Utah legislators who broke contribution ban won't be punished

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The lieutenant governor's office has declined to take action against a group of lawmakers that violated a ban on campaign fundraising during the legislative session, cautioning the lawmakers to be more careful in the future.

"Our office has determined you did not willfully or knowingly violate [the law], therefore no fines or penalties will be levied against you, and we consider the review closed," Mark Thomas, chief deputy to the lieutenant governor, wrote in a letter Thursday.

A group of legislators formed the Thomas Paine Common Sense PAC last year, with the goal of pooling resources to hire a researcher to study the scores of bills that rushed across lawmakers' desks during the session.

But the legislators' contributions to the PAC violated a state law that bans contributions to legislators or PACs controlled by legislators during the legislative session. Donors who violate the prohibition could be charged with a class A misdemeanor.

Ten lawmakers gave $1,975 to the Thomas Paine Common Sense PAC during the session, according to the committee's report.

The lieutenant governor's office reviewed the contributions and determined that the legislators who gave money to hire the researcher didn't realize the money would be considered a contribution to a PAC. And, Thomas wrote, the law prohibits campaign contributions, but none of the money was spent on campaign expenses.

The officers of the PAC — Reps. Derek Brown and Jim Nielson, and former Rep. David Butterfield — dissolved the committee on April 11.

"Ultimately, I think it was exactly what we expected," said Brown. "Everyone who made the contributions did it to hire a research assistant, and the lieutenant governor's office recognized that."

The group committed the same violation in 2012, but it was not caught by the lieutenant governor's office at the time.