Campaign gifts
It's time to set limits in Utah
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Peter Corroon first tried to forge a link between contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert's campaign and the awarding of state contracts, we noted that Utah wouldn't be having this discussion if it had limits on campaign donations. It is past time for the Beehive State to put caps on donations and, with them, on the political influence that money can buy.

One might argue in opposition to this proposal that, having established what politicians are, all that donation limits do is set the price. But proportionality applies. A candidate for statewide office is going to feel less beholden to a donor who gives him $5,000 than to one who gives him $87,500. If a candidate has to raise money from more sources, he will be less in the pocket of any single giver.

Politicians who claim that they are not influenced by campaign contributions are not being honest with themselves. It is basic human nature to feel an obligation to someone who gives you a gift. Donors know that, which is why they contribute.

Today, Utah is one of a handful of states with no contribution limits. A single financial backer — an individual, corporation or labor union — could fund an entire campaign without violating the state's election laws.

Candidates who argue for the status quo say that it enables someone of modest means to compete against a wealthy office-seeker or incumbent. While there is some truth in that, there can and should be a middle ground between the funding free-for-all that Utah has now and limits that are so low that they would enable only the well-heeled to run for statewide office.

So where does that middle ground lie? 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.

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.

A $10,000 limit for statewide races and a $5,000 cap for legislative offices is reasonable.

Gov. Herbert has raised more than $2.6 million so far, about half from donations larger than $10,000. Corroon has raised more than $2 million, and he also has accepted contributions larger than $10,000. Corroon proposed a $10,000 voluntary limit, but Herbert refused.

Politicians aren't going to limit themselves. It's time to draw the line in law.