Proposal to Tighten Utah Law on Political Groups Could Create a Loophole

Utah State Capitol 10Politics does make strange bedfellows.

A Utah House member taken out of office several years ago by a “black money” operation – tied in an odd way to former Attorney General John Swallow – is running a bill aimed at “clarifying” the current state PAC and PIC law.

“We’re worried the current vague language could be constitutionally challenged,” says Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem.

And in doing so, some may argue his new bill may allow a loophole for some groups not having to file as a Political Action Committee or a Political Issues Committee – although this is not what Daw says he wants.

Daw introduced HB425 on Wednesday. The bill changes, mainly in just a few sentences, the current PAC/PIC law (lines 296-297 in the bill).

Current law says an entity must register as a PAC or PIC if it raises and spends $750 in an attempt to “influence” “directly or indirectly” a person to vote one way or the other, or try to influence a political issue on the ballot.

UtahPolicy is told that one group that raised the concern with the current law is the Utah Taxpayers Association, whose president is Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

Others also approached Daw on the matter, he said.

The Utah Taxpayers Association holds various seminars each year, and its staffers also attend other workshops, advocating as well as educating.

The UTA is a 501c4 non-profit organization, and as such does not disclose its contributors.

Some 501c4s across the nation – following a U.S Supreme Court decision – are basically shell political corporations, spending the lion’s share of their money for or against a candidate.

That is not the UTA. Everyone knows who they are and what they do. And the UTA does not endorse candidates, (although it does give out a “Friend to the Taxpayer” award to public officials).

 It does regularly take stands for or against ballot propositions on tax hikes.

In fact, the UTA has been credited with killing this or that tax hike vote before citizens – its voice having that much influence in some cases.

Billy Hesterman, UTA vice-president, told UtahPolicy that after last year’s local road/transit sales tax elections, their attorneys warned them that under the current “vague” PIC/PAC law, the association’s political activities could force them to register as a PIC, and thus make its donor list public.

“If we spent more than $750, the reporting threshold, we could be in question,” said Hesterman.

However, would HB425, by broadening the language, allow some groups to escape reporting?

Daw says that is not what he wants. Just the opposite.

“I want to make it tough on “dark money” groups, he said – like the one that went after him several years ago and knocked him out of office.

Swallow, now under indictment and awaiting trial for various felonies (he resigned the AG’s office several years ago), had a campaign consultant who took out after Daw when Daw tried to regulate payday lenders – a group with close ties to Swallow.

Daw later won his seat back.

“We want to keep the pressure” on dark money operations, said Daw, “and bring them into the open, up to muster.”