Ah, campaign finance laws – one of the most loophole-ridden, inconsistent, and often times purposefully ineffective portion of any state’s laws. Indeed, the best way to ensure that any changes take place is when a group does a bang-up job upsetting the legislature – and that is exactly what we saw when Representative Lee Perry (Republican – Perry) introduced what would become HB 34: Campaign Finance Amendments during the first interim session after the 2018 election.
During testimony, Perry (along with Box Elder County Commissioner Jeff Scott) pointed to various political action committees that seemingly sprung up overnight, took in several thousands of dollars in donations from just one or two sources, and began advocating against positions supported by policymakers. Perry would go on to state that these PAC’s were “just not above board” and that his proposed legislation came about because, after speaking to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Perry discovered that current laws regarding PAC reporting “have no teeth.”
And Perry is right. Thanks to quirks in the reporting process, a PAC can set up shop and incorporate 30 days before an election, take its first donation on the 29th day, and not have to report its funding until 7 days before the election. In the meantime, the PAC could have done plenty of legwork in creating websites and mailers, printing signs, and preparing its message – simply telling suppliers that “the money is coming” as they mount a
This policy recognizes that how we vote has changed, particularly in regards to mail-in ballots. PACs are able to advocate directly to voters while they have ballots in their hands, and no one knows where the funding is coming from. By requiring funding to be reported sooner, voters and opponents will have a better shot at forming a complete picture of why groups are saying what they are saying. And, to that end, HB 34 is a solid piece of legislation.
However, HB 34 does nothing to address the overall cynicism related to the way we currently finance our elections. There is simply no way to effectively campaign without money, but there are ways to help protect campaigns from the influence of one particular donor. Campaign finance limits or public funding would go much further than reporting and fines ever will in ensuring that voters receive fair and well-rounded opinions when voting. These options, unsurprisingly, are unpopular among politicians who have benefited from the current financing structure.
It is not so much that HB 34 is a bad piece of legislation under the current system, it is that that it does nothing to realign the overarching issues that affect our democracy.
To contact Representative Perry, Click Here or call 435-225-0430
Impact on the Average Utahn – 1 | Need for Legislation – 3 | Lemon Score – 0
Overall Grade – B