Ballot initiatives in Utah bring in big cash early

OGDEN, Utah -- New disclosure reports show a lot of money being contributed to ballot initiatives pending in Utah.

Volunteers with the Utah Patients Coalition gather signatures for medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Political Issues Committee disclosure reports filed with the Utah Lt. Governor's Office show so far, the education tax hike Our Schools Now has raised $461,000. A ballot initiative for independent redistricting has raised $320,00 in contributions; medical marijuana has had about $250,000 in contributions; Count My Vote has raised $200,000; and a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid has raised approximately $41,000.

"We feel we're hitting all our targets with fundraising and signature gathering," said DJ Schanz with the Utah Patients Coalition, which is trying to get medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot.

So many ballot initiatives raising so much money so early is a sign that state politics are seen as a stronger policy ground than a federal level, said Weber State University political science professor Gary Johnson.

"It's big money. It's going to attract interest groups and a very narrow slice of the electorate, but it does mobilize voters," he said.

Supporters of Our Schools Now sign paperwork to get on the 2018 ballot. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Some of the issues have big name donors attached. Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller has given $200,000 so far to Our Schools Now. Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has written a $100,000 check to Count My Vote. Mike Weinholtz, who ran for governor, was one of the first contributors of $100,000 for the independent redistricting ballot initiative in a contribution to Utahns for Responsive Government. The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project has given about $75,000 to the Utah Patients Coalition.

Johnson said so many big checks from big name Utahns is a signal about what they see as priorities.

"This is seed money in a very real sense," he said.

Signature gathering is under way. Each of the ballot initiatives needs to gather approximately 113,000 signatures across the state to qualify for the 2018 ballot.