Conventional wisdom is that incumbent state legislators easily raise more money than challengers, thanks to special interests. That longtime axiom is eroding this year — as one of every four challengers is now actually outraising incumbents.

Among those being outraised are the only two incumbent legislators facing primaries on Tuesday — Reps. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, and Paul Neuenschwander, R-Bountiful, according to disclosure forms filed this week.

Donnelson raised only $4,800 — about a third of the $15,892 raised by GOP challenger Ryan Wilcox. And Neuenschwander raised $13,650, about half of the $25,000 raised by his primary opponent, Becky Edwards.

If money is a measure of support and ability to campaign effectively, several other incumbents might be worried this year. In 17 of the 68 legislative races where an incumbent is still facing a major-party challenger, the challengers have raised more money.

That includes embattled Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who survived a convention battle against four fellow Republicans after controversy about comments he made with racial overtones. He now faces Democrat John Rendell — who has raised $13,182 compared to the $8,300 raised by Buttars this year. (But Buttars still has $35,800 in cash on hand from previous years, while Rendell has only $5,300).

Some others include: Rep. Lorie Fowlke, R-Orem, who raised $3,050 compared to $17,104 by Democrat Paul Thompson; and Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who raised $13,049 compared to $22,766 by Democrat Steve Baugh.

Other examples include that Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, raised only $3,450 compared to $12,271 by Democrat Donald Jarvis; and Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, raised $12,575 compared to $13,429 by Republican Joe Jarvis.

Neuenschwander said he is not concerned that Edwards has outraised him this primary.

"She was able to get a few people with deep pockets to give to her campaign," he said. "That's fine, if you want to take so much money from one or two places."

Still, Neuenschwander said it was unfortunate that he failed to get 60 percent of the delegate vote in the GOP convention — and win the nomination outright — by just 1 delegate vote. "So now, between us, we'll probably spend around $40,000 on a primary race where maybe 2,200 people will vote." Only around 2,200 people voted in his 2006 primary race, he said.

Edwards said she was glad her husband and cousin could afford to help her with her campaign. She put $5,000 of her own money into her race, and got a $10,000 contribution from a cousin, another $7,500 from her husband, her report shows.

"People I talk to walking neighborhoods are really concerned about legislative ethics — they see how ethics ties into special interests, the power of the (GOP legislative) leaders, and how those things effect other issues, like roads. My opponent gets much of his money from special interests and fellow (Republican) legislators, and that concerns people I talk to," Edwards said.

You can read online the candidates' campaign financial filings by going to elections.utah.gov.

Despite such anomalies, three of every four incumbents still outraised challengers. That is due largely to support from special-interest political action committees or corporations that tend to invest in politicians who are already proven winners. Meanwhile, challengers often must use their own personal money to campaign.

And, like always, statistics are still in favor of incumbents: In the 2006 legislative races, 94 percent of the House incumbents who ran for re-election won; while 82 percent of the senators who ran for re-election won. So even should legislative incumbents find themselves being out fund-raised, they have history on their side.

The Deseret News analysis shows that of all money going to incumbents so far this year, 78 percent has come from PACs and corporations, 4 percent came from fellow politicians and 18 percent from individuals — with only 0.3 percent from their own pockets.

For challengers, 12 percent came from PACs and corporations, 15 percent came from their own pockets, 4 percent came from other politicians and 79 percent came from individuals.

The typical incumbent raised about $4,475 total compared to the $1,973 raised so far by the typical challenger.

The biggest donors overall so far in this years legislative races include: Rocky Mountain Power, $31,750 split among 51 candidates; the Utah Association of Realtors, $28,000 to 20 candidates; gay rights activist Bruce Bastian, $28,000 to 11 candidates; EnergySolutions, $26,110 to 66 candidates; and Parents for Choice in Education, $21,654 to 17 candidates.

Also among top donors at $21,000 was Senate Assistant Majority Whip Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse. His donations to five fellow GOP Senate candidates could help him win friends if he chooses to run for even higher party leadership positions.

The top amounts raised by individual candidates so far this year are: $45,000 by Republican David Hinkins in an open seat race to replace retiring Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price ($40,000 of that came from Hinkins' own pockets); and $42,171 by Republican Carlton Christensen (seeking the seat of Sen. Fred Fife, D-Salt Lake, defeated in convention).

Third on the the list was $41,740 by Republican Dan Liljenquist for an open seat being vacated by Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful (Liljenquist provided $11,000 from his own pocket). Liljenquist recently has received endorsements by GOP Senate leaders, who decided to jump into the intra-party race.

His GOP opponent, community activist Ron Mortensen, has raised only $5,200, and says it is tough to run against big money and big endorsements, even though he has put together a grass-roots campaign he believes has a chance.

Next highest were amounts raised by the Legislature's two top leaders. Senate President John Valentine raised $36,850, even though he is unopposed for reelection. House Speaker Greg Curtis raised $33,977.

Of final note, GOP legislative candidates as a group have raised 80 percent more than Democratic candidates: $771,000 to $427,000.


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