Strong ethical principles are vital to effective representative government. Unfortunately, national and local headlines make clear: government ethics is a significant problem. Many policy makers are devoted to ethical process, but too often money appears to be more influential than sound reasoning.
In Utah we need genuine campaign finance reform. In the wake of the allegations of poor judgment and unethical behavior by Attorney General John Swallow, Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright indicated his support for campaign finance reform. Governor Herbert has indicated support for some kind of ethics legislation governing the executive branch. We must be sure the legislature makes it happen.
Swallow raised well over a million dollars for his campaign, nearly $300,000 of which was funneled to him from moneys given to his predecessor by the indicted Jeremy Johnson, and another $250,000 of which was funneled through a PAC in Washington, DC, whose donors were undisclosed.
Special interest money constitutes the vast majority of campaign contributions to legislative and elected officials, and in some situations, the donors cannot be traced.
Incumbents can raise far more than challengers. No matter how much legislators may say that large contributions don’t influence them, money on this scale would not be given if it were not thought to buy access and influence.
Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., before he left office as Governor of Utah, created the “Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy.”
The bipartisan Commission unanimously recommended campaign finance caps, but the Legislature has taken no action on the recommendations. A few bills are percolating in the current session because some wise legislators favor reasonable caps on contributions. I am aware of two billsСone to be sponsored by a Republican, one by a DemocratСthat may be filed soon. We, the people, must turn that minority of legislators into a majority.
The caps recommended by the “Strengthening Democracy” Commission per candidate include: $10,000 for statewide races and $5,000 for legislative races from individuals, corporations, unions, and PACS. The recommendations also include a $1000 contribution cap from major state vendors (those bidding for contracts worth $100,000 or more).
Such a cap would have prevented the perception and allegation that UDOT gave a contract to the bidder who had contributed the most ($87,500) to Herbert’s special-election campaign. You may recall that DOT then had to pay the low bidder $13 million to settle its legal suit against UDOT
I urge Davis County citizens to contact your legislators to stress your support for campaign contribution limits that follow the Commission recommendations. They are reasonable, and will provide for more than enough money to allow campaigns to be conducted with integrity and the ability to reach the electorate.
Now is the time for the public to speak up. If you believe improved ethical process would result in better decisions, I encourage you to act now.