Special interest groups - teachers, government workers, labor unions and others - have always sought influence in the Utah Legislature. But in the past 10 years the special interest groups' methods have become more sophisticated, their money all-encompassing.
Put bluntly, special interest groups rule legislative campaign financing, their lobbyists have the run of the Capitol, and their candidate targeting and get-out-the-vote organizations strike fear in those they oppose.The shear impact of their cash is impressive.
The Utah Education Association - the main public education union - gave $99,533 to legislative campaigns in 1990, political action committee reports show. That's more money than the Democratic and Republican parties themselves raised for their own candidates.
And that's just the UEA's PAC. Local affiliates, like the Granite Education Association and Davis Education Association, gave tens of thousands of dollars also to legislative candidates.
The main AFL-CIO PAC gave $34,000 to legislative candidates. Add in other labor union PAC giving, and labor spent more than $50,000 on legislative races.
And the Utah Public Employee Association, the main state government union, gave $24,000 to legislative candidates, records show.
Money is but a part of those special interests' work, however. PACs and businesses have to report only cash and in-kind donations to candidates. They don't report related political activity spending.
For example, the UEA this year, like years past, hired former GOP legislators David Irvine and Georgia Peterson as political consultants. The pair researches the voting records of incumbents the UEA wants defeated and provides that information to UEA-backed challengers. Brochures are prepared for UEA-backed candidates, campaign strategy developed and polls taken for those candidates. A teacher get-out-the-vote effort is also conducted.
All told, the teacher unions spent at least $200,000 on legislative campaigns.
UEA officials want to influence education policy, and they rightly figure the Legislature is the place to do it. Their efforts are aimed at electing moderate or liberal legislators who favor UEA goals.
Besides its campaign activities, the teacher union also hired former GOP Sen. Paul Rogers, a political ally of Gov. Norm Bangerter, as its lobbyist this past year. Rogers was instrumental, some say, in diverting a teacher strike by working directly with Bangerter and lawmakers on a teacher pay package.
The UEA doesn't win every race or every issue it takes on, of course. But its money and strategy, especially when used against conservative Republicans in GOP primary races, have over the past few years defeated a number of right-wing politicians. The teacher union's giving can have a small impact on some races, maybe only 5 percent of campaign contributions, or it can have an overwhelming influence, making up 75 percent or 80 percent of contributions.
Often, the greatest financial impact comes in Republican primary contests, where large UEA giving really makes a difference. Traditionally, no one wants to give in primary races because backing the loser just means having to give again to the winner of the primary. But the UEA's goal is moderate legislators, not victories by any one party, so it doesn't mind giving in primaries. (See accompanying story.)
While the UEA gives to both Republicans and Democrats - although more to Democrats in the general election - labor unions give almost exclusively to Democratic legislative candidates.
Of the $34,000 donated by the main AFL-CIO PAC in 1990 to legislative races, all but $1,000 went to Democratic candidates. Five hundred dollars each went to Sens. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, and Lorin Pace, R-Salt Lake, in their GOP primary races.
Like the UEA, union money can have a big impact on targeted races. AFL-CIO president Ed Mayne says, however, that the union's greatest help comes in mobilizing its members and their families and in get-out-the-vote efforts.
The main state government employee union - the UPEA - gave $23,934 to legislative candidates, Republicans and Democrats. But UPEA leaders also had a twist in their legislative influence - one aimed at buying influence in unlikely places.
UPEA leaders gave $14,000 to the State Republican Party with a list of GOP legislative candidates they wanted to receive the money, sources said. In turn, the state party gave the money to the Committee For a Republican Majority - the House GOP leadership's personal PAC. The CRM then doled the money out to individual Republican candidates, letting them know quietly where it came from.
The "laundering" of the money had three advantages, sources said. First, it allowed GOP candidates to get government employee money without having to list it directly on their personal campaign disclosures. Some incumbent GOP lawmakers may find such a contribution a liability at re-election time.
Second, giving anonymously to GOP candidates allows UPEA leaders to then give directly to Democratic challengers of those GOP candidates without the Democrats knowing about it. Democratic lawmakers, who traditionally support UPEA goals, would be upset at such devilishness.
Finally, giving money through the CRM may help Republican leaders stay leaders - a bonus when UPEA lobbyists come calling during the session. Although they deny using the fund to trade votes for leadership positions, GOP leaders do decide which Republican candidates get CRM campaign money and how much they get.
Any list of special interests that have an impact on the Legislature would be incomplete without naming the most powerful entity of all - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church rarely gets involved in legislative matters, but Church leaders on occasion do take stands on what they consider moral issues. Simply put, the Church doesn't lose on Capitol Hill, where about 85 percent of legislators are faithful LDS members. The church never backs a political candidate or contributes to political campaigns.
But wise lawmakers make sure church leaders are aware of touchy legislation, like liquor law changes. In recent years, church leaders have made public statements on issues like a flat-rate income tax.
Other large special interests give considerable cash to legislative candidates, but they don't have the membership organizations - like the UEA, labor unions and UPEA - to provide much needed campaign support. Some of those special interests who gave to legislative races include: Geneva Steel, $61,000 (most to legislative races, but money also went to the state Republican Party and Bangerter's Governor's Ball Committee); Union Pacific Railroad, $35,100; Utah Ophthalmological Society, $17,720.