Utah legislators raked in the cash during last year even though lawmakers were not running campaigns as all House members and half the Senate plan their re-elections this year.
In addition, nearly all the incumbents raised most, if not all, of their money from special-interest groups who may well want something from the 2008 Legislature, which meets in its annual general session in just two weeks.
Legislative candidates' 2007 year-end financial reports were due at 5 p.m. Monday.
And while some well-known legislators waited until the last minutes to either fax in hard copies of their reports to the state Elections Office or file online, a review of the submitted reports by the Deseret Morning News late Monday showed that many legislators are carrying huge cash surpluses money that can be used for anything, including legislators giving it to themselves.
The most successful fundraiser is House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy. His reports show that he has nearly $230,000 in his personal campaign account and nearly $100,000 in his Speaker's PAC giving him $330,000 at his disposal.
Even though Curtis only won re-election by 20 votes in 2006, in 2007 he was actively raising funds for his 2008 re-election and maybe bigger races down the road.
Curtis recently told the newspaper that he will run for re-election to his Sandy district this year and will run for another two-year term as speaker as well. In 2006, he gave much of his campaign donations to fellow GOP House members helping them not only win their own races but, hopefully, endearing them to vote for him as speaker one more time. It worked, as Curtis was unopposed in his last speaker's race.
Curtis promises that he will spend more and campaign harder this year so that Election Day won't be such a white-knuckle affair for him in 2008.
A review of the legislative campaign filings also showed that a number of senators are carrying very large cash balances as well. Senators run every four years, as opposed to House members who must run every two years.
For example, Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, who was unsuccessfully targeted by Republicans for defeat in 2006, has a cash balance of $35,688, new filings show, even though he won't face re-election until 2010.
Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Sandy, has nearly $60,000 in cash, her new report says.
Some legislators are clearly raising funds hard now in anticipation of a tough race this year.
For example, Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, barely won in 2006. He starts 2008 with a healthy $44,697 in cash.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, known for his ultra-conservative stands, may have won the award for the best 2007 fundraising. Buttars new report shows he raised $80,700 last year. He only started the year with $2,500, he spent $36,000, and so he needed some cash, apparently, to start his 2008 re-election effort.
Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, died recently, and local Democratic delegates picked his wife, Karen, to fill out his term. The Maynes transferred $61,000 from his account (zeroing out that account) into a new account set up for Karen. And she said Monday that she will run for that seat when it comes up for re-election.
A quick review of the contributors to lawmakers' accounts show special-interest money makes up by far most of the cash legislators raised last year.
An in-depth review by the newspaper following the 2006 elections showed that many legislators got no money, not one dime, from any constituent living in their legislative districts. Instead, they funded their accounts either from special-interest money or from their own pockets.
Who gives money to legislators during an off-year when the public officials don't even have an election?
A number of the larger PACs continued to give in an off-year, although perhaps not as much as in an election year. Two of the 2007 favorites were Reagan Outdoor Advertising and Altria, a national tobacco firm.
Why such big cash balances?
Clearly, some legislators are looking forward to more expensive state or federal races, like running for governor or the U.S. Congress.
Currently, there are no contribution limits in Utah state races. So if Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, were to run for governor in 2010, as is rumored, he could put all of his $140,000 into that race as a nice start to a multimillion-dollar campaign.
Curtis reportedly helped draw the 4th U.S. House seat district boundaries to include his Sandy home, and no currently incumbent U.S. House members were grouped into that new district. Utah will surely get a fourth seat in 2012 following the 2010 Census, assuming a bill to give Utah a fourth seat doesn't pass Congress sooner.Federal races do have contribution limits, but Curtis could give the $330,000 in his legislative accounts to himself, pay taxes on that amount and then donate his personal money to his federal campaign.
Utah lawmakers list their funds
House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy $330,000
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem $138,000
Senate Asst. Maj. Whip Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse $96,000
Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo $79,000
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan $68,000
Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville $64,084
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley $61,000
Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Sandy $60,000
House Majority Leader Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara $50,000Source: Year-end legislative financial reports