SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah state lawmakers received most of their campaign contributions from special interests and out-of-state donors, raising questions about the influence of big money donors on public policy.
Incoming legislators received a total of $3.54 million in donations last year, about triple the amount they received in 2017, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The paper found that 82 percent of those contributions came from special interests like Realtors, advertisers and bankers. Major industries making donations include health care, prescription drugs and labor unions.
The contributions probably don’t buy votes, but they may improve access to lawmakers, said Chase Thomas with the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah.
“All these companies wouldn’t be spending this money if they didn’t feel like something was coming out of it,” he said. “If you are going to get a big check from someone at a fundraiser, you’re probably going to spend more time with them than a random constituent.”
New Republican Senate President Stuart Adams said he thinks the state’s 104 lawmakers try to listen to everyone.
Rather than trying so sway votes, “people donate because they think you are doing a good job.”
Senate Democratic leader Karen Mayne said big donors don’t expect anything for their money, and lawmakers don’t give anything.
The donations “don’t guarantee anything. We just appreciate them supporting the process.”
Still, a lobbyist who represents less-moneyed interests like services for the poor and wildlife groups said he’s at something of a disadvantage on capitol hill.
“When it comes to lobbying access, money talks,” said Steve Erickson, who lobbies for groups like Crossroads Urban Center. While his groups do have a voice in the process, “it is an extra advantage to have the access that comes from being a big contributor.”
Legislators raised an average of $34,100 each last year, and of that $27,300 came from special and out-of-state interests. An average of $2,000 each came from voters living in the district.
The biggest donors in the state included the Utah Association of Realtors, who gave a total of $207,858, the billboard company Reagan Outdoor Advertising, which donated $74,568, the Utah Bankers Association, which gave $52,200 and the Utah Automobile Dealers Association, with a total of $49,882.