The series published this week by the Deseret News on the Utah Legislature: Who pays for it, who influences it, has drawn praise and condemnation.
One man, who said he recently moved to Utah to retire, called me to say he couldn't believe that lobbyists bought lunches and gave sporting tickets to Utah lawmakers and didn't have to report it. He added in disbelief: "You mean these guys (legislators) can spend their campaign money on anything, even themselves?"I told him yes, but that the legislators I know - and I know almost all of them - are honest, hard-working people who don't abuse the public's trust. "You really believe that, huh?" he said sarcastically.
Another man, who said he was a lobbyist, called Deseret News suggesting I be fired for writing the series, at the very least that the paper stop running the reports.
Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said one of the stories left a wrong impression about how he's spent leftover campaign funds. Christensen, who won re-election this year, has $17,000 left over from the campaign, the highest cash reserve of any legislative candidate.
Four years ago, after he won re-election in 1986, Christensen had about $4,000 left over, his campaign report that year shows. Legislators only report their campaign finances from the April 15 filing deadline until the November election in the years they run for office. They don't report any fund raising or expenditures in non-election years.
Christensen's latest campaign filing shows he didn't have the $4,000 on April 15, 1990. Christensen was out of town when the story was written and unavailable for comment. He says he spent the $4,000 helping other Republican senators get elected in 1986. "It certainly didn't go for anything other than campaign costs. I'll keep (the $17,000) for campaign expenses, my race in four years or to help other senators (in 1992). I even tried to report who I gave the ($4,000) to in 1986, but the Lieutenant Governor's Office said there was no need, it wasn't required. There's no (non-election year) report that I could even fill out, no line on the regular report that I could have used to report (the $4,000)," Christensen said.
The Senate president says the Legislature should adopt some campaign reporting reform this year, although he wonders how much good it will do to require lobbyists to report how much they spend on lawmakers. "There are always ways for people (lobbyists) to get around such reporting if they want to; I've seen such things in other states," he said.
On a different note, an old friend and former colleague LaVarr Webb is starting a new venture in political reporting.
Webb, who preceded me as Deseret News political editor, resigned as Deseret News managing editor last summer to seek his fortune in private publishing. One of his new projects is a political newsletter called PowerBase.
Webb says the newsletter is backed by six investors, all with longtime ties to Utah politics: Michael Leavitt, a former GOP consultant; Dale Zabriskie, a Democrat and free-lance lobbyist/public relations man; David Jordan, a Republican activist; Christopher Cannon, a well-known Republican supporter; Ken Gardner, former Democratic candidate for governor; and Mickey Gallivan, a long-time Democratic supporter.
The three Democrats and three Republicans on PowerBase's board ensures a bipartisan effort, Webb says.
The twice-monthly newsletter will cost about $100 a year. Webb hopes about 1,000 political junkies will subscribe. "We're targeting the political insiders - business executives, campaign contributors, lobbyists, public officials, academics, media personnel and political activists who want to read more about politics than is supplied in the traditional media," Webb says in pushing his new publication.
Webb says PowerBase will look at politics, government and the media, reporting on insider rumors, supplying much commentary and rating politicians and the media alike. The first issue is scheduled Feb. 1.