Groups call for cash limits in SLC elections

October 1, 2015
Christopher Smart

Mister Mayor, take corporate money out of Salt Lake City municipal elections.

That is the message the Utah chapter of Move to Amend will take to Mayor Ralph Becker on Friday. They will be joined by members of the Salt Lake branch of the National League of Women Voters.

The groups are seeking an ordinance that would keep the mayor and council races from becoming big-money affairs. They also seek to reduce individual campaign donations to $500 per person in mayoral and council elections.

Both Becker and his challenger Jackie Biskupski have accepted corporate donations. At the beginning of the election season, the mayor had about $700,000 in his campaign fund. Biskupski, though lagging the incumbent, has had access to several hundred thousand dollars.

In the mayor's race individuals or corporations can donate as much as $7,500. In City Council elections the limit is $1,500.

Becker and Biskupski, who are campaigning in advance of the Nov. 3 general election, have been criticized by City Council Chairman Luke Garrott for taking corporate donations. Garrott, who was one of three candidates that did not survive the Aug. 11 primary, refused corporate money.

But Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said such restrictions could prevent challengers who are not wealthy from running for office.

The $500 limit, Mendenhall said, appears to be an arbitrary number.

"We need to do an analysis of what it takes to run a successful campaign," she said Thursday. "Challengers wouldn't have a shot to run against a self-funded campaign. It could shut out excellent candidates."

Move to Amend Utah is one of 61 chapters of a national movement that wants to undo the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. That opinion opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate money and union spending on federal and state political campaigns.

Move to Amend seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to say corporations are not people and money is not speech.

"We're extremely concerned about Citizens United," said Virginia Lee of Move to Amend. "The corrosive effect of big-money donors on campaigns is strangling our democracy. Ordinary people are giving up."

The League of Women Voters is likewise concerned, board member Ann O'Connell said.

"The league is very enthusiastic from the national to the local level and are very excited to get it started here," O'Connell said of the proposed municipal corporate money ban. "It could be a big step forward."

Four years ago, Move to Amend gathered over 11,000 signatures from Salt Lake City residents in opposition to the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision.

Although Utah law did not allow the petition language to become a ballot measure, the City Council sent an opinion survey to registered voters. About 89 percent of voters who returned the mail-in ballot were opposed to "Citizens United," according to the Salt Lake City Recorder's Office.

The second phase of the Move to Amend's initiative, said spokeswoman Elise Lazar, is pressing for campaign-finance reform.

csmart [at] sltrib.com

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