More and more, Utah legislators are starting their own personal political action committees, a move that could allow candidates and officeholders to report their political financial activity less frequently.
Take Rep. Carl Wimmer, for example.
Wimmer, R-Herriman, has quietly been criticized by some of his fellow legislators for starting the Friends of Carl Wimmer PAC, and using that PAC rather than his personal campaign account to run his District 52 re-election.
He also uses his PAC to advocate for the Patrick Henry Caucus, a conservative state’s rights group he heads that also has its own PAC.
The advantage of a PAC over using a personal campaign account?
Fewer reports must be filed.
PACs are only required to file three times a year: Jan. 10, Aug. 31 and seven days before the November general election.
Candidates or stare officeholders must file: 30 days after cashing a campaign contribution check, seven days before their party convention, seven days before the June primary, Aug. 31, seven days before the November general election and at year’s end.
That’s three filings for a PAC compared to at least five filings for a personal campaign account – and probably many more if the candidate is frequently cashing personal campaign account contribution checks.
Through recent open government reforms, lawmakers have decreed that candidate campaign accounts must report contributions and expenditures in more timely public disclosures.
But those requirements are not made on PACs.
Wimmer told UtahPolicy.com that he decided some time ago to form a PAC in part to not have to file contribution updates so often –- every time he would cash a contribution check -- a requirement of a personal campaign account.
“But it ended up taking up more time to handle a PAC and a personal campaign account. Now I’m filing two different reports (campaign and PAC) instead of just one (his PAC),” says Wimmer.
In addition, Wimmer decided, “for the sake of transparency,” to amend his PAC report online regularly – and thus show how he’s collecting and spending PAC funds more often than required by law. Wimmer updated his PAC report June 16, although by law he doesn’t have to file a new PAC report until Aug. 31.
Gov. Gary Herbert is doing much the same thing. While most of Herbert’s considerable fund raising is done through his PAC, not his personal campaign account, his re-election campaign is regularly updating his PAC contributions online.
While all this voluntary PAC contribution listing is good, not only politically for the candidates, but for citizens who can see where these powerful state politicians are getting their money, it does not necessarily give their political opponents a heads up on internal campaign practices.
For example, if a candidate only lists his contributions in PAC updates, that doesn’t let his challengers to see where he is spending his PAC money – a tactical advantage the candidate may want to keep out of the public’s eye.
Is he buying TV and radio time? Is he paying for polling or mailings? Is he hiring influential politicos to provide campaign consulting?
In the regularly required campaign accounts, those items must be revealed.
But in the three required PAC reports each year – only two before the November election -- months may go by without seeing such expenditure details.
(Another example: The Patrick Henry Caucus PAC has spent money backing several challengers to incumbent moderate GOP House members. But that PAC has not yet filed a report for 2010, as the law allows. You can find those contributions on individual candidates’ reports, but you have to search all candidates or know which candidates The Patrick Henry Caucus supported in the first place.)
Finally, while not the responsibility of the PAC/candidate user, there can be built in advantages of forming a PAC rather than use a personal campaign account.
You have to know the name of a candidate’s or incumbent’s PAC in order to look it up on the lieutenant governor’s web site.
For example, Wimmer’s PAC is called Friends of Carl Wimmer.
You can find Wimmer’s personal campaign account fairly easily with the Utah Elections Office search engine.
But if you search PAC names for “Carl” or “Wimmer,” his personal PAC doesn’t come up. You have to know the whole PAC name or search under “friends” to find it.
While that isn’t a fault of Wimmer himself – it’s how the state site operates -- it would allow a candidate or incumbent to give his PAC a name that is not clearly associate with him – something like Utahns for Good Government – and the casual observer may not be able to find a PAC operated by a candidate or officeholder.
Frequent voluntary financial updates to a PAC mean little if one can’t find it on the state web site to read it.