The latest campaign-finance reports, released this week, show the leaders of Engineering and Software Systems Solutions, known as ES3, donated $22,000 to Bishop in August. That money accounted for more than half the funding Bishop raised between July 1 and Sept. 30.
This year Congress approved a budget bill that included an $800,000 earmark for a program the contracts with ES3, a California firm with an office in Clearfield. The money funds what the military calls Science Engineering Lab and Data Integration (SELDI), which is run through Hill Air Force Base. SELDI pays ES3 to track spare jet parts to avoid duplication.
The earmark and the contributions are nothing new. ES3 holds a fundraiser for Bishop each August, normally after the Utah Republican has inserted an earmark in legislation but before its final passage.
In the past five years, Bishop has helped SELDI, and therefore ES3, gain about $9.8 million in earmarks, which are pet projects requested by individual members that benefit their state or district. During that time, ES3 brass kicked in nearly $90,000 to Bishop's campaign account.
"It's a very good investment for them," said Morgan Bowen, Bishop's Democratic challenger for the 1st District seat, who criticized the "system of patronage" in Congress.
Bishop calls Bowen's charge an "oversimplification."
"It is easy to paint a broad-brush generalization," Bishop said. "Most people are decent, honest people who try to make decisions the best they can."
He said the earmarks go to the military, which then contracts with ES3.
Such ties are not uncommon. Every member of Utah's delegation has accepted contributions from companies they helped through the budget process, but most involve only a few thousand dollars.
In this campaign cycle, ES3 donations account for one of every $6 Bishop raised. Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett helped Bishop get the SELDI earmark. ES3 did not donate to either of them.
Bowen, who claims companies and special interests use donations to "buy off" lawmakers, wants to see public financing of elections.
"Let's take the money out of Washington," he said, "so we can make decisions on merit instead of on who gave you a campaign contribution."
Bishop doesn't like that idea, saying campaigns shouldn't be a taxpayer tab. "I don't know how you take the money out of Washington by insisting that Washington pays for everything."
Public financing would benefit Bowen, who has far less campaign cash than Bishop. Bowen's financial disclosure shows he gathered $7,600 in the last quarter. He has $1,762 remaining, a paltry sum for someone running for Congress.
Bishop mustered $41,000 and has a little more than $190,000 left.