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An independent candidate for lieutenant governor asked the Utah Supreme Court on Monday to declare that candidates can't use a political action committee and a personal campaign account.
Steve Maxfield also wants the court to order the lieutenant governor to forward a previously filed complaint against Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to the Utah state attorney general's office to have a special counsel appointed to investigate whether he broke any campaign finance laws. Maxfield has also filed a similar complaint against Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
At issue in the petition filed with the court and the complaints filed with the lieutenant governor's office is a line in state law that says state office candidates and those who work on their behalf can only raise money and make expenditures for their elections through their campaign committees.
But state law also allows political action committees to raise and spend money for "political purposes," which is defined as the attempt to influence voters for or against candidates for public office.
Herbert uses a political action committee and a personal campaign account, which Maxfield contends is illegal.
In Utah, it's not uncommon for political candidates and officeholders to use political action committees rather than traditional officeholder or campaign accounts. PACs have much less frequent reporting requirements than traditional campaign accounts.
"These reports are the only means for voters to know who is giving money to candidates and in what amounts, and it is only through these reports that voters can know the extent to which a candidate may be beholden to special interests prior to voting," Maxfield wrote in his petition.
"By running campaigns through PACs, candidates can get through the critical convention and primary election cycles without ever having to file a disclosure report, which is unfair, illegal, and a disservice to voters."
Transferring money from a PAC to a personal campaign account also makes it much more difficult for the public to track who is donating to a campaign.
Elections Director Mark Thomas said the lieutenant governor's office is still reviewing Maxfield's original complaints and the petition filed Monday.
Thomas said it was unclear when a determination on how to proceed with the complaints could be made.
"Maxfield did ask for our office to recuse ourselves and so we're looking at the law, at the complaint, what our options are and so forth," Thomas said. "We just have to review it. It's hard to put any sort of timeline on it."