'Follow the Money' - Contributions Seem to Correlate with Votes

'Follow the Money' - Contributions Seem to Correlate with Votes

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John Daley Reporting At least one specific issue--campaign contribution--seemed to have a big impact on how Utah lawmakers voted this session. We're continuing to "follow the money”. This time John Daley is looking at campaign money and a resolution involving banks and credit unions.

Most lawmakers raise most of their campaign money from special interests. Number one, the financial industry which donated nearly $350,000 during the most recent elections. We found the votes on one measure lined up closely with the campaign money lawmakers got from either side.

The battle has been waged in a $100,000 credit union ad campaign countered by a measure in the legislature urging Congress to take a tough look at the credit union's tax status. The resolution was supported by banks and opposed by credit unions.

We checked disclosure reports, tallied the amounts given by either side, and noted whether or not the lawmaker voted with the side that gave them the most campaign money.

Eighteen of 24 Senators who got money from one or both sides voted with the higher contributor. That's 75 percent. In the House, 90 percent voted with the side which gave them more. In the legislature as a whole, 83 of 96 voted with the higher contributor. That means legislators voted for the side which gave them the most campaign money 86 percent of the time!

Tim Chambless, Professor, Hinckley Institute of Politics: "I'm seeing a direct correlation between contributions from banks and credit unions to elected officials and how they vote."

The banks and their political action committee gave $146,000 to lawmakers' most recent campaigns, compared to $55,000 from the credit unions. Lawmaker voted with higher contributor. Our analysis found that the side which gave the most money got the most loyalty -- 98 percent for the banks; only 74 percent for the credit unions.

The banks say they had to give more money because the last time this issue came up, credit unions threatened to target lawmakers who weren't on their side; the banks say they simply came to the defense of their friends.

Howard Headlee, President/Utah Bankers Association: “After that vote there were some very nasty threats made about the next election. We felt it was important for us to step up and to defend those folks.”

One of those folks is House Majority Leader Jeff Alexander, who topped the list with more than $12,000 from the banks.

Jeff Alexander, (R) House Majority Leader: “I'm a pro business person. I believe in business and competition, and it wouldn't matter if it was this issue or others. Those people know I'm going to vote for business.”

No one we spoke with says there's anything illegal here or that lawmakers' votes are for sale. And we found a variety of opinions about just how big an impact that money has. Greg Bell is one of three lawmakers who took no money from either side.

Sen. Greg Bell, (R) Fruit Heights: “Sometimes it's not so much that people are in play and they can be influenced by the money. It's rather that supporters give money to those who support their causes.”

Scott Simpson, President, Utah League of Credit Unions: Question: Do you think money buys votes on Capitol Hill? That's too simple a statement to describe the political economy here.”

Howard Headlee, President, Utah Bankers Association: “They're not about to determine their decision on an issue because of the money they receive. I don't believe that money has anything to do with votes.”

Tim Chambless, Professor, Hinckley Institute of Politics: “I think an objective observer could say that there's some influence here.”

We also found the correlation is even stronger as the money goes up. 56 of 59 lawmakers who got a thousand dollars or more voted for the higher contributor--that's 95%. Only three of the one thousand dollar recipients did NOT vote with the higher contributor.

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