Special interest groups seeking legislative influence don't win every contest they enter, of course. But only a fool would welcome being opposed by a powerful group like the Utah Education Association.
The UEA, the state's largest teacher union, gave about $100,000 to legislative races in 1990 and provided valuable campaign consulting, strategy, polling and get-out-the-vote efforts.In some races, the UEA's support was overwhelming and probably made the difference.
For example, Rep. Pat Nix, R-Orem, was no friend of the UEA. Nix was one of the most conservative members of the House. When moderate Republican Norm Nielsen decided to run against her, UEA officials contacted him early and encouraged him, sources said.
The UEA gave Nielsen $6,882 in in-kind contributions before his primary election, Nielsen's financial report shows.
He raised $4,773 in cash contributions and spent $2,309. Thus, the teacher union gave Nielsen 74 percent of the money he spent on his campaign. Nix, of course, got no UEA money. She spent $2,616. Since their Utah County district is heavily Republican, after Nielsen beat Nix in the primary election he coasted to victory against Democrat Helen Weeks, who also didn't get any UEA money. The UEA's contribution not only helped Nielsen to win, it also allowed him to spend only half of the non-UEA funds he raised. Nielsen ended his campaign with $2,463 in the bank - money he can use over the next two years shoring up his incumbency, defending his seat against a possible challenge from Nix or some other conservative Republican.
The UEA was also successful in helping Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton, defeat conservative Don Sperry Redd in a GOP primary. Redd actually ran against the UEA in his campaign. The UEA and Davis Education Association gave Barlow $5,000. He beat Redd, 61 percent to 39 percent.
Labor union money also is a big help in legislative campaigns. The AFL-CIO and affiliated union PACs give almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and the cash is invaluable in a Republican-dominated state. Some Democratic candidates got a fourth to a half of their campaign funds from union PACs, records show.
Republican Sen. Richard Tempest of Salt Lake was a pain in the side of labor leaders. Tempest, who owns a non-union pipeline construction company, routinely introduced legislation that union leaders opposed. Last year, Tempest introduced a right-to-work law that was so tough even the Republican-dominated Senate wouldn't go along with him. Senators voted it down.
When IBM executive Scott Howell, a Democrat, decided to challenge Tempest, union PACs were glad to help out. All told, union PACs gave Howell about $3,000. Tempest didn't help his campaign by refusing all contributions, including $2,000 from the Senate Republican Committee. Tempest financial reports show he spent no money on his campaign. And Howell, who spent $20,000, beat Tempest 56 percent to 44 percent.
The large special interest PACs like the UEA and Utah Public Employee Association don't always give cash. In some cases they open extended lines of credit for a candidate. The chosen candidates simply submit campaign bills to the union PAC for payment. The PAC leaders usually pay the bills but can refuse to pay them as well.
"(The line of credit) is really a better way to control the campaign spending," said one lobbyist who has consulted on such dealings. "If you give a candidate $5,000 in cash he can spend it on anything, or spend it unwisely. If you give him a $5,000 line of credit, you can basically tell him what to spend it on." It goes without saying that such lines of credit give the special interest PAC even greater control over a candidate's campaign.