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Published May 14, 2011 1:01 am

Utah should set limits
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Utahns get the best government money can buy. That's because the Beehive State, through its Legislature, places no limits on campaign contributions. People and organizations who wish to influence politicians by bankrolling their campaigns can give as much as they desire.

The Tribune reported last week that donors gave $23.6 million to Utah political candidates in the 2010 election cycle. Not surprisingly, special interests were the top givers.

Leading the list was the Utah Association of Realtors, which kicked in $504,207. Second was the Utah Bankers Association, $472,561. Third was EnergySolutions, the outfit that buries nuclear and hazardous waste in Tooele County, at $282,400. Rounding out the Top 10 were the Utah Medical Association, Utah League of Credit Unions, Merit Medical Systems, APX Alarm Security Solutions, Reagan Outdoor Advertising, the AFL-CIO (organized labor) and Utah Consumer Lending (payday lenders).

Utah legislators often are offended by the suggestion that campaign contributions are bribes. They insist that they are able to separate donations from policy decisions, although the more candid among them concede that contributors do get ready access to politicians. That amounts to a tacit acknowledgment of human nature. A gift creates a sense of obligation in the person who receives it. That's why donors get their phone calls returned. Politicians who claim that campaign donations don't affect their decisions are not being honest with themselves or their constituents.

Clearly, campaign contributions should be limited. The Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy recommended a $10,000 cap for statewide races and $5,000 for House and Senate races. The limits would apply to individual, corporate, union and political action committee donations.

A $10,000 cap on statewide races is a good starting point, but the $5,000 cap for House and Senate races is too high. Only 16 contributions to legislative candidates would have been prohibited by that limit during the last election cycle. The initiative petition sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government would limit individual contributions to candidates for the Legislature to $2,500 per election cycle. Political action committees would be limited to $5,000. Those limits are closer to the mark.

In this era of the Internet, technology should allow candidates to raise adequate funds for campaigns through smaller donations. Broadening the fund-raising base would strengthen democracy and reduce the influence of special interests.




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