Some Utah Senators Rolling in Campaign Cash

So, who is the richest Utah legislator?


We’re not talking about personal wealth, rather who has the most money in their campaign or PAC accounts.

UtahPolicy today looks at the 29 state senators.

In future stories we’ll open up the campaign finances of the 75 House members.

In part because of HB246, passed in the last Legislature, legislators and candidates have to file financial reports before the party’s political conventions and primaries, even if they are not up for election that year (in the case of senators and their four-year terms), or don’t face opposition in either their convention or primary.

This is really quite a big change – groused about by Utah House Republicans in a recent interim day caucus when Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, reminded them about their new reporting obligations.

Failure to file a financial report when due can lead to one’s name being taken off of a primary or general election ballot.

At the very least, it is now a $100 fine for filing late.

And, on the Legislature’s web site, when someone looks up an officeholder, a link to his financial reports (and any fines against him) also comes up.

Usually it’s members of leadership – especially Republicans – who amass the largest war chests.

Partly that’s because it’s relatively easy for them to do so.

As a lobbyist or special interest group, you simply are not going to get the funding you wish or the legislation you desire through the Utah Legislature if leadership is against you.

So you give money – sometimes you give without incumbents even asking for it.

And you give it year in and year out, even if the incumbent isn’t up for election that year; even if the incumbent has no real political opposition in his or her re-election.

But some lawmakers also like to have a lot of cash on hand to 1) discourage any challengers and 2) use that cash for a step up the state political ladder.

For example, while there are limits to how much state campaign cash you can put into a run for federal office – U.S. senator or representative – if your sights are set on a higher state race, a representative looking toward a Senate run, or a lawmaker looking to run for governor, AG and so on, there is no limit in state law to how much you can use your legislative campaign money toward that higher race.

So, with all that in mind, here are the state Senate winners:

— Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is the cash king.

Valentine, a tax attorney in private practice, has $110,376 in cash as of late June, financial filings show.

And he’s not even up for election this year.

Of course, Valentine has been drooling over a run for governor or attorney general for several years.

He specifically considered trying to get state GOP delegates to pick him to replace disgraced AG John Swallow last December.

In the end, Valentine said he believed the appointee couldn’t reform the troubled AG office and run for that job in 2014. So he didn’t formally put his name before delegates.

But it doesn’t hurt for Valentine to have more than $100,000 in the bank, just in case he decides to run for higher office in 2016. Both the AG and governor’s terms end then.

— Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is up for re-election this year, although he doesn’t have a serious challenger.

All a sitting Senate president really has to do is look a little cash hungry and the money flows in.

Niederhauser has only $39,797 in cash as of June; but he’s raised $77,311 so far in 2014.

Niederhauser had no GOP challenger this year in his Senate District 9. He does have a Democratic opponent, but the seat is a safe Republican hold.

— Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, is up this year. And she still has $74,430 in cash as she awaits her GOP opponent in November.

Her West Valley district is changing from a strong Democratic area to more Republican and independent.

GOP House candidates have had some success in her area the last four years.

— Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, had his toughest race at convention and in the primary against former Sen. Casey Anderson, also from Cedar City.

Vickers, then a House member, took Anderson out two years ago, and Anderson wanted to return the favor in 2014.

Vickers, UtahPolicy has been told, set out to raise $100,000 for his GOP convention/primary – an unheard of sum for a Utah Senate primary race.

He came close, raising $84,460. He spent $46,300 as he easily defeated Anderson in the June primary. Vickers still has $38,116 in cash and no Democratic opponent.

— Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, dodged a political bullet this spring.

Well-known Democrat Pat Shea considered challenging Davis, but backed out. And then no Republican filed against Davis.

So, even though Davis raised over $90,000, he didn’t need to spend much of it, and still has $82,457 in cash.

Davis (and, indeed, a number of Utah lawmakers) have become the kings of special interest money.

Nearly all of Davis’ money came from lobbyists or special interests that have issues before the Legislature. You can see his reports here.

— Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, former chair of the Utah Democratic Party, has been juggling a number of hats lately.

He recently started the group Save The Salt Lake Tribune. And if you signed that online petition (as I and UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott did), you get an email soliciting campaign donations by Dabakis.

In a safe, liberal Salt Lake City district (or as liberal as voters get in Utah), Dabakis is doing fine in fundraising.

He has $35,649 in cash as of the end of June.

A note of interest: As chairman of the state party, Dabakis got the family of financier/philanthropist Ian Cumming to donate more than $100,000 to the party, a fifth of all the money Dabakis raised in a year for the organization.

Cumming gave Dabakis’ own campaign account $20,000 this year, a third of all the money Dabakis has so far raised in his Senate District 2 race.

Dabakis also got a $1,000 donation from Phil McCarthey, one of the former owners of The Tribune.

Still, Dabakis has perfected the small donor drive – by far most of his donations are from individuals and are in the $25 to $100 range.

— While Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, has only $15,175 in cash in his account now, he still is one of the fund raising heavy weights in the Senate.

In his 2012 re-election – at first fearing a challenge from the right in his conservative area – Bramble raised an astonishing $198,283.

There are Utah candidates who run for the U.S. Congress who can’t raise that much cash.

Bramble spent $150,000 on his 2012 re-election; and in the process let others know down in Utah County that if you mess with Bramble, you had better have some pretty deep pockets.

And who are some of the cheapos in the Utah Senate?

— Well, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who has spent more time in the Utah House and Senate than any other current lawmaker, has only $2,453 in his campaign account.

But Hillyard has not had a serious challenger to his re-elections since Mosses wore short pants.

— Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, has only $4,762 in cash. Like Hillyard, he’s not up for election this year. In 2012, his first election, Osmond raised $53,218 and spent $30,000.

— And even though he is up for election this year, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, has raised only $17,227 and spent $12,910. He has but $4,316 in cash.

Van Tassell knocked out a Republican challenger in the state GOP convention and faces a Democratic opponent in a northeastern district that’s been held by Republicans for a very long time.

To see any candidate’s/officeholder’s financial reports you can go here, the Utah Election Office’s fine web site.