House passes bill to increase transparency among campaign polls

2013-02-07T00:30:00Z 2013-03-21T06:26:21Z House passes bill to increase transparency among campaign pollsBilly Hesterman - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 07, 2013 12:30 am  • 

SALT LAKE CITY -- Former Orem legislator Brad Daw faced an unnamed opponent when he was ousted from his seat by Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, in the Republican primary election last June.

Daw has explained that he faced unfriendly mail advertisements and push polls during the campaign season. After Layton defeated him, Daw was left wondering if had the public known who was behind the attacks would they have questioned the things the ads said about him.

The attack ads and phone calls were a product of a third party group, not affiliated with Layton, that challenged Daw for bills he had introduced but never ran through the Legislature. Daw felt the practice was unfair, so he drafted legislation to combat the issue.

His only problem was he wouldn't be in the Legislature to run the proposals this session. Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, picked up the issue and one of Daw's bills passed out of the House on Wednesday.

"This bill, I think when we talk about campaigns and elections, will bring a much needed amount of scrutiny of a practice to campaigns than we are used to," Hughes said when presenting the bill on the House floor.

The proposal seeks to force organizations to identify themselves when they commission a poll. The hope is that when an organization identifies itself the person receiving the call may have clarity on why the questions being asked may portray a certain candidate or cause in a particular light.

The bill isn't perfect in addressing the problem. Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, pointed out that the proposal is still broad enough that a person wishing to run a negative push poll could create a political action committee with a generic name and pay for the poll under that name.

Hughes stated that at least the bill requires that someone is identified at the end of the call. If the law is passed it could give someone a starting point if he or she wanted to know who was paying for the poll.

The bill also is weak in terms of enforcement. The fine for not disclosing a name at the end of a polling phone call is a mere $100. The bill also depends on a bit of an honor system. If callers fail to disclose their name at the end of the call, it may be impossible to know whom to fine.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said if problems with unidentifiable push polls hurting candidates continue in the future, the Legislature could come back and put in a harsher penalty. She said the important part of the bill wasn't the fine but rather the disclosure being put into law.

"It is at least something. It sends the message that we don't want this to happen," she said.

Daw said he was pleased to see the bill move forward. He noted that the last election cycle showed there was a need to put a lid on the practice of push polling within the state.

"This bill goes a long ways toward stamping out fraudulent practices in elections," Daw said.

The bill passed with a large majority of the House supporting it. Sixty-four Republicans and Democrats supported the proposal. Eight, including Layton, voted against it.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
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