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S.L. campaign reform: not quite

Take a second look at Salt Lake City's proposed campaign-reform plans before doing cartwheels. There's more there than initially meets the eye.

In spite of sincere intentions otherwise, the City Council's proposal to voluntarily limit spending on council and mayoral races is more of an incumbent- or high-profile-protection plan. Those are the candidates who would benefit most.Think about it. You are Joe Average running against a well-known public figure or against a seated official; you both spend equal amounts. Who has the significant edge?

Obviously, the high-profile person has an advantage unless he or she is completely incompetent or corrupt. Even then, it's often tough to oust someone already in place.

The problem with voluntary limits is that campaigns are not conducted in a vacuum. There are many other factors and influences outside of direct campaign spending that influence candidates' images and voters' perceptions. Sometimes, a challenger has to spend more to overcome those disadvantages.

That is not to discount concerns that spending has become excessive in Salt Lake races, as well as in political contests at all levels. It has, and it discourages participation. But as the U.S. Supreme Court recently affirmed on the national level, there are important First Amendment considerations regarding freedom of expression - with or without attached price tags - that outweigh the distastefulness of excessive spending.

Three things are becoming increasingly clear concerning the issue of campaign-finance reform at all levels: The First Amendment must be respected; candidates will always find loopholes to specific restrictions, as evidenced on the state and national levels; and full disclosure without any restrictions is the only way to eliminate problems with all of the above.

Salt Lake City ought to adopt strict disclosure requirements, then let voters decide when someone is trying to inappropriately "buy" an election and respond accordingly at the ballot box. After all is said, done and spent, the electorate still holds the keys to the success or failure of any candidate.