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LEGISLATORS CAN SPEND LEFTOVERS FROM CAMPAIGNS ON ANYTHING

SHARE LEGISLATORS CAN SPEND LEFTOVERS FROM CAMPAIGNS ON ANYTHING

In Utah, candidates for state offices - like governor and attorney general - and for the Legislature can raise campaign funds from anywhere, spend them on anything.

This is not that unusual. Many other states also have such lax campaign-fund laws. In fact, congressional and presidential candidates didn't have to meet stricter campaign laws until after the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s. Former Rep. Wayne Owens, as a young top aide to former Sen. Frank Moss, tells the story of making a nervous airplane trip in the late 1960s from Washington, D.C., with a satchel full of tens of thousands of dollars in cash - perfectly legal campaign contributions to Moss' next re-election effort.Yes, politics and money have always gone hand-in-hand.

Utah legislative races are not overly expensive, not by national standards. In California, for example, a race for the state Senate (a full-time position) can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. By comparison, an expensive race for the Utah Senate (a part-time position) may run a contestant $30,000 or $35,000.

But the cost of Utah races has still skyrocketed over the past 10 years. Maybe $5,000 or $8,000 was spent on a state Senate race in the early 1980s.

Reviews of 1992 legislative campaign filings show that along with more money being spent on campaigns these days, more incumbent legislators are building considerable campaign surpluses. And these surpluses, you'll remember, can be spent on anything - including going into lawmakers' pockets if lawmakers so desire.

Most likely, few, if any, of the incumbents will actually give themselves their surplus campaign funds. But they can. The only legal requirement is that the money be considered regular income, and so state and federal income taxes must be paid on it.

But what will lawmakers do with their cash?

There are several reasons why lawmakers hoard money. They may want a large war chest to discourage someone from running against them at re-election - either members of their own party or those of the opposing party. If you have a $5,000 jump on the challenger, and you're an incumbent with the ability to raise more money than a challenger, you're clearly in good shape.

They may use some of the money to send out newsletters to constituents. Unlike Congress - which has free mailing privileges - Utah legislators have to pay for their own mailers, and they are expensive.

In the past, some legislators have used surplus funds to buy computers and software to keep track of constituents, donors, voting records, all kinds of things.

Those who are interested in leadership positions often use campaign funds to funnel money to other members of their own party - with the hope that in turn party colleagues will vote for them for leadership positions. For example, House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, had no Republican opponent in his 1992 re-election. Yet Atkinson raised $9,290 and spent $8,904 - almost all the money going to Democratic House candidates with the clear hope that they would vote for Atkinson for whip. He won the whip's job with no opposition, and the good will of his campaign contributions should hold over to next year when Atkinson may run for minority leader - the top minority job in the House.

And other lawmakers with large cash surpluses in their campaign accounts may be holding the money for runs at higher office. House Speaker Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, has already said that if U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, doesn't run for re-election next year, Bishop will seek Hansen's seat. Not surprisingly, Bishop has $13,317 sitting in his legislative account - small potatoes to what a U.S. House race costs, but enough "early money" to get started in such a difficult contest.

House Republican and Democratic leaders are talking about legislative reform in the 1993 Legislature. It's unclear how much support campaign reform may have. Campaign reform usually looks at special interest money coming into campaigns and voluntary spending limits. But reformers may also want to look at how surplus campaign funds can be spent. Or legislators may just wait until some legislator leaves office with $15,000 or $20,000 in his pocket and then deal with any concerns that arise.