Flagged Bill: HB 237 – Campaign Contribution Limits, Rep. Powell

Rep Kraig Powell (Republican - Heber City)
Rep Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber City)

The issue of limiting campaign contributions is a contentious one in Utah politics. Historically, lawmakers (in particular conservative lawmakers), have argued that money is an expression of speech and, by extension, campaign contributions are an expression of speech. By this logic, then, to limit campaign contributions is to be in violation of an individual’s First Amendment rights.

On the flip side of this argument, moderates and liberals have been saying for years that money has too much influence in politics. While few would argue that the $25, $50, or $100 contribution is a true grab for influence and power over a policymaker, there has been recent discussion that high figure donations such as $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 donations do have an influence of the decisions a lawmaker makes and, ultimately, may not be in the interest of the people.

This point of view, however is in the minority on Capitol Hill. As a sort of compromise, Utah policy states that candidates can bring in unlimited funds so long as they report where the funds come from – the idea being that a member of the public or the media could access someone’s financial records and make it an issue. The voters, ultimately, would decide if a lawmaker was representing them or a special interest.

Representative Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber City) appears to think that some limits are required in order maintain balance in the system. HB 237 – Campaign Contribution Limits. Quite simply, under Powell’s proposal, a $9,999 cap would be placed on individual campaign contributions for candidates running for statewide, legislative, school board, or judgeship positions.

Donate $10,000 and you have violated campaign fiance law, and your punishment will be… well, the bill doesn’t say. Powell’s bill simply has no teeth behind the requirement that donations be capped.

This legislation is actually a watered down version of HB 174 Powell ran in 2013. That bill, which also required the lieutenant governor to maintain a database of individual donors, organizations, and lobbyists, had no traction, failing to even receive a committee hearing. Presumably Powell hopes to advance HB 237 further along in the process.

Opponents have complained that the cap is an arbitrary number that loses context as inflation sets in; transparency and reporting is key to ensuring that candidates and their supporters stay above board. Supporters insist that reporting isn’t enough and that laws pertaining to campaign spending are too loose to ensure that contributions only go toward campaign spending – opening up the potential for corruption.

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

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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