Time for reader participation via a short quiz.
How are Utah House and Senate races financed?A. Through small donations from businesses and citizens who support their neighbor running for the citizen Legislature.
B. By wealthy candidates who give money to their own campaigns.
C. By large businesses and special interest political action committees who are trying to buy influence.
D. I don't know because the sneaks in the Legislature have specifically exempted themselves from financial reporting before their elections.
If you answered A, you are naive.
If you answered B or C or both B and C, you are right.
If you answered D you are cynical, and I sympathize with your conclusion.
Legislative candidates only have to report their campaign donations and expenses after the November election. Those reports are due 30 days following the election, and most - but not all - have been filed with the lieutenant governor's office.
I spent several hours this week looking through those reports, and several things are clear: In most cases, especially incumbents seeking re-election, special interests are paying for Utah legislative races.
Gone are the days where a citizen candidate could walk his neighborhood - or drive through his rural countryside - visiting old friends, making new ones - spend $100 or even $1,000 and win a seat in the Utah House.
The Senate is even worse. Spending for Senate races was $5,000 to $10,000 in the early 1980s when I first started covering campaigns and the Legislature.
The fivefold increase in legislative campaign spending during the 1980s is bad enough. Of more concern is where the money is coming from - and who the legislators are beholden to for that cash.
After reviewing about a hundred candidate filings I can tell you this. In general, Democratic candidates are financed by labor unions and the Utah Education Association and its affiliated local district teacher unions.
Republicans have their campaign bills paid, in general, by big business and non-labor union, special interest PACs.
There are exceptions, of course. Democrat George Mantes raised $23,750 in his Senate 13 race - a district centered in Tooele but which also includes Magna and Lehi. Mantes had a broad range of contributors, business and individuals, from his own district.
However, more reports look like Democrat Susan Way's. She raised $7,520 in her House District 34 race, and $5,725 of that total - nearly 80 percent - came from labor union PACs, the UEA and House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich's personal PAC. But at least Way had a number of small contributions from her district constituents.
I'm not criticizing Way or the other 100 legislative candidates whose money came from special interest groups.
What I'm pointing out is that the average Joe and Jane citizen in Utah have lost influence with their legislator because they aren't financing his or her campaign. Special interests rule the campaign pocketbooks of legislators and have much to much influence in the Utah Legislature.
Take these simple examples.
Utah is one of only four states that don't require lobbyists to file financial disclosure statements detailing how much they spend entertaining lawmakers.
Utah has no effective ethics or conflict-of-interest laws or rules telling lawmakers what they can accept from lobbyists.
Utah is one of only a handful of states that allow lobbyists on the floor of the House and Senate chambers, while in session, to talk to legislators.
Lobbyists, at least twice a week during legislative sessions, buy legislators caucus lunches and bend their ears while they eat. The public waits outside, in the hallways. Something symbolic in that, isn't there?