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Developer wants Utah’s voice heard

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PHILADELPHIA — John Price wants Utah to be a player in presidential politics. To be at the table.

He doesn't want the nation to see his adoptive home state as "a bunch of right-wingers" who boo their Republican leaders in their state convention but as "bright, middle-of-the-roaders" who have something to contribute nationally.

So how do you get national attention?

How about coming up with more than $1.3 million for George W. Bush's campaign.

That's what developer Price and a group of well-connected Utahns have done so far. And Tuesday at a meeting of Bush's 2000 finance committee members, Price was to pledge to come up with even more. "I haven't decided what that number is yet. But we have a long road to go" before November, he said.

If the multimillionaire can't raise all the cash himself, he'll write the check personally. "It's a promise I'm going to make. And I'll make good."

Making good for Utah is important, Price told the Deseret News on the floor of the First Union Center Monday during the opening session of the National Republican Convention, "because too many times before we've made promises" on national fund-raising campaigns "and we haven't come through."

The $100 million Bush has raised is more money than any presidential candidate has raised in the nation's history.

And Price says it's important that Utah, although a small state in population, is part of the effort.

Under the GOP fund-raising organization Team 100 members pledge $100,000 over four years to the party. Regent members give $250,000.

Price is Utah's only Regent member, and he's recruited four more Team 100 members: First Security Bank's Spencer Eccles; Dwayne Nielson of Nextlink; Bill Reagan of Reagan Outdoor Advertising; and Utah's newest GOP player, Jeff Wright, who lost a bid for the 2nd Congressional District.

Price and his group have also recruited 11 other Utahns to join the Presidential Trust, people who give at least $20,000 toward getting Bush elected.

"We take $1,000 and $2,000 contributions, also. But I've gone after the large money," Price said. "It's so-called soft money, of course" because Federal Election Commission rules keep personal contributions to a candidate to $1,000 per election.

Personal contributions to political parties are unlimited. And so, technically, the cash is given to the Republican National State Elections Committee.

But the money will be used to help Bush.

It's the kind of contributions that critics of campaign finance laws bitterly complain about.

Price doesn't apologize.

"Do we spend too much money on elections? Yes. Do we need reform? Yes. But I don't know what we should do. We can't let the Democrats do this alone. . . .

"Utah has to be at the table; to show that we're serious about politics, presidential politics. There are good, bright, educated Utahns who need a place in national politics up and down (the federal bureaucracy)."

"We're on a mission for the state" in fund raising for Bush. "We can't give in to the right wing" in the state. "We have to show we are sane, sober Republicans out here. Middle of the road. That state convention (on May 6 where Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Mike Leavitt) were booed. It was a national embarrassment. It has to stop."

Price said the $1.3 million raised so far is considerably more than has ever been raised for a presidential campaign.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com and lee@desnews.com