Limiting political contributions to increase trust

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A Utah representative is reintroducing a campaign finance reform bill that will put limits on monetary contributions given to candidates running for political office.

Contributions by political action committees, corporations and labor organizations would be caped to $10,000 for one state office candidate, $5,000 for one legislative office candidate, $40,000 for one registered political party, $10,000 for one political action committee, or $50,000 in the aggregate for one or more registered political parties, labor organizations, and political action committees.

Utah currently has no campaign contribution limits. Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City) said when elected officials are approached by special interest groups who want to donate to their campaign, it changes their willingness to take certain positions.

“They are not objective. It’s as simple as that,” Rep. King said.

He said limiting campaign contributions is a necessary way to return elections to individual voters.

“The appearance of impropriety and undue influence of money on our elected officials, whether it is real or perceived, damages the public’s trust in its leaders,” Rep. King said.

He said the more trust the public has in its elected officials, the more likely it is to get involved in the political process.

“If people have confidence in what their elected officials are doing,” Rep. King said, “They will be more likely to say, ‘It’s worth my time and effort to go to talk to my legislator or send an email to the attorney general or make a phone call to the governor’s office.”

He said this campaign finance reform bill is an effort to make sure the political system has greater levels of integrity that will lead to the creation of better public policy.

“With campaign finance contribution limits, you’re going to find that the political future will enact good public policy as opposed to just enacting laws that will benefit the people with money,” King said.

Others aren’t convinced that limiting campaign finance contributions will make a significant difference.

Adam Brown, political science professor, says there are very few candidates who receive donations larger than $10,000.

“Becky Lockhart, the speaker of the house, received over $178,000 from contributors in 2012,” Brown said. “Only two of the donations she received exceeded $10,000.”

Brad Masters, second-year law student at BYU, said in the recent presidential race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, $10,000 wouldn’t likely change the final result.

“In smaller, state-level elections, a donation of $10,000 makes a huge difference in the outcome of campaigns,” Masters said. “It affects how many campaign staffers you can have, it affects how many ads can run and how many billboards you can buy.”

Masters said some people might say limiting the amount individuals can contribute abridges freedom of speech and reduces the free flow of ideas.

“The proposed contribution limits are quite high,” Masters said, “and it is the rare case that anyone contributes more than that anyway, so there is not much of an effect on free speech.”

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