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Leavitt has plan for funds

He'll put PAC money into a foundation

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is just beginning his third, four-year term, is not worrying a lot about what he'll be doing come January 2005.

He could be out of office, kicking back, taking a few months off.

He could be settling in for a fourth term as governor.

Or he could be mulling over what exactly he'll do with upwards of $1 million left over in his political action committee.

Even though Leavitt is a millionaire through his interests in a family insurance agency, ranches and other holdings, he will also have at his disposal all of his considerable PAC money.

And if he is as diligent raising funds over the next four years as he has over the past eight, he could be a millionaire twice over.

For politicians, the nice thing about Utah's political action committee and campaign finance laws are they allow the candidate to use the PAC/campaign funds for anything he wants.

Even give it to himself.

Leavitt says no matter what, that won't happen. "Unilaterally, I can say now, none will go to my personal benefit," Leavitt said Friday.

Within the near future, the governor says, he will announce plans for a public policy nonprofit foundation that will be set up with much, if not most, of the PAC funds left over when he leaves office.

Meantime, Leavitt says he will be fund raising as he has when he had a campaign ahead of him.

That means the yearly spring Governor's Galas, his main fund-raising event held in the Salt Palace, will continue. As will the weekend down at the Leavitt family ranch in Loa, where lobbyists pay $10,000 per person to meet with Leavitt and other Western GOP governors, fly-fish, barbecue and listen to cowboy poetry around the campfire.

And Leavitt will hold other events as he sees fit — all aimed at stoking the governor's PAC, which has seen infusions of $800,000 to $900,000 yearly.

As of January, Leavitt had only $250,000 in his main PAC — The Governor's Special Projects Committee — because of the money spent on his re-election campaign in 2000.

In both 1999 and 2000 Leavitt raised more than $800,000 for his PAC, most of it contributed through his spring Gala.

The Loa ranch weekend is the main fund-raiser for Leavitt's Western Republican PAC. In 1999 he raised $258,000 for that separate PAC, reports show.

It does cost money to raise money — the Gala costs more than $100,000 to put on. So, much of Leavitt's yearly fund raising is eaten up in advertising, building rentals, food and so on. But clearly, if the governor works at it he can net $200,000 to $400,000 a year or more in fund raising.

It's possible he could leave office with $1 million in PAC cash.

In the future, PAC funds will be used in four areas, Leavitt said:

Work-related expenses not paid for by the state, such as travel for his wife, Jackie; entertaining at the governor's mansion; or gifts for visiting dignitaries and other special items.

Entertainment associated with hosting the Winter Olympics next year. "I don't have a (state) budget for that, but it is clearly related to my job as governor."

Campaign donations to other candidates or issues and any other ongoing political activities.

Setting up and operating the new foundation.

Leading politicians using leftover campaign funds for foundations is not new, Leavitt said.

The late Gov. Scott M. Matheson set up a public policy institute at the University of Utah. Former Gov. Norm Bangerter set up a scholarship fund at a local college. And former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus has a public policy institute as well.

"After my public service is through, I want to continue exploring intellectual issues I've worked on here (as governor)," Leavitt said.

Leavitt says he hasn't decided what his political future holds. In a couple of years he'll sit down with his family to mull over the unprecedented step of running for a fourth term or taking on a new challenge.

There aren't a whole lot of political mountains for him to climb. If he runs for a federal office, Federal Election Commission law would place nearly all of his state PAC money off limits. He could only donate $5,000 per election from his PAC to his federal campaign.

Leavitt could give his PAC money to himself, pay income tax on the gains and then donate personally an unlimited amount to his federal campaign. But unless President Bush's federal income tax cuts take effect, Leavitt would be paying nearly half of his PAC money in taxes before he could donate the difference to his federal race.

"I didn't even know that was an option," Leavitt said about giving himself his funds and then running for a federal office. But, he says that's not part of his plans now.

And Leavitt has never put his own money into his governors' races. Even in his initial run in 1992, where he raised more than $1 million, none of it was his own cash. If he sticks by that principle, his $1 million in PAC moneywouldn't be available for a run for Congress.

Bangerter closed out his PAC after he left office in 1993. He and his wife, Colleen, used most of the money to set up a scholarship fund of several hundred thousand dollars at Salt Lake Community College under their name. The college gives scholarships to graduates of Cyprus High School, where the Bangerters were classmates.

Out of the PAC Bangerter also paid a professional writer to write a book about his eight years in office. "But we never published it because I don't like it," Bangerter said this past week. If the book is finally published, "and if it makes any money, that, too, will go into the (scholarship) fund," Bangerter said.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com