In 1983 there were 440 registered lobbyists talking, cajoling, wining and dining Utah's 104 citizen lawmakers. Today there are more than 1,200.
That's about 10 lobbyists for every House and Senate member.But it's not just the numbers that have increased. According to both lobbyists and legislators, the amount of money spent by lobbyists and their special-interest groups in entertaining and in campaign support for lawmakers has increased dramatically.
During the past election, lobbyists played their greatest role ever. One well-known lobbyist served as a political consultant to half a dozen special-interest groups, sources told the Deseret News. While the political action committees of those groups made the actual decisions on candidate support, the lobbyist was instrumental in handing out more than $200,000 to legislative candidates - Republicans and Democrats alike.
That's a greater financial impact on legislative races than the Republican and Democratic parties themselves carried.
Lobbyists, from PTA volunteers who donate their time to the "hired gun" professionals who earn upwards of a quarter of a million dollars a year, have greater access to Utah lawmakers than their counterparts in almost any other state.
Utah law has one small requirement - lobbyists who are compensated for their work or spend money lobbying lawmakers must pay a $10 registration fee and list who they represent with the lieutenant governor's office.
But that's it. There's no financial disclosure by lobbyists on how much they spend on legislators, no licensing or monitoring of lobbyists, no limits on what they can spend or how they go about their work. Attempts in recent legislatures to pass such lobbying-control laws failed.
Utah is one of the few states that allow lobbyists on the House and Senate chamber floors during debate. (House Speaker-elect Craig Moody says he will remove the chairs surrounding the walls of the House where lobbyists traditionally sit. Instead, they'll stand or have to ply their trade in committee meeting rooms starting this year). Lobbyists must get permission from a lawmaker to enter the chamber, but that's routinely given. Former lawmakers have complete access to the chambers, so former lawmakers who are now lobbyists - and there's a dozen of them - can walk onto the chamber floor without permission.
Lobbyists buy numerous dinners and lunches for lawmakers during the session and for the monthly study committee meetings during the year. They pay for free ski weekends for lawmakers, snowmobile trips, innumerable rounds of golf and tickets to sporting and cultural events. The better-known, most successful lobbyists have the run of legislative offices.
A well-known lobbyist had to be asked by Senate President Arnold Christensen several years ago not to use the private office of the Senate Rules Committee chairman to make her telephone calls and entertain her clients. That same lobbyist is recommended, sources said, by Senate staff secretaries to prospective clients who call the Senate offices asking how best to get a bill passed.
Richard Strong, executive director of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, whose office writes bills for legislators, had to change his official stamp used on draft bills because some downtown attorney-lobbyists had the stamp copied and were trying to officially introduce their own bills in the Legislature.
So many lobbyists want to give to lawmakers that both the House and Senate designate a majority member to serve as speaker of the Third House, an official "special event" coordinator who oversees the largess of service. (See accompanying story).
"Utah legislators are terribly paid," says one lobbyist. "I think they deserve some perks - like a free lunch or dinner. It's become part of the compensation. Is it worse for the private sector to pay it or the taxpayer?"
That's the exact same argument used by U.S. House and Senate members who opposed Congress' 35 percent pay raise last year. The pay raise came in lieu of honorariums - the outside speaking and writing fees national lawmakers were taking to supplement their $89,000-a-year salaries. Congressmen could earn up to 40 percent of their pay in honorariums.
But so far, few Utah organizations are interested in paying part-time lawmakers to speak. Or if they are, few know about it, since there is no reporting of such fees either for lawmakers or lobbyists.
How much is spent lobbying the Legislature? It's impossible to tell, because there is absolutely no financial disclosure. But here are some guesses on legislative lobbying, put together by several professional lobbyists:
- There are 50 to 75 corporate and association lobbyists who work almost full time on Capitol Hill during the 45-day session and at least part-time on legislative lobbying the rest of the year. They make, probably, between $50,000 and $60,000 a year and each have expense accounts of $5,000 to $15,000. A fair estimate of the cost is $3 million in salaries and $1 million in expenses.
- Thirty to 50 private attorneys spend part or most of their time lobbying during the session. An attorney who puts his mind to lobbying probably bills between $20,000 and $50,000 in fees per session. A fair estimate is $250,000 in costs to clients.
- Seven to 10 independent "hired guns," the newest breed of private lobbyists, make between $50,000 and $250,000 a year as professional lobbyists. They include Doug Foxley, former campaign manager to Gov. Norm Bangerter and a Board of Regents member; Reed Searle, former chief of staff to Bangerter; Paul Rogers, former state senator and a political ally of Bangerter; Steve Creamer, well-known southern Utah engineer who has branched out into lobbying; Sue Ferry, wife of former Senate President Cap Ferry; and local advertising executive Dale Zabriskie, also a regent.
Salt Lake County Commissioner-elect Randy Horiuchi was also a leading independent lobbyist, but he's giving up his practice when he takes his commission seat the first of the year.
The "hired guns" usually charge between $5,000 and $25,000 a year to each client. Last year, Foxley reported lobbying for 14 clients, including Geneva Steel, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Union Pacific Railroad and the Utah Ski Association. A fair estimate of independent lobbyists' costs is $700,000.
- Thirty to 50 state department executives who, while often called upon to give vital information to lawmakers, also lobby their legislative bosses for program increases. These officials make between $30,000 and $50,000 a year and spend most of the 45-day session at the Capitol. A fair estimate is $250,000 in salaries during the session.
Add it up and you reach $5 million a year for lobbying and entertaining the Legislature.
Lobbying is a vital part of the legislative process. The 104 part-time lawmakers, who each make $65 a day plus expenses, don't have the time or expertise to understand complicated laws and regulations. Legislators considered 678 bills in the 1990 session and participated in putting together the $3.2 billion state budget. They're overworked and appreciate a fair assessment of a bill, no matter who gives it.
Unlike the federal Congress and many big-state legislatures, hiring a lobbyist isn't a necessity in getting your bill passed in the Utah Legislature, lobbyists and legislators say.
"A citizen group by itself can still get a bill passed (in Utah). But it's changing," says one professional lobbyist. "The time is coming when you'll need professional help - advice if nothing else on which legislator should sponsor your bill, in which committee it has the best chance, when is the best time to run it (bring the bill up for consideration), and the proper propaganda for your selling pitch. Lobbyists are effective, there's no doubt about that. Your cause is greatly helped by hiring one."