This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In its last meeting of the year, the Salt Lake City Council followed through on its campaign-finance-reform pledge by slashing contribution limits.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the council cut maximum contributions to a mayoral candidate from $7,500 to $3,500. It also reduced maximum donations to council candidates from $1,500 to $750. Those limits apply to individuals, corporations, nonprofits and unions.
The caps apply only to Salt Lake City. Utah state law contains no limits on campaign contributions.
Tuesday was the last meeting for council members Luke Garrott and Kyle LaMalfa, who will leave office Jan. 4. Garrott has long been an advocate for reducing money in politics.
In the runup to the Nov. 3 election, Mayor Ralph Becker spent $863,439, while challenger Jackie Biskupski spent $536,420. That's a total of $1,399,859.
Earlier this fall, the grass-roots organization Move to Amend approached the council with a proposal to limit personal contributions to $500 in mayoral and council races. Corporate donations would be banned, according to the proposal.
Move to Amend Utah is one of 61 chapters of a national movement that wants to undo the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. That opinion opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate money and union spending on federal and state political campaigns.
Although the City Council had discussed banning campaign contributions from corporations and groups, like unions, Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall convinced the council Tuesday that corporate money would continue to flow into political campaigns through PACs (political action committees) and super PACs.
"My fear is that if we ban corporate contributions, they will give to PACs and we will lose transparency," she said.
Presently, a PAC can contribute to Salt Lake City candidates up to the maximum contribution level. Such contributions must be reported. However, PACs and super PACS can spend without limit if those efforts are not in concert with a candidate's campaign.
This year, a PAC affiliated with Reagan Outdoor Advertising purchased numerous billboards for Jackie Biskupski, who won the mayoral election, independent of her campaign. The billboards and PACs became a campaign issue.
The council has yet to make law regarding PACs and super PACs. It did, however, ban contributions from individuals or companies doing business with City Hall.
In a separate matter under the heading of campaign reform, the council rejected a move to fund the transition of Mayor-elect Biskupski, but it will allow the financing for all mayors-elect to follow.
Garrott and LaMalfa championed the measure that would fund 50 percent of the salaries of the mayor-elect and two staffers. They argued that an incoming mayor is doing the work of the city and should be paid for it.
Councilwoman Lisa Adams, however, said a candidate seeking the mayor's office should be financially prepared for a transition, as past Salt Lake City mayors have done. Further, Adams said such a measure should not include Biskupski because she has "already been taken care of" and has set up an office in a building owned by "a big developer."
The argument convinced LaMalfa to change his vote, and Stan Penfold also reversed his previous position.
Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas said although she would have preferred to set up her transition office in City Hall, she was not allowed any space there until Nov. 17 the official canvass after the Nov. 3 election.
Biskupski set up her transition office in space donated by Price Realty. Former Ambassador John Price, family members and affiliated businesses were Becker's largest contributor, donating close to $40,000.
Further, Rojas said, the council's new transition ordinance does not stop mayors-elect or council members-elect from continuing fundraising after an election. Biskupski's activities, he said, fall well within the city's conflict-of-interest rules.