Almost every politico knows that labor unions give money to Democratic candidates and big business groups give money to Republican candidates.
Those general statements hold true for political action committees' contributions to Utah federal candidates this year. But there is something else, too.If you're a sitting congressman, especially a sitting U.S. senator, you can raise a lot of money from PACs whose businesses or groups are concerned with legislation that comes through your congressional committees.
For example, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sits on the Labor and Human Resources Committee. He was chairman of the committee when Republicans ruled the U.S. Senate. He's now the ranking minority member.
Hatch has received at least $38,150 from the PACs of firms interested in health and life insurance, food and drug or health care legislation, the most recent Federal Election Commission reports show. He's received more than that from anti-labor union and big business PACs. All told, in 1988 Hatch has raised more than $300,000 of his $1 million total revenue from PACs.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, sits on the House Armed Services Committee. He has received, all in totally legitimate contributions, $14,000 from the PACs of companies either holding or interested in defense contracts. Hansen has raised $70,000 from PACs, more than half of the $120,000 he's collected over all, FEC reports show.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, sits on the House Interior Committee. He's received more than $6,000 from PAC environmental groups that are interested in wilderness and other legislation that comes before the committee.
Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, sits on the Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Nielson, who is in a relatively safe Republican district, doesn't raise a lot of money for his re-elections. Still, Nielson has raised $5,650 from telephone company and equipment PACs, $48,000 from PACs overall this year.
The PAC contributions are legal and public.
But the special interest giving has grown so dramatic the last decade, that some - including the citizens' group Common Cause - are calling for a halt to PACs altogether, or at least a stricter limit to PAC contributions.
Federal law now limits a PAC's contribution to $5,000 for a candidate's primary election and $5,000 for his general election. But there are so many PACs that the $10,000 limit hasn't hindered the growth of their financial influence. The FEC reports that PACs raised more than $213 million and spent more than $162 million from Jan. 1, 1987, to March 31, 1988, a 7 percent increase in receipts and an 8.4 percent increase in disbursements from the same period in 1985-86.
Common Cause reports that a third of all the PACs gave 80 percent or more of their money to U.S. House and Senate incumbents running for re-election in 1985-86. In 1986, the 4,157 PACs gave $95.1 million to incumbents, or 68 percent of the $138.1 million contributed by PACs to candidates that year, the citizen group says.
Soliciting PAC money has become an industry unto itself. Republican Richard Snelgrove is challenging Owens and knows of his ability to raise PAC money. The ultra-conservative National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) gave Snelgrove a list, worth $500, of other conservative PACs. NCPAC included hints on how to raise money from those colleagues. Snelgrove needs the help. He's raised only $10,509 from PACs this year.
It's understandable _ even looking only at Utah's incumbents' ability to raise PAC money _ why sitting congressmen aren't eager for PAC reform. Some, like Owens, say PACs should be better controlled. "But until they change the law, I'll play by the rules. And I'll continue to take their (PAC) contributions," Owens has said before.
Hatch and Owens are two of the best PAC fund raisers in their respective bodies. Part of that art is remembering who your friends are, or who you think might be your friends, especially among the groups who appear before your congressional committees.
For example, Hatch's Labor and Human Resources Committee deals with a great range of legislation, including food and drug laws, hospital care and health insurance. Accordingly, Hatch has solicited and received from the PACs of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, $1,000; from FHP Inc. Health Service, $1,000; and the Health Insurance Association, $1,000; to name but a few.
His Democratic opponent, Brian Moss, simply can't get money from such sources, because he isn't in the Senate and so is in no position to help or harm those businesses through federal legislation. Moss has raised just $44,100 from PACs, compared with Hatch's $300,000 this year. Almost all of Moss' PAC money comes from labor unions angry over Hatch's right-to-work stands.
PAC money doesn't have to come from groups whose products you personally enjoy or even approve of. Hatch is a faithful member of the LDS Church and doesn't drink alcohol, use tobacco or gamble. But he accepted PAC contributions from the National Beer Wholesalers' Association, the Smokeless Tobacco Council and from the Nevada Resort Association, which condones gambling.
Owens has become the master of getting PAC contributions from both sides of the fence. Both the carpenters' union and the National Homebuilders Association contributed to his race. Owens is proud of how much money he's raised from business PACs, but he's also raised more than $21,500 of his $68,000 PAC contributions from labor union PACs.
Gunn McKay, who is running against Hansen for the third time, has raised $80,350 from PACs. McKay isn't an incumbent but still has Washington, D.C., friends from his 10 years in the U.S. House _ 1970-80. However, without the direct connections to PACs whose groups appear before a congressional committee he may sit on, McKay has turned to the traditional source for Democratic challengers _ labor unions. He's raised about $45,000, more than half his PAC money, from labor union PACs.