SALT LAKE CITY -- A new database launched by a grass-roots organization has made it easier than ever to access Utah political campaign finance information.
The ABU Education Fund launched followthemoney.abueducationfund.org this week in an effort to make it easier for voters to track the campaign financing record of their representatives. The information has always been available through the lieutenant governor's website, but has never been collated into an easily accessible database.
Maryann Martindale, executive director of ABU Education and the affiliated Alliance for a Better Utah, thinks the database makes financial disclosure documents more easily accessible.
Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, agrees the site makes information on candidates more transparent than ever. She said the information was available on the state website but not as seamless to extract as the new site makes it.
"With no limits on campaign donations in Utah politics, full transparency that is easily accessible by the public becomes even more important. This site provides it," Edwards said.
Edwards likes the moves toward better transparency and doesn't see it as a deterrent to getting people to run for office.
"Rather than chase some away from serving in elected office, I would hope it would actually increase the confidence the public has in the process and consequently increase the willingness to participate as candidates."
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, doesn't think transparency in terms of campaign contributions and affiliations will be an obstacle to people who want to participate in public service, based on his years on the Layton City Council and as a member of the Legislature.
"I believe most people are honest and welcome transparency and disclosure about campaign contributions. Campaign contributions, for the most part, are just part of what's required today to participate. Each candidate or office holder has to be accountable to their constituents for what contributions they accept," Handy said.
Martindale thinks the data, however, is only as good as the campaign finance laws currently in place.
"If anything, this speaks to the need for more transparent campaign laws and stricter campaign finance laws if we truly want open and ethical elections in Utah," said Martindale. She said the database could have disclosed some of Attorney General John Swallow's business interests before he ever ran for the state's top legal post.
"It may have been able to shed light on the (contributions) that Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, were soliciting," Martindale said.
It was the Alliance for a Better Utah that raised concerns about possible campaign law violations by Swallow earlier this year. The Legislature is investigating various allegations against Swallow.