Are you helping promote or defeat a candidate? Utah’s new reporting laws may apply to you

ST. GEORGE – As races heat up this election season, sides are chosen and people begin to reach into their pockets and other resources to help their candidate of choice and to defeat the other. New reporting requirements are in place that include fines that may be imposed for people and groups who do not report their expenditures. 

During this year’s General Session of the Utah Legislature, Rep. Douglas Sagers of Tooele as primary sponsor and Sen. Evan Vickers as floor sponsor introduced a bill aimed at changing Utah election lawS insofar as money spent for or against a campaign is concerned.

The new law reflects an effort to bring what has been called “dark money” campaign expenditures into the light, if you will, requiring reporting disclosures be filed by anyone or any group who spends money advocating for or against a candidate or ballot issue.  Dark money is a term for expenditures made by those who may or may not be associated with a candidate’s campaign per se but are made to influence an election. Because the burden to report has previously fallen on the candidate, money could be spent influencing an election without the donors being publicly disclosed.

House Bill 39 entitled “Independent Expenditure Amendments,” changes responsibilities of those involved in that practice in Utah. It enacts six new statutes to the Utah Code, primarily at 20A–11–1701 through 20A–11–1706. Besides the reporting requirements imposed, it creates penalties for individuals or groups who do not comply with the new law.

“There were several cases, not just specifically former Attorney General John Swallow,” Vickers said of incidents motivating the legislation, “one in particular involving former Rep. Brad Daw. There were some flyers and things sent out attacking him on very personal level. It was very hard to track back where it was coming from because the money was going PAC, to PAC, to PAC.

“The intent of this bill is: if you are going to be involved in the election process, whether for or against a candidate, you are going to be required to report that money and show where that money came from.”

The Independent Expenditures Amendment requires reporting by a group or individual that spends $1,000 dollars or more for or against a candidate without approval from that candidate or his campaign. Expenditures aggregate, so contributors cannot get around the threshhold by making many smaller expenditures.  A series of smaller donations or expenditures that adds up to $1,000 or more in a campaign cycle subjects the contributor to the reporting requirement.

The individual or group that makes the expenditure has 30 days to report it to the chief election official, such as the lieutenant governor or in some cases city managers.

The report must include things like:

  • individual or group’s name
  • address
  • telephone number
  • date of the expenditure
  • amount of the expenditure
  • name of the candidate and/or ballot the expenditure advocates for or against.
  • description of the goods or services obtained

The donor is required to hold on to records and receipts for at least two years after the day their contribution report is filed with the election official.

Should an individual or group fail to file the report of the expenditure in a timely manner, the individual could be fined $ 100 dollars, while a group could be fined $ 1000 dollars.

If the candidate knows or gives approval for the individual or group to spend the money, then the burden of reporting falls on the candidate.

“The purpose is to create a barrier, from allowing outside individuals to affect an election independent of the candidates involved,” Vickers said.

The Independent Expenditures Amendment passed the state House of Representatives on Feb. 5 by a vote of 68–1 with 6 not voting or absent. All Southern Utah representatives voted yes.

The bill passed the state Senate on March 13 with 22 voting for it, no one opposing it and 7 not voting or absent. Southern Utah Sens. Vickers, Steve Urquhart, and David Hinkins voted for the bill while Senator Ralph Okerlund was absent. 

The bill was signed into law on March 19 by Governor Gary Herbert and took effect May 13.

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