Jim Bradley left office more than eight months ago, but his effort to ensure that county political candidates disclose who gives them money muddles on.
The latest version of proposed changes would require political action or political issue committees to file a statement of organization once they raise or spend more than $250, changes Bradley supported.But critics say other suggested changes in the law, drafted by Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short, fail to adequately close gaps that prevent voters from knowing who is funding candidates and issues.
Even worse, critics say, Short's version introduces several new ways PACs can shelter supporters as well as candidates and the causes they back.
The Salt Lake County Executive Council, made up of elected and appointed county officials, is scheduled to vote on amendments to the ordinance Monday; it will then go to the County Commission for consideration. Council members who recently reviewed the ordinance called it nitpicking and stringent. Some members said it would require an "incredible" bookkeeping process, particularly because it requires detailed reporting of in-kind donations valued at more than $50.
Critics say that change is worth the trouble because it opens the process to voters' scrutiny. Not so with other changes, particularly a proposal to eliminate the ban on anonymous donations.
"That's the problem in the county now. We're trying to find out where the money comes from," said Claire Geddes, Utah director of United We Stand. "That (the proposed ban) would be disastrous as far as accountability."
Short said if a donation is truly anonymous, there is no way a politician can provide a benefit or favor. "Obviously, you can abuse this. That's why if someone did there would be no second chance," Short said.
The draft ordinance also says uncompensated labor and personal services by "individuals volunteering their time, talents and assets" don't have to be reported. So, if a candidate gets assets like billboards from the owner of a sign company or vehicles from a car dealer, he or she doesn't have to let voters know.
"If Larry Miller gives you three cars to use in your campaign, that's an asset I think should be reported," said Betsy Wolf of Utah Common Cause.
And a politician who uses a PAC to raise money he or she funnels to other candidates would not have to report sources of that money until - and unless - the politician runs
for office again. That means sources of funds could potentially go unreported for four years - or never be reported if the politician steps down.
"We think an annual report would be a reasonable thing to do," Wolf said.
Lesser flaws of the ordinance would allow political committees to register at the state rather than the county level. It also doesn't require committees to file preliminary statements until two weeks before an election. Final statements would be filed within 28 days of losing, or after a general or special election.
Bradley tried last winter to amend the disclosure ordinance after Commissioner Brent Overson funneled thousands of dollars to Republican candidates through the Committee for Responsible Government, a PAC he set up.
He wanted to amend the county law to require PACs to register with the county, name individuals who give $250 or more and disclose where the money goes. But Bradley left office before he could get the law amended.
Overson pledged then that he would carry the ball on amending the law. But so far the only concrete action that's taken place is that Overson has shut down the Committee for Responsible Government.
Overson told the Deseret News the PAC wasn't worth the trouble and that he sent the last $115 it had to the Salt Lake County Republican Party.
Overson acknowledges the county law is flawed when it comes to PACs and says he is supportive of tightening reporting requirements. Overson even came up with his own version of a reworked disclosure law in December.
It landed in Short's office in January and languished there until two weeks ago, when the executive council got a look at it.
Now Overson says he's as displeased as the public watchdog groups with some of the changes Short has made.