Utah lawmakers received $96K in contributions from alcohol, tobacco companies

Governor opts to return money after Deseret News inquiry

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2 2013 2:10 p.m. MST

In this 2009 file photo, a motorist gets into his car with a good view of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert is returning a $1,000 campaign contribution from the nation's second largest tobacco company, citing his pledge not to accept financial gifts from the alcohol and tobacco industries.

Herbert made the decision after the Deseret News inquired about the contribution from Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of cigarette manufacturer R.J. Reynolds, on his financial disclosure filed with the state Elections Office.

It is the second time the governor has returned a campaign contribution from a tobacco company. Herbert's campaign financial adviser said he was not aware the money for a table at his annual fundraiser, listed as coming from RAI, was connected to the tobacco industry.

Anheuser-Busch also reported a $1,000 contribution to the Herbert campaign, but campaign officials said it was never received. Liv Moffat, a financial adviser for the Herbert campaign, said the governor would adhere to his pledge and would return the contributions from Reynolds.

"The governor will continue to decline contributions from tobacco- and alcohol-related donors, including the donation from Reynolds," Moffat said. "The campaign has no record of a contribution from Anheuser-Busch, but the governor would return that donation under the same principle, as well."

Alcohol and tobacco companies poured more than $96,000 into campaigns for state offices in 2012, according to an analysis of the disclosures on file.

The contributors included beer manufacturer Anheuser-Busch, the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association, as well as the two largest tobacco manufactures in the country, Altria Client Services Inc., formerly Phillip Morris, and Reynolds American Inc.

In 2012, those alcohol companies gave a combined $37,850 to Utah candidates and political action committees, while the tobacco companies gave $58,200.

In addition to Herbert, alcohol and tobacco companies contributed to recently elected Attorney General John Swallow, as well as nearly every member of Utah's House and Senate leadership.

Quin Monson, director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said voters should pay close attention to where campaign contributions from alcohol and tobacco companies are going.

"Who you are willing to take money from does say something about who you are," Monson said. "Ultimately, the public is responsible for allowing legislators to do what they do, but that doesn't absolve legislators from any responsibility. You do face a choice of whom to accept money from and of how to fund your campaign."

Monson said it's not clear how much influence the companies are buying with their contributions, but that they're targeting the right people.

"In the campaign finance world in general, it's extremely difficult to prove what contributions actually get the donor. It's safe to assume, at a minimum, however, they get the donor some level of access," he said. "The way that these are targeted to leaders of the majority party shows they know what they're doing. They know where the power is, and they know who controls what comes up for votes in the Legislature."

Former Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, who champions most of the alcohol legislation on the hill, received $750 from Anheuser-Busch and $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association.

Valentine explained why alcohol lobbyists presumably contributed to his campaign.

"There are a number of stakeholders in the alcohol policy debate, and some of them are the manufacturers," he said. "I try to be even-handed and look at both sides of the issue, and I assume they would rather have someone who will look at both sides, rather than someone who is one-sided."

A few alcohol- and tobacco-related bills likely will be introduced during the upcoming legislative session, but 2013 is not expected to be a significant year for alcohol- or tobacco-related policy.

Senate Minority Assistant Whip Pat Jones, D-Holladay, who was not up for re-election in 2012, said she purposely tries to avoid accepting donations from such lobby groups.

"I'm not judging anyone else who does, but I feel like for me, because I do champion health issues on the hill, I've made an effort over the years not to accept this money," Jones said, "and most of the PACs and lobbyists know that, so they really don't offer it anymore."

Jones also said she's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counsels people to abstain from using alcohol and tobacco.

"It just doesn't square with some of those things I believe in," she said.

House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who received $2,500 from Altria, $500 from Anheuser-Busch, $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association, and $250 from Reynolds, said he has no problem accepting donations from alcohol and tobacco companies.

"I really don't distinguish 'sin issues' when it comes to accepting campaign contributions," Hughes said. "There are tax policies that impact our regulatory climate and business interests, and organizations that have a vested interest in those policies are going to contribute to campaigns."

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said he did not know a $2,500 donation made to his campaign by Altria was from a tobacco company.

"I have no idea what Altria is," Dee said. "I voted for a tax increase on tobacco products, so I don't know why a tobacco company would be donating to my campaign."

Dee also received $500 from the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association and $250 from Reynolds.

Several PACs and political organizations also received contributions from alcohol and tobacco companies. The two PACs run by House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, the Utah House Republican Election Committee and the Speaker's Victory Fund, received $5,250 and $4,000, respectively. 

Utah's Prosperity Foundation, run by former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, received a total of $6,000 in donations. The Utah Democratic Party also received a $2,500 donation from Reynolds, and the State Republican Campaign Committee accepted $3,500 from alcohol distributors.

Campaign finance disclosures from 2012 can be accessed at www.disclosures.utah.gov.

E-mail: mmellor@deseretnews.com

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