Bill Would Require Political Candidates to Disclose Criminal and Financial Information

A Utah County Commission candidate who didn’t tell voters he had a bankruptcy in his background “was the straw that broke the camel’s back” for state Rep. David Lifferth.

Greg Graves won a Utah County commission seat last November despite a bitter write-in campaign by Bill Freeze, a fellow Republican.

After Graves won the Republican Party’s nomination, news came out about his previous two personal bankruptcies – news some Utah County Republicans wanted to know about before Graves won his party’s nomination in the county convention – beating a sitting county commissioner.

That news led to Freeze’s running a write-in campaign – which saw Freeze get the most write-in ballots ever counted in Utah County.

So clearly there was some GOP voters’ dissatisfaction with Graves – but nothing could be done about it after Graves won the Republican nomination.

So, Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, has filed HB100 – which says when a candidate files for office he has to disclose various criminal and financial histories.

“I have nothing against” Graves, said Lifferth.

But the representative does believe that citizens and voters should know some relevant facts about a candidate – especially before he goes before party convention delegates and/or primary voters to win his party’s nomination.

You can read HB100 here.

Utah is overwhelmingly Republican, and in many areas of the state – like Utah County – having an “R” after your name on the ballot means you win.

Utah County has not elected a Democrat to any county or state office in years.

HB100 says at the candidate filing deadline, all candidates have to list whether they have ever been charged with, or convicted of, a felony or a Class A or B misdemeanor – and give specifics of the charges and outcomes.

Also, if the candidate has ever had a protective order issued against him or her or whether they have filed for bankruptcy.

If the person has had his criminal record expunged, then that information is not to be listed.

Lifferth said not only is it important that voters know this information about a candidate, but by making such information public – as part of a candidate’s filing process – it will stop “negative campaigning” later by opponents of the candidate.

And, Lifferth hopes, such publicity early on may mean the candidate’s past won’t be part of the campaign.

The filings are public information and must appear on the county clerk’s or State Election Office web sites.

If a candidate fails to file such information – and it is found out later, perhaps as part of the campaign – then the candidate can be fined $100 and the fine and the reason for it is to be public on the clerk’s or state office web site.

Of course, not said by Lifferth, is that when a possible candidate learns his criminal or financial history must be disclosed, he may not file in the first place.

And so there would be a natural weeding out process.

Utah law doesn’t allow, except in several specific cases, for a candidate to get out of a race after he’s become a party nominee and replaced on the ballot.

He can quit campaigning, but the party can’t replace him or her on the ballot.

The current candidate removal method was adopted years ago after some parties started running “shadow” candidates – one of whom would win the nomination, then get out of the race and party delegates would pick the real person that was wanted all along – giving an unfair advantage to that candidate who didn’t have to campaign or be publicly examined by the media and citizens for as long as the other party’s candidate.

In 1990, the two GOP candidates on the 3rd Congressional District primary ballot ran one of the most negative, accusatory campaigns seen in the state.

Both sides actually hired private investigators to look into the past of the other candidate, chewing each other up.

If in place, some of the information that came out in that negative primary race could have been disclosed at the time of candidate filing (some failed business dealings) – or perhaps one or both of the candidates wouldn’t have gotten into the race in the first place.

“I think we can stop some negative campaigning” through his bill, said Lifferth.