Second in a series
Gov. Gary Herbert's political fundraising, which relies heavily on major contributions from energy and real estate companies, is the poster child for why this nation and this state need a constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance. Such an amendment should create public funding for campaigns and limit private contributions so as to eliminate possible corruption through large campaign donations by special interests.
Of the $1.5 million Herbert has raised, some $441,000 has come from oil, gas, coal and real estate interests, which leads reasonable voters to wonder how that affects his energy and public lands policies. The current presidential and congressional races, which are heavily influenced by super PACs (political action committees) that funnel unlimited donations by corporations and wealthy individuals to independent ads, may be even worse. But the Herbert campaign is a good example of why a constitutional amendment to reform campaign finances for federal offices should extend to states and cities. Herbert doesn't need a super PAC because Utah has no limits absolutely none on campaign donations by anyone.
As we argued in yesterday's editorial, we like a draft constitutional amendment put forward by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig. It would provide public funding for campaigns for federal offices and limit private contributions to candidates to $100. It would give Congress the power to limit, but not ban, independent political expenditures within 90 days of an election, and it would provide that the First Amendment could not be construed as "to vest in any non-natural person [corporations] any unalienable constitutional rights." It also would extend these same powers to states and cities to regulate their elections.
Of course, Utah could provide public funding for elections to state office without a constitutional amendment. Arizona is one of a handful of states that has pioneered this road. It provides public funds to candidates for state offices who first raise a minimal number of $5 contributions and collect a specified number of petition signatures. Once they accept public funds, candidates agree not to accept contributions from private sources. Originally, the law also provided that if publicly financed candidates were being outspent by an opponent using private funds, the publicly funded candidate could get additional matching funds, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that part of the law last year.
It's time to wean public officials from the milk of special interest money. It's time for a constitutional amendment.
Tomorrow: Constitutional convention