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Republican Senate leaders put the bite on lobbyists to fund incumbents’ primary election campaigns

On May 8, the President of the Utah State Senate, Stuart Adams, along with his leadership team—Senators Evan Vickers, Dan Hemmert, Ann Millner, Gregg Buxton, Jerry Stevenson, Don Ipson—sent an e-mail to lobbyists who must kowtow to legislators in order to get the results they are paid to attain.

The lobbyists were asked to donate to incumbent Republican Senators who are facing primary election challenges—Curt Bramble, Lincoln Fillmore, Wayne Harper, and Lyle Hillyard. They were also asked for contributions to the campaign of former Senator Dr. Brian Zehnder who is “who is making a run to return to the Senate.”

To facilitate the donations, Adams included copies of the candidates’ signed W-9 forms and listed their contact information. He also asked that all donations be received well in advance of the primary election.

Adams concluded by writing, “…please know how much we appreciate your help in maintaining stability and good governance in this great state.”

Adams’ e-mail raises a number of ethical and other questions.

1. Is it appropriate for the entire Utah Republican Senate leadership team to put the bite on lobbyists who must maintain good relations with legislators in order to effectively carry out their lobbying functions? Aren’t Adams and his team, in effect, asking lobbyists to pay to play in return for greater influence over legislation, obtain special access or other favors. 

Note: This is not the first time that legislative leaders have pressured lobbyists to support them. Earlier in the year, they told lobbyists and their clients to get behind their “tax reform” legislation and to kill the citizens’ tax referendum effort or else. And before that, they had lobbyists line up and praise the “tax reform” proposal during the last hearing of the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force.

2. Why is Senate Republican leadership intervening in the Republican Party’s primary election in order to protect incumbents who already have huge war chests while their challengers get by largely on personal loans and donations from family members?

3. Are Senate incumbents really paragons of “good governance?” Is increasing the state budget at a rate two and on-half times faster than the increase in median household income good governance? Is growing the state budget by 20% from FY2019 to FY2021 good governance? Is good governance forcing all Utahns who want to vote to give their personal identifying information and voting histories to the Republican Party, its candidates, contractors, volunteers, pollsters, etc. even if they are not members of the Republican Party?

4. Is “maintaining stability” a good thing at a time when the state’s biggest businesses and powerful lobbyists exercise greater influence than do the citizens who legislators are elected to represent? Is socializing big business costs and privatizing their profits by shifting the tax burden to low and middle-income taxpayers the type of stability the state needs at this time?

5. Is it appropriate for Senate leadership to write: “We would much rather be inviting you to an event where we could shake your hand and thank you for your support….”

It should be noted that the Senate incumbents have benefited from the largesse of lobbyists over the years and most have large campaign slush funds that they use not only for campaign purposes but to pay for everything ranging from travel to donations to civic groups.

During the Tax Reform Task Force Meetings in October 2019, it was revealed that over the years, Senator Hillyard had raked in $188,001 in campaign contributions despite the fact that he frequently ran unopposed. Senator Bramble had brought in a whopping $1,085,128 and Senator Fillmore who had less legislative service than the other two Senators had brought in $145,194. The vast majority of these donations had come from powerful special interests including big pharma and big tobacco and a large portion had come from entities outside of the state who apparently just want to promote “good governance and stability” in Utah.

The Republican incumbents facing primary challenges have already benefited from the largesse of their colleagues who do not have primary races. For example, between April 15 and May 18, 2020 Lincoln Fillmore received a total of $19,426.06 This includes $2,000 from the Friends of Ann Millner, $1,000 from the Evan J Vickers Campaign Fund, $2,000 from J Stuart Adams, $5,000 from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and $1,000 each from fellow Senators Jerry Stevenson, Kirk Cullimore, David G. Buxton and Todd Weiler. And you can be certain that much of this money was given to these generous Senators by lobbyists and those they represent.

In addition, Fillmore has received $1,000 each from Stokes Strategies and the Utah Bankers Association along with lesser amounts from Micron, Image Learning, Tosh, Inc., Nikola Corporation and the Intermountain Power Agency.

You can find the donations received by each of the following from Mid-April to Mid-May by clicking on their names: Lyle Hillyard ($21,900), Curt Bramble ($30,000), and Wayne Harper ($10,300). You can find their convention filings and other campaign financial information on all legislators by clicking here and conducting the appropriate searches. In order to find even more detailed and historical campaign finance information, you can click here.

Below is a copy of the e-mail that was sent out by Senator Adams and his leadership team.

From: Stuart Adams [mailto: Stuart Adams@xxxxxxx]
Sent: Friday, May 08, 2020 10:45 AM
Cc: Kyle Palmer
Subject: We need your help in Primary Campaigns

Friends,

We hope this email finds you well amid this current COVID-19 situation. We would much rather be inviting you to an event where we could shake your hand and thank you for your support, but given the circumstances we will instead need to ask for your help from afar. Many of our colleagues in the Senate are facing Primary challengers, and are in need of your support. They are: Senators Curt BrambleLincoln FillmoreWayne Harper, and Lyle Hillyard. We understand there is a lot of uncertainty right now, but if you could provide any assistance to these invaluable Senators, we would be grateful. We would also like you to consider supporting Dr. Brian Zehnder, who is making a run to return to the Senate representing Senate District 8, if you are able.

We truly appreciate your support of our Caucus and these members who are in Primary races this year. If you are able to donate, we ask that you try to send your contributions by May 22nd so they may be best utilized in these campaigns. For your convenience, we have attached these candidates’ W-9 forms and listed their contact information below:

Senator Curt Bramble

(801) 361-5802

3663 N. 870 E.

Provo, UT 84604

Senator Lincoln Fillmore

(801) 548-0144

10167 S. 1190 W.

South Jordan, UT 84095

Senator Wayne Harper

(801) 647-8401

2094 Surrey Circle

Taylorsville, UT 84129

Senator Lyle Hillyard

(435) 757-0194

1011 W. 400 N. Suite 100

Logan, UT 84321

Dr. Brian Zehnder

(801) 330-0380

6108 Oak Canyon Drive

Salt Lake City, UT 84121

We all look forward to the day when we can assemble safely as friends, and we can thank you in person. Until that time, please know how much we appreciate your help in maintaining stability and good governance in this great state.

All our best,

Stuart Adams

Evan Vickers

Dan Hemmert

Ann Millner

Ronald Mortensen

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