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State Rep. Phil Lyman says he’s worried about a trend in Utah politics of lobbying, fundraising and political campaigns growing more intertwined. He’s particularly worried about lobbyists playing an ever more essential role in political campaigns.
“Utah is run by a bunch of power brokers who are taking over every aspect of the government. If the guy who is running your campaign is also a lobbyist, then he shouldn’t be lobbying you at the same time he’s involved with your campaign,” Lyman, R-Blanding, says.
HB414 would block lobbyists from acting as the campaign manager for a candidate or from being part of an organization managing political campaigns. Lyman, the bill’s sponsor, raises the concern of a quid pro quo, with lobbyists recruiting candidates who may feel pressured to support an issue the lobbyist is representing.
“I’m wondering if that’s the form of government that we want. I don’t think it is,” Lyman said.
Although it’s difficult to imagine such a Manchurian Candidate scenario, it isn’t uncommon for lobbyists in Utah to slide into a campaign role ahead of elections then go back to lobbying when campaign season ends.
Gov. Spencer Cox’s 2020 campaign manager, Austin Cox, parlayed that successful effort into several lucrative lobbying contracts, including Google, ViacomCBS and Your Employment Solutions. Those contracts were terminated after he was accused of sexual misconduct that allegedly happened while Austin Cox worked on the governor’s campaign.
Well-known lobbyist Spencer Stokes would also feel the impact of Lyman’s bill, even though he is not directly involved in campaign management. Stokes has a financial stake in Election Hive, which has managed campaigns at several levels in Utah, including Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Blake Moore, dozens of Republican legislators and a handful of local candidates.
Stokes suggests Lyman is over-simplifying things.
“Lobbyists have so many different issues we deal with daily. One day someone will vote with you on a bill, the next day they may vote against you. It’s all over the place,” Stokes says.
Education is the perfect counterfactual to Lyman’s argument, according to Stokes.
“There are dozens of bills up here every year. How could you possibly know when you’re working with a candidate how they would vote on an issue that doesn’t even exist?” Stokes says.
As it stands, Lyman’s proposal is just a thought experiment. The first hurdle Lyman needs to clear is springing the bill from the House Rules Committee and getting it assigned to a standing committee. Time is rapidly running out, with a handful of working days remaining in the 2022 session.
Even if the current effort fizzles, Lyman hopes his colleagues will be open to broaching the topic in the future.
“Maybe we can find some sort of compromise. It’s an issue that’s just not going to go away, and it’s becoming more pronounced. We can deal with it now or we can deal with it later,” Lyman said.