Saturday, May 28, 2011

Can corporate campaign contributions be banned?

One of the planks in the Ogden Ethics Project platform is to ban direct campaign contributions to candidates from corporations (including other business entities and unions). Utahns for Ethical Government advocates a similar restriction for state legislative candidates. But is such a restriction constitutional?

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on independent political expenditures by corporate entities, ruling in the Citizens United case that such a ban violates the First Amendment protection of free speech. At the same time, however, the Court explicitly recognized earlier precedent upholding the existing ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates.

Yesterday, however, a federal district judge issued a ruling that extended the Citizens United conclusion to direct corporate contributions. If such a ruling is upheld at higher levels, it could spell trouble for all attempts to ban these contributions.

There are two problems with allowing corporations, other business entities, and unions to contribute to political candidates:
  1. These entities don’t contribute out of mere generosity or public spirit. As organizations they expect something tangible in return for their contributions, and that makes their contributions hard to distinguish from bribes.
  2. Contributors can use business entities to avoid disclosing their names or to evade contribution limits, either contributing through entities that they already control or setting up sham entities that merely launder contributions for this purpose.
These problems have already occurred in Ogden, and they are sure to recur if Ogden doesn’t put tighter restrictions in place.

As for yesterday’s court decision, it fortunately won’t have any effect over the short term. If this or a similar ruling is eventually upheld by the Supreme Court, it will overturn a century of precedent on campaign finance reform in the United States. That seems unlikely but if it does happen, we’ll let national-level organizations take the lead in sorting out the new law and devising strategies to deal with it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

News outlets announce our launch

In response to yesterday’s press release, we’ve gotten some great publicity from the news media.

The Salt Lake Tribune was the first to post a story, with a good explanation of our mission and goals:

The Standard-Examiner was close behind, posting its story late last night:
Although our primary mission is more to promote better policies than to serve as a mere “watchdog”, this is also a good article. The reporter even contacted the five announced mayoral candidates, and four of them made statements strongly supporting our mission! The fifth was apparently caught off-guard because he hadn’t yet received our press release, and that’s partly my fault.

Not to be left out, Ogden’s ever-vigilant political blog, Weber County Forum, has posted a brief note picking up on the Tribune story:

And last but not least, word is quickly spreading through our Facebook page:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We're up and running!

Here's today's press release announcing the Ogden Ethics Project:


A group of Ogden citizens has formed a new organization, the Ogden Ethics Project, to promote better ethics in city government.

The group intends to highlight ethics issues during the upcoming municipal election campaign, then push for adoption of better ethics policies. Although the Ogden Ethics Project intends to interact with candidates and educate the public about candidates’ views on ethical matters, it will make no endorsements.

The organizers of the Ogden Ethics Project have watched Ogden government closely in recent years, noting many instances of ethical lapses. The group’s web site,, points to examples that include secret business deals, misuse of grant funds, taxpayer-funded lobbying efforts, “double-dipping” by high-level employees, and inappropriate political fundraising.

To fight these kinds of abuses, the Ogden Ethics Project has proposed a platform of 24 specific policy initiatives. These range from increased disclosure on the city’s web site to tighter restrictions on conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, and campaign contributions. While some of these policies can be implemented administratively, others will require the city council to pass new legislation.

Much of the group’s inspiration has come from Utahns for Ethical Government, a state-wide organization that seeks to pass ethics legislation through the ballot initiative process. However, the Ogden Ethics Project is not affiliated with UEG and recognizes that different strategies will be needed to promote ethics at the local level.

The Ogden Ethics Project is coordinated by Dan Schroeder, an activist and blogger who has been involved in city government for 17 years. The Board of Advisors includes two former city council members and four other Ogden citizens with diverse professional backgrounds, all sharing a passion for better government in Ogden City.

All of these officers are serving as volunteers, and the group is not accepting financial contributions. However, the Ogden Ethics Project welcomes additional volunteer help and ideas. Those interested should visit

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Salt Lake Tribune: Utah's Big Political Donors

Today's Salt Lake Tribune has a detailed story naming Utah's biggest political donors and probing the reasons why they donate. Although the first part of the article focuses on individual donors, most of whom don't seem to benefit personally from their contributions, it later discusses the biggest donors among business interests, which give far more, and the benefits they expect to receive in return. Be sure to read the quotes at the end of the article from UEG's Kim Burningham and BYU professor Quin Monson.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Welcome to the official blog of the Ogden Ethics Project.

This is where we'll post news of ethics issues in Ogden City government, the status of our policy proposals, and new information about candidates running for office in Ogden. We also welcome your comments.

If you haven't already, be sure to visit the main Ogden Ethics Project web site.

Thanks for participating!