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Cook offers a bill on race finances

Measure would require disclosure of asset sales

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Merrill Cook has introduced a bill that would close a campaign finance loophole he said might have cost him two elections, including this year's GOP primary.

The bill, introduced Thursday, would require candidates to promptly and publicly disclose the sale of any personal assets during election years, including who bought them and at what price.

Cook, R-Utah, has complained that Derek Smith, who beat him in the primary, self-financed his race by selling some of his stock in an Internet company he founded, iEngineering. Cook questioned if it had been sold at inflated prices to friends and family to help funnel money to the campaign.

Smith's campaign has said a deal is in the works affecting that particular Internet company that should allow the company to reveal details of those stock sales. It says the sale was for a proper price.

Cook also complained that former Rep. Enid Greene, R-Utah — against whom Cook lost a race as an independent in 1994 — also used such loopholes to beat him and former Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah.

"Utahns were burned badly when the Waldholtz's (Greene's married name) campaign used this loophole to illegally funnel millions of dollars into its coffers," Cook said Wednesday. "It's time we close this loophole so that this type of thing doesn't happen anywhere in this country."

Greene said she thought she was using personal money for her 1994 campaign that came largely through a "swap of assets" between her former husband/campaign chief, Joe Waldholtz, and her father.

But Waldholtz, who had faked being a millionaire, actually illegally used millions from unreported loans from Greene's father. Greene said she did not know that, and Waldholtz later went to federal prison over the matter. At the time of the campaign, Greene declined to give any details about sources of their wealth.

Cook introduced the bill even though he has said recently he wants to support the Smith campaign. Cook himself also wants to run next year to become chairman of the Utah Republican Party.

Also, introduction of the bill comes so late in this session of Congress — with only about 20 work days left before expected adjournment — that it has little chance of passage. So its introduction does little more than raise the issue for public scrutiny.

Cook did not mention Smith in a press release he issued about the bill— although he said previously he was drafting it because of questions he had about Smith's financing this year.

Connie Humphrey, Cook's chief of staff, said that Smith was not mentioned because he has pledged to disclose facts about his stock transactions in the upcoming weeks, and has said they were proper. "We take him at his word," said Humphrey.

She said only Greene was mentioned in the press release because what happened with her "was a proven misdeed."

Cook noted in his press release that candidates must now disclose any political contributions their campaigns receive at least quarterly during an election year. Within 20 days of an election, they must be reported within 48 hours.

His bill would require the same deadlines for the sale of personal assets, which now must be reported only once a year, and that could be well after an election depending on when the sale took place.


E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com