Thursday , March 16, 2017 - 5:30 AM
March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, recognized by journalists and nonprofits as a time to focus on and highlight the importance of government transparency. This year, we’re providing how-to guides to explain which records Utahns ought to have access to, according to state laws. These records have a number of critical public-facing purposes, including protecting consumers and preserving civil liberties.
Have questions or want us to investigate a government transparency issue? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail your proposal and supporting documents to 332 Standard Way, Ogden, UT 84044.
What is the record?
A candidate’s periodically filed report of campaign contributions and expenditures
What are some ways it’s useful?
These reports inform the public about who is giving how much to their candidates of choice. This allows people to “follow the money” and view potential pockets of influence that might sway an elected official’s actions and decision-making in one direction or another.
Where can you get it?
These reports are available online at the county, state and federal levels, and those elections occur in even-numbered years. However, city council and mayoral elections are nonpartisan and occur in odd-numbered years. If those candidate reports are not available on each city’s website, a government records request can be sent to the city recorder.
There is a learning curve in where and how to find these reports. Here are a few helpful websites:
For legislative and state-wide candidates in Utah, visit disclosures.utah.gov/Search/PublicSearch.
The Federal Election Commission offers a searchable database of individuals seeking federal office (senators, representatives and presidential candidates) who receive massive amounts of money from individuals, corporations and Political Action Committees. Find the database at fec.gov/finance/disclosure/candcmte_info.shtml.
The nonprofit and nonpartisan organization Open Secrets, at opensecrets.org, distills a candidate’s campaign contributions into different categories, complete with pie charts that help you visualize their primary sources of electoral support.
Ballotpedia.org also offers a wealth of information on federal and state candidates with links to some of their campaign finance reports.
What information is in the report?
For example, a quick look on the state’s website shows that Utah’s House Speaker Greg Hughes received $21,350 between Oct. 10-19, 2016, in his bid for re-election.
Major contributors included: $4,000 from the Utah Association of Realtors, $2,000 from the Farmer Employee & Agent PAC, $1,500 from Sinclair Companies, and $1,000 each from Utah Association of Health Underwriters, NAIFA Utah IFAPAC, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Reagan Outdoor Advertising and the Newfield PAC.
What information is not in the report?
Using the Greg Hughes example, this one report just provides a snapshot in time. To get the whole picture of who gave him what during the 2016 election cycle, there are four other reports to check, filed to meet various deadlines set forth in statute.
But it’s also possible to download all that data in a single spreadsheet by selecting “CSV Download of Filed Reports.”
To find out more details about a PAC such as the Newfield PAC, that requires searching under Political Action Committees on disclosures.utah.gov.
That particular PAC dates back to 2008 and was organized by Lee Boothby of Watertown, Texas. Between June 17 and Sept. 25, 2016, it contributed to 19 Republican incumbent lawmakers in Utah. According to Forbes.com, Boothby is CEO of Newfield Exploration, a Houston-based petroleum and natural gas operations company.
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