SALT LAKE CITY — When Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, receives a check from lobbyists, he said he sends it back with a letter that respectfully declines the donation.
It’s that moral mentality Powell hopes to urge other lawmakers to adopt by sponsoring HB89, which would adjust elements within the candidate filing process that would make the characteristics of candidate donors more apparent.
“When I came into the Legislature, in the first political office I ever held, I made a decision that I would not accept any money from special interest groups, lobbyists and corporations, and I have been encouraging officeholders throughout the state of Utah to consider that position,” Powell said.
Powell proposed to a House committee Thursday to incorporate a component on candidate campaign financial filing reports that would present candidates with a check box, asking them to indicate if the donor was a reporting entity — in other words, a lobbyist, special interest group or corporation.
“I’m trying to bring about a thought process on candidates’ part,” Powell said. “By having to check that box, the candidate thinks, ‘Do I want to be checking this box on my future reports, or should I just not take money from lobbyists?'"
The check box would act as a sort of moral “speed bump,” he said.
If the bill passes, candidates would be required to scan a database of reporting entities to determine if their donors are listed. Candidates would face criminal penalties, including a class B misdemeanor and a $100 fine, if they mischaracterize their contributors and fail to correct their reports on time.
The House Government Operations Committee decided to hold the bill, however, because of concerns about the technical execution of the new process. Committee members worried that the separate databases of reporting entities and donors would not smoothly interact and unsuccessfully reflect to candidates whether contributors are affiliated with reporting entities.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said she liked the bill’s goal to increase public transparency, but the current framework of the databases would require “a lot of detective work” from candidates in order to input accurate information.
Powell said he was pleased with the committee’s decision to hold the bill, agreeing the proposed process would need refinement of the software and databases needed to accurately represent information so candidates can in good faith correctly characterize their donors.
Putting technical concerns aside, committee members said they approved of the bill’s goal to provide the public with clarity about campaign contributions.
“I’m interested to see what the sponsor comes up with,” said Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City. “I like transparency, and I’m hoping I’ll like what he comes back with.”