SALT LAKE CITY -- The probe of embattled Attorney General John Swallow has brought renewed focus on campaign contribution rules in the state, with some lawmakers calling for limits on how much can be contributed to any one candidate during a campaign.
Utah is one of only four states in the U.S. not to impose a limit on campaign contributions, but proposed legislation sponsored by two House members would change that.
The bill, which does not have a number yet, would limit contributions from individuals, corporations and political action committees to $10,000 for any one candidate during a two-year campaign cycle. It would also limit cash contributions to $50.
Lawmakers heard arguments for the new limits as part of a committee hearing Wednesday and references to charges against Swallow, as well as references to large donations made to Gov. Gary Herbert, were part of that discussion.
"When you have a governor getting checks for $75,000 and $95,000, we don't call them donations -- I call them investments," Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, told lawmakers.
The measure is being sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, and Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
Similar measures never made it out of the rules committee for consideration during the last legislative session. Powell said discussion of the issue in committee is progress but was not sure the measure will go any further.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, thinks imposing limits restricts the free market and restricts people who could run for office.
Ironically, supporters of the legislation argued the current standards also restrict the ability of candidates of modest means to run.
Jenn Gonnelly, co-president of the League of Women Voters, called the rules a means to help restore public trust.
"This is not a silver bullet, but it is one pillar in something that will uphold the public trust in you."
Several lawmakers and citizens offering comment said the restriction on donations would have more impact on statewide candidates than on local races.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the rules restricting donations don't address a key area of influence that manifested itself in the last campaign of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
He said PACs still face no limits on being able to run ads against candidates, which he said can put a candidate at a disadvantage. He said major contributions have not been an issue he has had to wrestle with in his years of service.
"I can guarantee you, if I got a $50,000 donation, I may not be re-elected. It would cause a stir in my district."
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, framed the issue with allegations involving Swallow.
"This is a unique moment in the history of this state. To pretend there isn't a giant thing standing there and to ignore this problem ... This is not a Democrat or Republican position. If someone holds a giant gala at the Grand America, and there are checks of $10,000, $50,000 and $80,000 by people doing business with the state, it's just not right," Dabakis said.
He said the federal government limits contributions from companies doing business with the government, and the state should, too.
"If it's not corrupt, it certainly smells corrupt."