Utah Capitol 32

Utahns don’t think much of the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature.

A new survey for UtahPolicy.com/KUTV 2 by Y2 Analytics shows that 94 percent of Utahns think lobbyists at the Legislature have a “great amount” or “some” influence in shaping the laws that come out of the Legislature each year.

20200211 QINFLUENCE

And 67 percent -- more than two thirds -- say lobbyists have a “great amount” of influence on the lawmakers.

Can all this get much worse?

Maybe we should ask if legislators really love their mothers -- those could be depressing results, too.

Lobbyists -- some of whom make six-figure salaries representing their clients -- usually special interest groups or individuals -- are a critical part of the information that flows to the 104 part-time lawmakers, who often don’t have personal expertise in the myriad of issues/bills that come before them.

That’s a given.

And the best lobbyists don’t lie to lawmakers -- get that reputation and away goes you access to lawmakers, your influence, and eventually your client list.

Still, there are over 400 registered lobbyists, who outnumber the legislators 4-to-1. And a good many of them are former legislative/House/Senate staffers and/or former lawmakers themselves.

While it is sometimes hard to keep track, there are likely half a dozen or more former speakers or Senate presidents or members of leadership, Democrats and Republicans, who are working lobbyists today.

Besides Utahns believing that lobbyists have a great amount or some influence on bill-making, get this:

Only 6 percent of voters say lobbyists have “not much” or “none” influence of legislators.

Not all lobbyists make donations to individual legislators’ campaigns, or the official PACS of the minority and majority parties in the House and Senate. But many do.

All this is perfectly legal -- under Utah law legislators can except any amount of money from any individual and/or political action committees.

As reported several weeks ago by the Salt Lake Tribune, in 2019 -- a non-election year -- over $1 million flowed to legislators from various groups, almost all from special interest aimed at influence lawmakers’ decisions. And many of those donations came from lobbyists, or from special interests who have lobbyists up on the Hill every legislative day.

And this is certainly reflected in the new poll -- lobbyists have a great deal of influence on lawmakers -- whether that is good or bad depends on your point of view.

At the very least, donations buy access -- and many lawmakers will admit that, either on or off the record. As one former Senate president said, if he gets a phone call from a big campaign donor/lobbyist, he returns the call first -- even if he really does try to talk to all folks who want to speak to him. -- donors or not, lobbyist or not.

Here’s some interesting breakouts:

93 percent of “strong” Republicans say lobbyists have a “great amount” of influence or “some” influence, with 57 percent a “great amount” -- and remember Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.

96 percent of independents say lobbyists have great or some influence, with 77 percent a great amount.

96 percent of Democrats say lobbyists hold a great amount or some influence, with 82 percent saying it’s a great amount.

Hey, even 92 percent of “strong” conservatives say lobbyist hold great or some influence on lawmaking, with 61 percent --nearly two-thirds -- saying it is a “great amount” of influence.

Now, to their credit, over the last decade or so, lawmakers have put some restraints on what used to be a free-lunch, free Jazz ticket frenzy by legislators taking gifts from lobbyists.

Lawmakers can take a free lunch or dinner, or art event tickets if all the Legislature, or the House or Senate, or even just individual legislative committee are all invited -- even if only one or two folks from a committee bother to attend and take the free ticket.

And several years lawmakers amended that rule to say that any legislator can take a ticket to a “government” sporting event -- and that includes public university football game, the University of Utah’s women’s gymnastics team -- which for many years was one of the most popular free nights for legislators during the general session.

A Democratic House member has a bill this session that would put limits -- rather high limits -- on campaign contributions. But, folks, this ain’t going anywhere.

GOP caucuses believe public reporting before elections of all donations and spending by candidates is enough -- then voters can decide if they object to big-donor giving and vote the rascals out. Although for some time between 80 percent and 90 percent of incumbents who seek re-election every year win.

The Utah Political Trends survey was conducted January 16-30, 2020 by Y2 Analytics among 2,296 likely Utah voters with a margin of error +/- 2.1% points. You can read more about the polling methodology here.

Utah Policy.com recently partnered with 2 News and Y2 Analytics and will be providing polling results on a regular basis throughout the election season.