Last year, Representative Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber City) made waves when he proposed a suite of legislation related to campaigns and campaign finance. One such bill, HB 38, was designed to reduce the influence of anonymous campaign donations to political campaigns and political action committees. HB 38, according to Powell during the 2013 legislative, was specifically designed to close the loophole in state law allowing anonymous campaign contributions that have been left in an envelope on a desk and that simply say “good luck on the campaign.”
Currently, under Utah law, candidates can receive unlimited amounts of anonymous campaign contributions so long as they report the fact that the donation was from an unknown source and over $50. Powell, seeing the potential for abuse under this system, proposed that such anonymous campaign contributions be donated to a non-profit or into the state’s general fund. As part of his compromise, Powell also raised the minimum campaign contribution reporting requirement from $50 to $100.
“If we are going to encourage transparency…This is a pure transparency bill, there is no such thing as transparency when it’s anonymous. We can balance transparency with other considerations we might have, but if you want transparency, anonymity, in my view, is not transparency…We need to close this loophole.” Powell told the House Government Operations Committee during a hearing on HB 38.
Resistance was minor but focused on the idea that raising the limit may be unnecessary. Overall, the bill received strong support, passing the House by 64 to 7 and passing the Senate 28 to 1.
So, if the bill passed both the House and the Senate, why is it not law? The reason was because, in the Senate, the bill was amended to bring the reporting requirement back down to $50, maintaining the current status quo. Suddenly, the minor resistance to the amount change became a major issue, highlighting the occasional spats that take place between the House and the Senate.
Powell, wishing to save his bill, but also wanting to up the reporting requirement, proposed an amendment that ultimately set the reporting standing to $75 while all other aspects of the laws remain the same. By opening up the debate, however, House members apparently chose to send a message to the Senate using HB 38 as a sacrificial lamb and ultimately approved the amendment but voted down the overall bill. Powell was visibly dismayed by this, but there was nothing more he could do – after all, the very same body had approved a slightly less strict version of the bill just weeks prior.
Powell apparently learned his lesson from last year and is proposing HB 235 – Campaign Contributions Amendments. This years bill is nearly identical to HB 38, but with one notable exception: the reporting requirement is now set to $50.
Presumably, Powell has worked out any issues with legislators in both chambers and will be able to pass the reform he has been looking for.
To contact Representative Powell, Click Here or call 435-654-5986
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
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker