at least for candidates for state offices that are filled by statewide elections. Utah is one of the few states that has no contribution limits for donors to these campaigns, which can lead to suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that major contributors are buying political favors or state contracts. That issue arose during Gary Herbert's campaign for governor.

Restrict the size of individual donations, and place limits on bundles of donations from related donors, and that problem would be reduced, and with it, the comparative influence of any one benefactor.




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