It's not only political parties and caucuses that will accept money from lobbyists shortly before the 2002 Legislature convenes.

Apparently, some individual lawmakers will also take advantage of next year's special scheduling around the February Olympics to sidestep a state law that prohibits them from collecting contributions from lobbyists while in session.

"I imagine some legislators will be fund raising" during a special two-week period of committee hearings next month on bills to be considered in the 2002 general session, said Senate Majority Leader Steve Poulton, R-Holladay.

"I have more than a dozen letters of solicitation from legislators sitting on my desk right now," confirmed well-known lobbyist and former House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli.

Both House Republicans and the state Democratic Party will be holding separate fund-raisers during the two-week period when lawmakers will be meeting in committee to consider bills lobbyists may want passed or killed. The committee hearings are being held to give lawmakers a head start on the general session that begins Jan. 21. They are holding the special committee meetings to make up for two weeks of recess during the Olympics.

The timing of fund raising during committee hearings is "highly inappropriate," says Cassie Dippo of Utah Common Cause. And it is even criticized by House Democratic leaders, who decided not to take money from their state party fund-raiser, which is co-sponsored by Senate Democrats.

But the financial give-and-take between politicians and lobbyists as a general session approaches isn't unique to 2002. A review by the Deseret News of recent lobbyist giving to leading lawmakers shows a trend toward contributions — many of them unsolicited by the legislators — just before the January and February general sessions. It's a money/legislative tie that is troubling, says Dippo.

Take, for example, Senate President Al Mansell, R-Sandy. In October through December of 2000 (the latest reports available) leading up to the 2001 session, Mansell raised more than $7,600, mostly from registered lobbyists and/or the businesses and associations they represent, mostly in $100 to $500 donations.

Mansell doesn't have an election until 2002 and has not said whether he will seek re-election next year or seek another two-year term as president if he does seek and win re-election. Mansell said he didn't solicit the contributions. "I haven't sent out a fund-raising letter in years, and not before any sessions. My fund-raiser is a summer golf tournament," he said. Mansell, elected president a year ago, said he has noticed contributions to him increased after he entered leadership.

Poulton, who also doesn't face re-election until 2002, shows similar fund raising. In November and December of 2000 Poulton raised just over $7,000, mostly from registered lobbyists or their clients, many of whom would have had an interest in the 2001 Legislature.

"I didn't solicit any money at that time," said Poulton. "I try to stay away from fund raising around the session."

His main fund-raiser is, also, a summer golf tournament, he said. But Poulton does notice that a number of lobbyists give to lawmakers at the end of each year.

"I think some of them have money in their (campaign) accounts and so give it so they don't have to give it back" to their clients or employers.

Pignanelli confirmed that happens. "But if you're going to cut checks to some freshmen legislators who are sending out (solicitation) letters, you better cut checks for the leaders, too. You take care of the higher-ups — they look at who's giving to whom."

There seems to be a cycle in tapping lobbyists for money.

For example, some House leaders had lumps of contributions just before the 2000 Legislature, held during an election year. But they didn't show similar fund raising just before the 2001 Legislature.

Meanwhile, some senators didn't have a re-election in 2000, and so didn't ask lobbyists for campaign donations that summer and fall. Some of those senators did fund-raise just before the 2001 Legislature.

Sometimes the House members hit lobbyists up; sometimes it's the senators, said Pignanelli.

House GOP leaders' reports show the following giving just before the 2000 Legislature: House Speaker Marty Stephens raised $20,300 in November and December 1999 (Stephens also held a September 2001 major fund-raiser in which he grossed $115,000, money that will show up on his January 2002 report); Majority Leader Kevin Garn raised $2,800 in November and December 1999; Majority Whip Dave Ure raised $3,300 in December 1999 alone; while Assistant Majority Whip Greg Curtis raised $2,500 in November and December that year. Garn said he has never held a formal fund raiser. Much of his pre-session contributions come through a statewide bankers event "that is hosted for leaders of both political parties. We show up, some banks give money" and it is passed along to the leaders' campaign accounts, Garn explained.

Some Democrats apparently haven't gotten with the program. Democratic House leaders did little or no fund raising in the months just before the 2000 and 2001 Legislatures. Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, who was not in leadership in 2000, raised just $700 before both the 2000 and 2001 sessions, reports show, but on Jan. 12 is co-hosting the Democratic fund raiser.

Newly appointed Democratic Rep. Eric Hutchings of Kearns is one who sent out a recent fund-raising letter to lobbyists. He was appointed last summer to fill out the final 18 months of Rep. Gary Cox's term. In the letter, Hutchings asks for donations to help him send out a pre-legislative newsletter to his constituents. "As it is important for you to get the message out about the good things you and the organizations you represent are working to accomplish, it is equally important for me to be able to do the same," Hutchings writes. He said he needs $2,000 to $2,500 for a single newsletter to Kearns residents, but so far only four lobbyists have responded, giving him around $200.

He said he'd hoped to have his fund raising wrapped up before January, but he will accept funds from lobbyists he agrees with up until the session starts. "I have almost nothing in my campaign account" (having not run a campaign before) and a tough re-election next year, he said.


E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com