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Leavitt raking in cash even though his future is unclear

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Even though Gov. Mike Leavitt's political future is unclear, he still packs a punch when it comes to fund raising, year-end political action committee reports show.

All told, Leavitt, who hasn't said whether he will run again for governor in 2004, retire or seek another office, raised slightly more than $600,000 last year and had $380,164 in cash at year's end.

Leavitt had to postpone his Loa-ranch big-hitter fund-raiser because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But he held the event later in the fall and still raised $113,000. Some who attended may yet pay, so the total could rise.

The rescheduled November event was not as successful as in years past. Instead of cowboy poetry and hunting and fishing in Loa, those attending skied and skated at Olympic venues. In 1999, Leavitt raised around $250,000 at the Loa event.

But a number of lobbyists and big firms still paid $10,000 a pop to attend the November event with Leavitt and a handful of other GOP governors. When he is up for election, Leavitt keeps the proceeds from his Cast-and-Blast, the name of the Loa event. Otherwise he gives part of it to other hosting governors or GOP gubernatorial candidates who have pending elections. He will give $15,000 each to three GOP governors who attended and face elections this year, said he spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour.

Leavitt's other fund raising went well last year, especially for an off-election year. Leavitt raised more than $1 million in 2000 when he sought, and won, a record-tying third, four-year term.

Last year Leavitt raised $495,000 in his other PAC — the Governor's Special Projects Committee. The main fund-raiser for that PAC is the Governor's Spring Gala, a large party he hosts each year in the Salt Palace.

State law says state elected officials can use their campaign accounts for any legal purpose, even give it to themselves.

Leavitt has already said that if he doesn't seek office again he will use some of the leftover cash to set up a nonprofit foundation whose goals will be advocating various public policy positions he has pushed as governor.

Several bills will probably be introduced in the upcoming Legislature aimed at prohibiting campaign cash from going to state candidates' personal use.

One bill filed seeks to stop Leavitt from holding any fund-raisers during the 20 days that he either vetoes, signs or lets bills become law without his signature immediately following the end of each general session.

The bill is in response to the governor's Spring Gala in 2000 when Leavitt mistakenly scheduled the huge fund-raising event within that 20-day period. And so lobbyists, businesses and special interest groups — always the main fund-raising targets of governors and legislators — were donating to him at the same time he was considering whether to sign or veto bills they wanted.

Those paying $10,000 apiece for the November skiing with Leavitt include: Sears Roebuck, Vivendi Universal Holding Co., 1-800 Contacts Inc., AT&T, Eli Lilly and Co., Enron (the Houston-based energy firm whose recent failure made national headlines), HTNB Corp., Marriott International, Microsoft and Qwest. Some other firms gave smaller amounts: Enterprise Rent-a-car, $3,000; Citigroup, $5,000.

Enron gave $100,000 to a national Democratic Senate campaign committee just a week before the firm declared bankruptcy in December. A Democratic Party spokesman said the money would be donated to a charity to help laid-off Enron workers.

Gochnour said Leavitt has not discussed if his $10,000 Enron contribution would be returned or given to charity.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; spang@desnews.com