Overall, the Utah Republican Party spent about $300,000 on efforts to boost attendance at the neighborhood caucuses last month. While the party is officially neutral in the Senate race, its get-out-the-vote effort for the caucuses helped Hatch, said Kelly Patterson, director of the Centers for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
"The caucuses last time around were dominated by tea party activists who had a very anti-Washington, anti-incumbent bent," Patterson said. "I think huge efforts were made to turn out as many delegates as possible to moderate the effects of the tea party ideology."
Hatch has spent nearly $8.6 million so far in seeking a seventh term. Liljenquist, his chief rival, said the money raised and spent by the state party seems minimal by comparison. He also said he believed that party officials focused their effort on caucus turnout without favoring any one candidate or ideology.
"The driving caucus participation is a good thing and the party used their money fairly," Liljenquist said. "But it pales in comparison to the money spent by the Hatch campaign."
Hatch has raised about $3.6 million directly from political action committees. It's less common for PACs to engage in campaigning independently of the candidate, but that's what the American College of Radiology has done in Utah. The group's PAC spent about $77,000 in support of Hatch, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
"Our effort is not necessarily to stand out from others but to support candidates that have a grasp of our issues, that know who and what radiologists are and do, and how the important work that (our) members perform fits into the larger healthcare arena," said Ted Burnes, director of the radiologists' PAC. "We support Senator Hatch and others that we think fit this description."
James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said the spending by the trade groups is a way to thank lawmakers for their work and to keep an open communications channel.
"It doesn't mean they can buy votes. It doesn't mean they can buy influence, but it certainly means they are known and can talk to the senator and the senator's staff about issues of their concern," Thurber said.
Loftin reported from Salt Lake City.
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