Incumbent congressmen - from Utah and elsewhere - are using heavy contributions from political-action committees or PACs to raise many times more money than their challengers, according to a study released last week.
In other words, incumbents are becoming PAC-men, according to the study by the watchdog group Common Cause.The study showed that 92 percent of all the money contributed by PACs in House races this year has gone to incumbents.
Utah incumbents haven't done quite that well, taking only 67 percent of all PAC money donated in their races.
Still, Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer said, "The PAC-rigged system for financing congressional elections is creating a challenger-proof House of Representatives." Roughly 98 percent of incumbents who sought re-election two years ago won - aided by heavy PAC contributions.
Wertheimer worries business groups and others that form PACs are buying elections. "When House incumbents can't lose regardless of performance, and House challengers can't win regardless of talent, then we don't have real elections and we don't have representative government," he said.
Ironically, former National Republican Party Chairman Richard Richards, a Utahn, recently told the Deseret News that PACs were not envisioned originally as a way to help incumbents, but as a way to allow businesses to indirectly donate to Republicans like labor unions had donated to Democrats over the years.
"We thought businesses with PACs would donate heavily to Republicans. We were wrong. They donated to incumbents, regardless of their party," he said.
A Common Cause study of Federal Elections Commission records shows incumbents received $63.4 million of the $67.8 million that PACs donated, allowing incumbents to raise nearly five times as much money as challengers.
In Utah races, Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has raised $86,150 in PAC contributions compared with a mere $5,000 raised by his Democratic opponent, Robert Stringham.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, raised $334,111 in PAC contributions compared with only $26,635 raised by his Republican challenger Richard Snelgrove.
The race for PAC money in the 1st District was close, however. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, raised $174,558 compared with $169,450 raised by former Democratic congressman Gunn McKay.
Of note, Common Cause said only 30 of 789 candidates for Congress in the nation were able to raise more than $300,000 from PACs - and Wayne Owens was one of them.
Owens raised more from PACs alone than any other House candidate in Utah has raised for the entire campaign so far.