House Nixes Limits on Campaign Contributions

In a close vote, the Utah House killed a campaign donation limit bill on Tuesday morning, keeping Utah one of only four states that have no limits to donations to a candidate’s campaign.

HB60 was first amended to place donation limits to political issue committees – that would have harmed the fundraising of the Count My Vote citizen initiative of a year ago.

But even with that change, House Republicans still would not advance the bill sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake.

Even though a UtahPolicy poll, conducted earlier this year by Dan Jones & Associates, shows that 68 percent of Utahns want some campaign donation limits, House GOP members said the limits could actually harm the fight against “dark money” coming into campaigns.

“This bill does not cap “dark money,” said House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. “It can never be capped” because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision of two years ago.

But, countered King, just because “dark money” can come into a race via an independent group that legally raises and spends money opposing a candidate – but not coordinating that negative campaign with anyone else – is no reason not to do what most Utahns want, and an honest attempt to stop the “corruption” of huge money coming into a candidate’s campaign.

To get his bill out of a House committee, King increased the campaign donation limits from $5,000 per individual or group to $10,000 for a legislative race.

The limits on a statewide race, like the governor’s, went from $10,000 to $20,000.

It is true that few legislative races get a $10,000 donation – although the failed re-election of former Rep. Larry Wiley, D-Salt Lake, did get an out-of-state $10,000 donation in 2012.

But GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and former Gov. Mike Leavitt did get donations in excess of $20,000. So HB60 could have limited those donations in the past.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, amended HB60 to include PICs in the donation limits. Cox is one of the strongest opponents to SB54 and the Count My Vote initiative reforms of a year ago.

Cox’s amendment would have limited a PIC to a donation of $5,000.

CMV raised more than $1 million in a few months, and while it had a number of smaller donations, it was greatly funded by some of Utah’s leading politically-active millionaires, including Leavitt and Gail Miller, who each gave CMV $25,000.

The bill failed, so if CMV makes another attempt to reform the state’s candidate political nomination process, they could give similar donations again.

Finally, new House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, usually don’t cast his vote until he closes a bill’s vote – so other Republicans in the body will not see how he voted and vote the same way to please him.

But on this vote Hughes cast his “no” vote as soon as he opened the vote, so other GOP caucus members did see how the speaker voted.

The bill failed 31-40.