When Taxpayers For Utah made its public debut last July, it was criticized by tax-initiative proponents as an elitist organization that would conduct "an expensive brainwashing campaign."

Indeed, the organization formed to fight the initiatives

named as its leaders two former governors, a former U.S. senator and a former legislator - then announced plans to spend upward of $600,000.But with just days to go before the Nov. 8 election, officials of Taxpayers For Utah are using the term "grass roots" to describe their efforts and have acknowledged raising only about half of the money they sought.

That lack of money led Taxpayers For Utah to use such low-cost campaign strategies as distributing brochures door to door instead of the anticipated blitz of media advertising, the organization's campaign director has said.

However, the idea that Taxpayers For Utah is a grass-roots organization was dismissed by a spokesman for the tax-initiative movement as just another campaign strategy.

"It's very smooth and it's very slick," said radio talk-show host Mills Crenshaw, a founder of the Tax Limitation Coalition. "I would not expect anything less from them. It's brilliant."

Seeing the foes of the tax initiatives switch from state leaders to members of the PTA and other ordinary citizens did catch the coalition off guard, Crenshaw admitted.

Being the voice of people has been the role played by the Tax Limitation Coalition since the petition drive to get the three tax initiatives on the ballot was launched last year.

Coalition members came from the protesters who chanted, "No more taxes" at the Capitol and who used Crenshaw's talk show to vent their frustration over being unable to stop the biggest tax increase in the state's history.

They were successful in getting three initiatives on the ballot, which would limit property tax rates and government growth, roll back the tax increase and lower state income tax rates, and give parents of children in private schools a tax credit.

For awhile, it looked as if they could be as successful in their portrayal of their battle with Taxpayers For Utah as a "David and Goliath" struggle. "It's grass roots or elitists," claimed a coalition press release last July.

"They have the big money, the big law firms, the big politicians and the big PR operation," Greg Beesley, coalition chairman, said in the release as a response to the formation of Taxpayers For Utah.

"We have the support of 100,000 people and the chance to put government back in the hands of the people," he said, referring to the number of Utahns who signed and circulated the initiative petitions.

The Utah Taxpayers Association, a tax watchdog group behind the property tax limitation initiative, also joined in the fray last July, predicting Taxpayers For Utah would conduct an "expensive brainwashing campaign."

In fact, television commercials for Taxpayers For Utah did not begin airing until two weeks before the election. Three different commercials are scheduled to run on four local television stations.

Only one of the three television commercials spotlights a leader of Taxpayers For Utah, former Gov. Scott M. Matheson. He is shown talking about the wide variety of groups that are helping to defeat the tax initiatives.

The other two television commercials feature an unseen announcer talking about the effects the initiatives would have on education, public safety and transportation.

Officials of Taxpayers For Utah won't say how much money is being spent on television and radio advertising, but it is about half of what the organization's advertising agency, Harris & Love Inc. Advertising, had proposed.

Campaign strategy is not a topic officials of Taxpayers For Utah like to talk about. They simply emphasize that theirs is a "neighbor-to-neighbor" campaign supported by a growing list of diverse groups. The organization has named county chairmen responsible for running local campaigns against the tax initiatives.

The county efforts have been under way in many areas since mid-August, circulating hundreds of thousands of brochures supplied by Taxpayers For Utah as well as campaign materials produced with local money.

In contrast, the Tax Limitation Coalition kicked off its final campaign drive last weekend with a repeat of the 1987 rallies. Fewer than half the 6,000 supporters who had crowded the Capitol returned to cheer the cause of lower taxes.