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The Utah State Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to prohibit anonymous campaign contributions in excess of $50 and require anonymous donations over that amount to be donated to a nonprofit or charitable organization.
Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, sponsored HB38 with the intent of raising the cap on anonymous contributions to $100, but Sen. John Valentine objected and suggested the limit should be lowered to $25 to improve transparency.
"I can tell you one of the reasons we don't have abuse is because we have a $50 requirement," Valentine, R-Orem, said. "We're [discussing] doubling that. In the future, it leads to more potential for abuse. I think we're all about transparency. We have to live and die on what we disclose to the voters of the state."
He picked up an ally in Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who said the amounts were small in comparison to "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in other campaigns but said the Senate should adopt the lower limit as a symbolic gesture toward more open disclosure.
The measure originated with Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, and was passed with the $100 figure in place by the House in January on a vote of 64-7.
The Senate approved the $50 ceiling on anonymous donations 28-1. But not before a spirited debate on the floor that lasted for close to 30 minutes.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he had pored over hundreds of campaign reports to see where abuses might have occurred under the existing $50 prohibition and said he couldn't find any. He pointedly asked Valentine during the debate over a $25 limit if the Orem Republican could produce any examples of abuse.
Valentine said he couldn't, but believed the $25 requirement would move campaigns toward more transparency while $100 moved "in the wrong direction."
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, took issue with another aspect of the bill, saying that requiring an aggregate total equaling $25 could be onerous to track when at events where many people might give $5 at a time. She supported the final proposal keeping it at $50.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, a staunch supporter of raising the limit to $100, was the only senator to vote against the bill. Dayton said she felt the $100 offered donors protection notably those "who played both sides of the race."
The bill now goes back to the House with the amendments.