Several bills designed to prevent election shenanigans including one to close a huge loophole in disclosing campaign donors were endorsed Wednesday by the Legislature's Government Operations Interim Committee.
That included unanimous passage of a bill by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, to require corporations that spend $750 or more to influence elections to reveal any donors. That is not currently required. Under current law, individual donors may escape disclosure in state races by quietly donating to corporations, which may in turn donate to others or buy ads themselves.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said that in Utah, many non-profit corporations "have been created with no other purpose than to run money through them to obfuscate and hide donors."
Mark Thomas, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, called that "a hole in the law."
Hughes said disclosure is important because Utah has no limits on campaign donations or spending. "I worry about a system where you don't have any limits, but you don't have transparency," he said.
Other bills endorsed by the committee to help prevent election mischief include:
• A bill by Hughes to require organizations conducting political surveys to identify who paid for the survey at the end of the questioning. Daw, who helped write the bill, said that aims at so-called push polls. "They are not really to assess an opinion, but to push people toward an opinion by statements that may not be accurate," he said.
Daw, who was defeated in this year's primary, said a lot of push polling occurred in his race "but not a dime of it was disclosed," nor did surveys themselves say who funded them.
• A bill by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, to spell out what campaigns may do if they receive larger-than-allowed anonymous donations. Current law is silent on that. The bill would allow giving the money to a nonprofit charity or to state or local government general funds. The bill also would raise the current limit for accepting anonymous donations from $50 to $100.
• A bill by the committee's staff to require voters to fill out their own absentee voting applications and ballots unless they are hospitalized or unable to read or write. That replaces earlier proposals to regulate groups that operate drives for absentee voting, which sometimes caused problems by not submitting applications in a timely manner or by writing in some erroneous information in advance.
The committee also heard a proposal by Hughes and Daw to require political consultants to register with the state, and publicly disclose their clients. Daw said their bill is in an early form, not yet ready for passage.
He said he is trying to prevent a practice of third parties paying for managers or workers for candidates. He envisions disclosures that would say what campaigns such consultants are working on, and what sort of work they are doing.