Cash Up Front

It appears that not running for re-election is a lucrative side business for Utah state legislators. That is, even in a year when they're not running for office they're collecting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from the usual special interest suspects and converting it for personal use all the while denying that financing your lifestyle with money from pharmaceutical companies in any way influences your decisions as a lawmaker.

Here's what you get when there are no controls on the flow of campaign cash to legislators:

Although 2007 was not an election year, special interests donated $827,000 in campaign funds to Utah legislators.

With no campaigns last year, lawmakers converted about a third of that cash to what appear to be personal or other uses that have little to do with campaigning, according to Deseret Morning News analysis of the 104 part-time legislators' campaign disclosure forms.


That included paying for new clothes, dry cleaning, car repairs, high-occupancy vehicle lane passes, passports, baby-sitting, travel, Utah Jazz games, parking tickets, wedding or birth gifts, concealed weapons permit classes, wages to a spouse for campaign work, repaying themselves tens of thousands of dollars in earlier campaign loans — and even paying themselves for lost income during the general session.

Pretty much the only campaign finance regulation in place is an obligation to disclose where the campaign money came from but that particular requirement doesn't seem to have dissuaded the lobbyists looking to curry favor with legislators.

Analysis shows that about 98 percent of the $848,000 in campaign money donated to legislators during the nonelection 2007 year came from special interests such as corporations, lobbyists and political action committees.

Only 2 percent came from either candidates themselves or constituents living within their district boundaries, the newspaper found.

 

And of course the legislators can turn right around and give the money they get from lobbyists to other campaigns and candidates, further broadening the circle of access and influence bought with one big check. Oh Utah, you make the U.S. Congress look practically alabaster with virtue.