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Finance reform on county agenda

Ideas include public funding of campaigns

Whether it has to do with scandals, the election or campaign reform, here's what you need to know about Salt Lake County government nowadays:

It's all about the money.

Former auditor Craig Sorensen was sentenced Monday for stealing $8,600 worth of gas on a county gas card. Mayor Nancy Workman is facing felony charges of misusing $17,000 in county money. Former developer Ellis Ivory is using $400,000 of his own money to run a write-in campaign, prompting Democrat Peter Corroon to accuse him of trying to buy the election.

And the County Council is, yet again, considering campaign finance reform — including the relatively radical idea of publicly funded campaigns.

Five members of the council sent a letter to Acting County Mayor Alan Dayton Tuesday urging him to include the publicly funded campaign idea in an ethics reform package he is developing. Council members Horiuchi, Jim Bradley, Joe Hatch, Cortlund Ashton and David Wilde propose allowing private funding of campaigns until the primary election (within limits: for example, $100,000 for major-party mayoral candidates), and after that only public funding (again within limits: $150,000 for major-party mayoral candidates).

Dayton hasn't acted on that idea, but he at least favors contribution limits.

"We're at a place where we can put in a reasonable cap" on individual campaign contributions, he said.

The council has considered contribution limits before and rejected them. But given all that has gone on in county government in the past several months, council members indicate this time they are likely to stick.

Dayton has proposed capping individual contributions to countywide races to $10,000 (he may, after hearing from council members at a meeting Tuesday, reduce that to $5,000) and district races to $2,000.

The limits would only apply to each campaign finance reporting cycle, meaning contributors could contribute the maximum once annually during non-election years and five times in election years.

Most council members (with the notable exception of Randy Horiuchi, who maintains they will limit races to the rich) favor the contribution limits, and other county officials favor them as well.

"Please, please, please put these contribution caps in," interim county auditor Sean Thomas said. "It's such a gray area. They are the teeth in (Dayton's) proposal."

As part of a wide-reaching ethics reform, Dayton is also proposing registration of county lobbyists, no campaign contributions from companies contracting with the county, making car allowances (currently several hundred dollars a month for high-ranking officials) part of regular compensation, and training employees in ethics once every two years.

"All of the reforms we're talking about is about what influences us in decisionmaking," Councilman Jim Bradley said.

The council has been discussing ethics reform for some weeks now but has not as yet made any final decisions.