Voters Should Know Who Contributors Are

Published in the Salt Lake Tribune on January 25th 2014

In 2013, I became aware of significant problems with the lack of transparency in the political process in Utah. Prior to that time, donations made to a corporation for use in a political campaign could be made anonymously, while those made directly to a candidate or to a Political Action Committee (PAC) or Political Interest Committee (PIC) were legally required to be disclosed.

 

As far as I was concerned, it didn’t make sense to have different standards for organizations all engaged in the same types of activities–political. If we were going to require some groups to disclose and not others, there would obviously be significant incentives for distortion within the process. I concluded that the public would be better served by greater transparency and consistency under the law. As a result of these concerns I sponsored legislation, HB 43, that would include corporations engaging in political activity as being required to disclose donor names, as had already been the law with regard to many other types of organizations.

 

In the end, I am quite satisfied that what Utah got was a much-needed boost to the openness of its political process and the ability of the voters to better understand the motives of those involved in that process. While I firmly believe in the fundamental right of free speech, it is imperative that the listener be allowed to determine who is doing the speaking in order to intelligently weigh the information expressed.

 

As it turns out, the passage of HB 43 has proven to be quite judicious in light of the revelations recently exposed as a result of the House investigation of former AG John Swallow. The inconsistency in the law had resulted in what was essentially a convoluted money laundering mechanism whereby candidates were able to pass contributions from PACs through corporate entities, generally 501(c)(4)s, thus shielding the identities of those who were bankrolling specific candidates and issues.

 

According to investigators, just one 501(c)(4), the Proper Role of Government Education Association, was able to funnel over $450,000 in contributions through its coffers. This money was then inserted into Utah races without donor disclosure and no ability of the voter to determine where it was actually coming from and what the motives of the funders might be.

 

In writing about this legislation in Utah Political Capitol, Curtis Haring stated, “If an individual or corporation is spending tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars to influence an election – the public has a right to know who is paying for it. Hughes’ bill would provide a more level playing field and make the process more open.”

I couldn’t agree more.