Republican Rep. Merrill Cook represents Utah. But he's raised $3,240 more in political donations from the District of Columbia than in Utah this election cycle.

But don't expect his opponent, Democrat Lily Eskelsen, to make that a campaign issue. After all, she raised more than twice as much in the District of Columbia as in Utah - $84,050 to $36,650.Those are examples of how, while Utahns elect their own members of Congress, outsiders are paying for most campaign costs.

In fact, outsiders provided 71 percent of donated money all Utah congressional candidates received so far in the 1997-98 cycle.

That's according to a computer-assisted review by the Deseret News of Federal Election Commission data about donations by advocacy groups and individuals identified by name and state.

Such dependence on outsiders is happening just as parties and candidates hoped for increased local donations, in part because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged its vast membership in Utah this year to be more active in politics.

"That hasn't translated into a rise in contributions," said Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. "In terms of political dollars, it has been tighter this year than the last several years."

"That's true," agreed Spencer Stokes, executive director of the Utah Republican Party. "It translated into a bigger influx of volunteers rather than money."

So, money from outsiders is key to making some Utah campaigns strong, while lack of it is nearly killing others.

For example, consider Eskelsen, the only challenger in a Utah congressional race currently considered competitive in the polls.

She raised slightly more in Utah than the state's other two Democratic challengers for Congress: $36,650. Senate candidate Scott Leckman had $35,761 and 1st District House candidate Steve Beierlein raised $20,950 in the state.

What makes a big difference for Eskelsen is the large amounts she's attracted from outside Utah, which the others lack. She's raised $223,246 from non-Utahns, while Leckman has a paltry $17,200 and Beierlein has only $15,500.

That outside money allows her to match or exceed spending by Cook. So far, she has raised more than he has, with all sources considered.

Meanwhile, Beierlein had to provide $140,079 out of his own pocket to keep up with outside money raised by his opponent, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah. That means $3 of every $4 that Beierlein raised came from his own wallet.

Data show Eskelsen has attracted the largest percentage of outside money among candidates: 86 percent from identified donors. Trailing at 73 percent are Cook and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, is at 72 percent and Hansen 53 percent.

Leckman and Beierlein are the only candidates who attract the majority of their money from Utah, and the only ones not considered competitive at this point. Leckman has 32 percent of his donations from outsiders and Beierlein has 43 percent.

Some strong incumbents even attract more from some single outside states and cities than their opponents have been able to raise in Utah or in the entire nation.

For example, Bennett has raised more than Leckman's overall national total of $52,961. In the District of Columbia Bennett raised $233,046; in California, $90,550, in Virginia, $71,871 and in Illinois, $59,892.

Also, Bennett raised $37,536 in New York, which was more than Leckman's total identifiable Utah donations of $35,761.

Hansen also exceeded the $15,500 Beierlein raised from Utah donors by collecting $20,750 in Virginia and $15,750 in the District of Columbia.

A review of computerized FEC data also shows which outside states give the most to current congressional candidates in Utah.

Residents and groups in the District of Columbia have given the most by far: $504,563 (not far behind the $578,213 Utah residents and groups gave their own candidates).

Following the district are: Virginia, $155,977; California, $128,900; Illinois, $90,142; and New York, $51,786. Utah congressional candidates have received money from 45 of 50 states. Only Hawaii, Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia have failed to provide any financial backing for the Utahns.

The reason the District of Columbia likely gives the most among outside areas is that "political action committees" (PACs) of many major national advocacy group are based there. They also locate in the district's Virginia suburbs, likely making that state second.

Leckman is an example of those who see increasing dependence on outside money and PACs as dangerous. "Do we want other people dictating who will represent us?" he asked.

He adds, "The potential is there for outside interests to influence campaigns. Special interests see Bennett as someone they want to influence and have become his cash cow."

Bennett has received $565,439 from PACs, just over half of his total receipts. And 94 percent of his PAC money came from out of state.

But Bennett's campaign manager, Greg Hopkins, doesn't see PAC and outside money as sinister.

"A U.S. senator is a United States senator and not just a Utah senator," he said. "So the senator doesn't believe in limiting anyone's ability to participate in the process."

Hopkins added that complaints about "PAC money is an often-used refrain from under-funded candidates . . . When you're running a campaign, you take money from people who want to give you money."

Stokes with the Republican Party added that PACs raise money nationwide from their donors, "and it's tough to know how much may come from Utah." Also, he said, national companies often do business in Utah, so donations from their PACs often have local ties.

Representatives from both parties say Utah has long had a reputation as a tough place to raise money, compared to other states. They have many ideas about why Utah candidates can't raise more at home, making them dependent on outsiders.

"Utah doesn't have the culture of political giving that you find in other places," Taylor said. "There is more competition for the money than in other places. We do have larger families and a lower per capita income, and that has some effect.

"I think one of the biggest effects is self-financing candidates like Bob Bennett, Merrill Cook and Chris Cannon, who spent millions of their own money in their first elections," he said. People are less likely to think they need money and it's easier for such candidates to pay their own way than to raise it.

"It's tough calling someone you've only met once or twice and ask them for $500. It's a lot easier to pull out your own wallet," Taylor said.

Stokes has other ideas. For example, he said many people are reluctant to give because political donations are not tax deductible "and donations to other worthwhile causes are."

He said some states have overcome that partially by offering state income tax deductions for small donations.

He added that Utahns are also already giving much to other charities. For example, faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are expected to pay 10 percent of their income in tithing. "That is a large commitment," he said.

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CHART

BUYING UTAH'S CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS

U.S. SENATE UTAH DONATIONS* NON-UT.DONATIONS* TOTAL %FROM NON-UTAH.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R)$267,394 $716,758 $984,152 73%

Scott Leckman (D) $35,761 $17,200 $52,961 32%

U.S. HOUSE 1ST DISTRICT

Rep. Jim Hansen (R) $72,388 $82,131 $154,519 53%

Steve Beierlein (D) $20,950 $15,500 $36,450 43%

U.S. HOUSE 2ND DISTRICT

Rep. Merrill Cook (R)$76,695 $204,480 $281,175 73%

Lily Eskelsen (D) $36,650 $223,246 $259,896 86%

U.S. HOUSE 3RD DISTRICT

Rep. Chris Cannon $78,425 $200,751 $279,176 72%

UTAH TOTALS $588,263 $1,460,066 $2,048,329 71%

* Donations included are from individuals and political committees.

Records indentify only those individuals who gave more than $200.

SOURCE: Computerized Federal Election Commission data, evaluated by the Deseret News.