America’s elections and political processes have become increasingly opaque and disconnected from voters. While political donations provide candidates the ability to engage voters, the rapid growth in spending over the past decade stems from a growth in the influence of moneyed special interests, not popular interests. Allowing money to direct politicians’ moves destroys their relationship with constituents and sows the seeds of corruption in policy-making.
The 2010 Citizens United decision undermined existing election finance laws, which had bipartisan support. The ensuing deluge of money into politics has allowed candidates across the country to prioritize the interests of wealthy mega-donors, who are no longer limited in their giving. Anonymity and the lack of accountability have clouded transparency in the electoral process.
Even in Utah, recent ethical violations and allegations have shaken the trust of our community’s voters. Former Attorney Generals Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow currently face bribery, corruption, and money laundering charges related to their use of political power to garner election donations and personal connections with influential Utahns. Moreover, the ethical investigations in our state remain in the power of partisan leaders. When legislators alleged that now Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes offered to trade campaign funds for votes, an ethics committee staffed by his own peers conducted fact-finding and chose to not pursue any action. In a democracy, justice and representation cannot be purchased or sold.
Utah Democrats believe that strong campaign and ethics laws will enhance voters’ power over their lawmakers and that a more transparent government will serve as a better government. Laws must require campaigns to submit to broader and more frequent reporting to combat illegal transactions. Elected officials of all parties, including our own, should be held accountable to these standards.
We believe all investigations of elected officials for legal and/or ethical misconduct must take place outside of the political system. An independent government agency staffed by nonpartisan investigators will perform more thorough inquiries and hold officials accountable, regardless of their party or major donors.
Utah Democrats know our system needs meaningful change, and we are committed to delivering it.
In the 2015 legislative session, House Minority Leader Brian King introduced bills to create strong election contribution limits for individuals and groups, as well as to enhance disclosure requirements for officeholders (HB 60 and 425). While these bills did not pass this time around, our Utah Democrats will keep fighting for a better democratic process. Thank you for your work, Representative King!