Dabakis proposes Utah campaign finance rule changes

Friday , February 28, 2014 - 12:21 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Saying the rules for campaign contributions in Utah led to the “culture of John Swallow,” one state lawmaker hopes to push for reform in how much any organization or group may contribute to people running for office.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, has opened a legislative bill file dealing with campaign finance reform, which he hopes to run during the upcoming 45-day session of the state Legislature, which convenes on Jan. 27.

The bill is still being drafted, but Dabakis, who heads the state Democratic Party, said the measure would impose a $10,000 limit for organizations and groups for statewide office races, such as the governor’s office or the attorney general’s office. It would put those same limits at $5,000 for state legislative offices.

Dabakis has been highly critical of Swallow and allegations of election abuse for the former attorney general, who stepped down in December, but he suggests the problem goes beyond that.

He claims a ball hosted yearly by the governor is an egregious example of abuse.

“He (the governor) has organizations patting him on the back and making donations of $40,000 to $50, 000,” Dabakis said of the event. He claims the ball has generated upward of $1 million for Gov. Gary Herbert.

Utah is one of just a handful of states that does not impose limits on campaign contributions, according to Mark Thomas, state director of elections.

Attempts to address the issue are not new, nor limited to what Dabakis is proposing this session.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman formed a 19-member Commission on Strengthening Democracy that urged state lawmakers to adopt individual contribution limits.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, is running legislation in the 2014 session, House Bill 235, would impose new requirements for any donations over $50. His bill would require any donation over $50 be reported by a candidate within 30 days, with a person’s name attached to the donation. Under current law, those donations can be made anonymously.

Powell ran similar legislation in 2013.

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