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Big money backs Rocky

Has mayor about-faced on his 1999 campaign

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A pair of multimillionaire backers — one a co-founder of the now-defunct WordPerfect Corp. in Orem, the other president of The Gateway developer Boyer Co. — have helped funnel tens of thousands of dollars into Mayor Rocky Anderson's re-election campaign war chest, a Deseret Morning News review of Anderson's campaign finance report has found.

While the bankrolling by Bruce Bastian and Kem Gardner isn't illegal, it does circumvent the intent of the city's campaign finance reform ordinance that then-Councilwoman Deeda Seed pushed through City Hall five years ago. Besides foiling Seed's intent, the millionaire money has rolled in despite the campaign finance reform views Anderson championed when he made his first mayoral run in 1999.

"We should have at least a limit of $1,000 per individual (donor), that's plenty," Anderson told the Deseret News in 1999. "Right now a husband, a wife, even each of the children can each give $7,500. That's really no limit at all."

Five years ago, Seed, who later became Anderson's chief of staff, was bent on making it hard for big money and special interests to sway the municipal electorate by bankrolling candidates. The law she helped pass states that "no person" can make contributions to a single campaign exceeding $7,500. But there are holes in the law allowing for "bundling," so a husband and wife can give $7,500 each or an individual and his or her multitude of companies can give $7,500 each, making one person's influence many times greater than $7,500.

"We created something that's very imperfect, and we're seeing that in the current mayoral race," Seed acknowledged in an interview this week. "We talked about how to get at the issue of bundling, which is basically what's happening, and there really isn't a way to do it that's legal. . . . I was surprised that Rocky's been doing better at fund raising, and clearly it's because of these larger contributions."

Seed had hoped to open up the mayor's race to the Average Joe, not just those with political connections to high rollers. In the mayoral election of 1999, she felt the law was working.

If not for the law, mayoral candidates "could have found one or two sugar daddies out there to give them $50,000 or $60,000. At least with the limit they had to diversify their support base," Seed said then.

Anderson acknowledges he has used the law's deficiencies to gain donations.

"Everyone knew, I think, when they passed those limits, that individuals, their spouses and their businesses could all contribute $7,500 each," Anderson said Sunday. "Anyone who contributes to my campaign knows that I am not going to be any more likely to support their position."

The mayor has acquired contributions from Gardner's brothers, daughters and sons and from various companies owned by Bastian. The two multimillionaires, largely representing two special interests — The Gateway development and gay and lesbian issues — have been able to funnel at least $42,000 into Anderson's accounts. And there are still six months before November's municipal election.

For perspective, the two contributors have given roughly as much to Anderson's campaign as first-time candidate Molonai Hola has in his entire war chest and, using various business enterprises and personal accounts, have accounted for about 15 percent of Anderson's total contributions.

A Deseret News review found that Bastian, who supports gay and lesbian causes in Utah and nationally, has been the largest single contributor to the mayor's re-election bid. Using his own name and his companies BWB Properties and Diaural LLC, an Ogden stereo company he co-founded, Bastian has contributed $22,500, tripling the $7,500 limit.

Bastian makes no apologies for the large contributions and seems ready to give more but says he probably can't.

"I don't think I can donate any more," he said. "I don't want to do anything illegal."

In the case of Diaural's contribution, Bastian noted, the decision wasn't totally his, since he owns only half the company.

"I believe (Anderson) has the courage to do what he thinks is right," Bastian said. "He's not afraid to take a stand and he's not a puppet to the Mormon Church."

Another multimillionaire, Gardner, has similarly been working hard supplying cash to Anderson's coffers.

Using five separate company names — The Boyer Co., Boyer Ambassador, Boyer Block 57 Associated, Gateway Associates and 420 East Partnership — Boyer Co. holdings have given thousands to the campaign to re-elect Anderson. Moreover, Gardner, along with his wife and members of his family — including two brothers living in Davis County, a daughter and a son — have also contributed thousands. The amount given by one of Gardner's companies or the Gardner family totals $20,000.

Like Bastian, Gardner makes no apologies. His family has a significant monetary interest — by way of The Gateway — in how Salt Lake City is governed.

"We're donating because Rocky is the only one right now to show leadership in keeping Nordstrom in the city," Gardner said. "He's not letting Meier & Frank dictate if (Nordstrom) will stay."

Nordstrom has said it will leave Crossroads Plaza when its lease expires in 2005 and will leave Salt Lake City altogether if it can't relocate to The Gateway.

"It's pretty obvious why we're contributing. Our family has a very important financial interest in Salt Lake and it's important for us to continue to see the city grow and prosper, and I think that's best under Rocky."

Of the $20,000 the Gardners and Boyer have donated to date, $7,500 of that came before Anderson's reversal of his Nordstrom position, while roughly $12,500 came afterward. Earlier this year Anderson chose to change his view on Nordstrom and now wants to allow the store to move off Main Street to The Gateway

There was a time when Anderson decried big money from big developers like Boyer. Once while sparring with his 1999 mayoral opponent Stuart Reid, Anderson lambasted Reid for taking money from contractors. At the time, Anderson said the developer contributions "points out how corrupt the campaign finance system is in this town, where one group in one segment of our society contributes a disproportionate amount to any one candidate's campaign.

"These businessmen are clearly trying to buy their way into the mayor's office, and if (Reid wins) they will reap huge returns, unfortunately at the expense of regular citizens, on their investment."

Anderson said his development money now, is different than that of Reid, who he claimed was beholden to developers back in 1999. Anderson said he has a more diversified support base, making him less dependent on any one group for support.

Seed said that Anderson's millionaire money — much from a development company that is actively soliciting Nordstrom's support from city leaders — continues the trend of special interests unduly influencing local politics.

"Everyone's taking money from these people (special interest groups) who you can bet are clearly going to come back and say, 'We want this,' " she said. "Maybe they think they're buying access, that's what it's coming down to. You certainly get a listening ear for that money. Whether you get what you want is a different story."

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com