Flagged Bill: HB 39 – Election Law – Independent Expenditures Amendments, Rep. Sagers

Representative Douglas Sagers - Image Credit: Project Vote Smart
Representative Douglas Sagers (Republican – Tooele) – Image Credit: Project Vote Smart

Utah’s campaign finance laws are sparse compared to just about every other state in the nation. The working policy of the state has generally been that campaign contributions and spending should be unlimited so long as whomever is doing the spending is reporting the expenditures to the public.

Traditionally, campaign fundraising and spending has been confined to the campaigns themselves – candidates would go out asking for support and then use funds raised (along with any money they wish to spend themselves) to purchase things such as campaign literature or food to feed volunteers.

However, a recent trend has emerged in campaigns, both nationally and locally: individuals and organizations are coming out for or against candidates or issues without involving themselves in a formal campaign.  For example, in April of this year, Mia Love was featured in a campaign flyer asking people to contribute up to $5,000 to a campaign fund that implied that it would support Love’s campaign. However the flyer was clearly not from the Love campaign as it featured a photo of someone other than Love on the front and an address in California.

Since 2010, these types of campaign activities have been on the rise due to the FEC vs. Citizens United case in the Supreme Court that allowed unlimited campaign spending from outside of official campaign structures. The Court ruled that money is equal to speech and could not be restricted.

With HB 39 – Election Law – Independent Expenditures Amendments, Representative Doug Sagers (Republican – Tooele), Sagers isn’t so much restricting campaign expenditures from outside sources as he is requiring that individuals or organization’s report when they spend a total of $1,000 or more on any particular campaign.

The bill makes it clear that people or organizations must report expenses even if the campaign is unaware of the campaign activities. It also requires reporting if independent campaigning takes place against a person or political issue campaign, again, so long as more than $1,000 in total spending takes place.

There is a specific carve out for political parties under Sagers’ bill, primarily because other laws apply to political parties.

The fines under Sagers’ bill could add up quickly. If an individual fails to report their spending within two days of reaching the $1,000 threshold in a given election cycle, they will be hit with a $100 fine. Organizations are hit with a $1,000 fine for a failure to report within two days.

The fate of this bill is unclear. Lawmakers tend to shy away from any campaign finance laws, however they are also easily angered by anonymous campaigns against them. From a First Amendment standpoint, the bill does not appear to restrict speech, just requires that those wishing to engage in the political process disclose that they are doing so – bringing them in line with other campaign finance bills.

 To contact Representative Sagers, click here or call 435-882-0931.

Impact on Average Utahn:

High Impact   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   No Impact

Need for Legislation:

Necessary   5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0   Unnecessary

Lemon Score:

Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker

You can track this, and all of our other flagged bills, by clicking here. Need an explanation of scores? Click Here.

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