Utah's 104 state senators and representatives each make about $4,500 a year in part-time legislative pay, yet millions of dollars are spent every two years electing and lobbying these lawmakers, money raised and spent mostly by special interest groups trying to buy influence.
In the past 10 years, the number of paid full-time or part-time lobbyists vying for your legislator's attention and favor has increased three-fold. What's more, the cost of campaigns your House and Senate member run every couple of years has jumped five times, and special interest groups now dominate campaign financing.Some, like House Speaker-elect Craig Moody, thinks much of the change is for the better. He argues that through tougher campaigning and incumbent newsletters, "constituents are being served better, are included in the decisionmaking processes much more than when I first came here."
But others are very worried--worried that, like the money-hungry campaigns for the U.S. House and Senate, races for the Utah House and Senate cost too much and produce too little; worried about the lack of clear ethical guidelines for part-time legislators who must also make a living; worried that special interest political action committees, groups and businesses are buying too much power on Capitol Hill.
Deputy Lt. Gov. Dave Hansen was state GOP executive director in the early 1980s and complied a study of the 1982 legislative races. The average campaign for a contested House race--a Democrat running against a Republican--that year cost $2,657. A contested Senate race averaged $6,771.
In just eight years, the cost of most contested House and Senate races has increased three to five times. And what's perhaps more alarming, most of the 1990 House and Senate races were financed by special interest money. Some candidates raised 70 to 90 percent of their money from political action committees, private businesses and lobbyists who want favors. Small, individual contributions from a candidate's neighbors and friends, which made up much of campaign financing in years gone by, are an endangered species.
When Haven Barlow first ran for the Utah Senate 30 years ago, he spent maybe $1,000, most raised from friends. This past year, facing a troubling primary challenge from within his own Repiblican Party, Barlow raised and spent nearly $30,000--$5,500 of it his own money and more than $10,000 from special interest PACs. The Utah Education Association and David Education Association together gave Barlow $5,000.
Barlow won, but he still complains of the cost. "My own $5,500 means I work for a year (in the Legislature) without pay. The cost of campaigning is just miserable.
But his was not the most expensive race. That honor belongs to Democratic Senate candidate Robert Steiner, who spent more than $32,000 in defeating GOP Sen. Richard Carling. Carling, a long-term incumbent, raised $26,000 and spent $20,000 in his effort -- making the 1990 Senate District 3 the first state race in history costing more than $55,000.
"The cost of races has gone up, way up the last severeal years," says Moody. "But we (Republicans) can still run an adequate House race for $5,000."
Maybe. But several House candidates spent over $20,000 this year--some won, some lost. And win or lose, they got their money from special interest groups.
In Moody's own Sandy district, he had only one constituent donation -- $300. Moody raised nearly $18,000, and the rest came from PACs, businesses and individuals outside of his district.
Moody, who was a two-term state chairman of the Republican Party, makes no apologies for his fund raising. "Some of my money came from individual contributions given to the (Republican) party or our own (House GOP) fund-raising PAC."
That's true, but such "armslength" contributions dilute the lawmaker-constituent relationship, some believe.
Moody blames the change in Utah fund raising on Congress, saying the federal body warped Utah campaign financing. "They took away the tax deduction for political contributions in the mid-1980s. Why should someone give to you if they can't deduct it from their income taxes?"
"Have we gotten away from small town politics? Absolutely, it's changed. Part of the reason is size--the number of people in a House district has gorwn dramatically in the last 10 years," says Moody. "You have to reach them through (direct) mailings, and those cost money."
The money comes from special interests, and there's high technology to find it. Republican leaders supply House and Senate members a list of PACs. The candidate picks the PACs they feel comfortable soliciting money from, and then a mailing is sent to those PACs.
"Does (special interest money) buy legislators? No one thinks so. I certainly don't," says Moody. "But does it buy access? Yes."
In tough races, like Barlow's and Steiner's, the need for extra cash is more apparent. But some candidates with little opposition have begun piling up money, building was chests they hope will secure years of incimbency.
No laws or rules govern legislative campaign funds. Candidates can accept any amount of money from anyone or any group they wish, spending the case on anything--including themselves.
Democrat Karen Shepherd had no serious opposition in her Salt Lake City Senate district, yet she raised $31,300 and has $9,130 left over in her campaign fund. The $9,000 will come in handy to discourage 1994 Republican challengers or get her acquainted with new constituents after the Republican-controlled redistricting in 1991.
Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, has more than $17,000 sitting in his campaign fund following the 1990 election, money raised from special interest PACs and businesses he can use for any purpose.