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Bank ads pay political dividends

Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens has been a mid-level manager at Zions Bank for more than a decade. But as Stephens eyes the 2004 governor's race, his private employer continues to run TV ads featuring one of Stephens' GOP challengers: Fred Lampropoulos.

"I don't work for the advertising" part of the bank, Stephens said. "I have no interaction with them."

Stephens, who has worked at Zions for 14 years, said he has not spoken to any manager at the bank about the Lampropoulos ads and doesn't plan to.

Lampropoulos' Merit Medical Systems Inc. is a Zions corporate customer, and over the past year or so the bank, known for some creative advertising, has been running ads featuring some of its clients talking about how great Zions is.

Lampropoulos' spot has the photogenic millionaire saying he calls his Zions banker any time, anywhere, even on Sundays, to get his financial problems solved.

The ad does not mention that Lampropoulos is running for governor next year. While Lampropoulos has not officially declared his candidacy, he has formed a political action committee, is meeting with GOP delegates and appeared at Republican county and state conventions this spring and summer seeking support.

If a news story on the governor's race fails to mention Lampropoulos by name as one of the GOP contenders, the reporter gets a call or e-mail from Dave Hansen, Lampropoulos' campaign consultant, asking why he was left out.

Lampropoulos' firm is a valued bank customer, said Rob Brough, senior vice president for Zions public relations. About 14 client spots started running last September in rotation. They ended after 10 weeks but were started again this summer, he said.

The ads will end soon, although a few may linger through the University of Utah's fall sports schedule, Brough said. He couldn't say how often the Lampropoulos ad has run, or whether it will run through this fall.

"I can say there were never any political thoughts in picking (Lampropoulos) for the ads," Brough said. "It was only (for) client relations." Zions Bancorp. does have a political action committee that makes donations regularly in Utah races, but that is run by employees who had nothing to do with picking the clients for the ads, Brough added.

It is clear that name recognition — like the kind the TV advertisement provides — is sought by Lampropoulos.

Since January, Lampropoulos has spent around $20,000 of his own money each month on two or three new radio ads. The ads run on eight or so radio stations across the state. In the ads, Lampropoulos talks about a number of conservative issues or gives feel-good commentaries on American institutions like the Boy Scouts.

Lampropoulos ends the one-to-three-minute talks saying: "This is Fred Lampropoulos and I just thought you'd like to know" his opinions.

Hansen, a longtime Republican consultant who once worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee helping Western GOP candidates get elected, says the radio ads are fashioned after nationwide radio commentaries that former President Ronald Reagan ran in the late 1970s, ads credited in part with Reagan winning the GOP nomination and the presidency in 1980.

Hansen said Lampropoulos did not seek the Zions advertisements but was approached by a Zions manager and asked if he'd like to participate. He said yes, and the ads were shot last summer when Lampropoulos was setting up his own PAC, hiring Hansen and getting ready for the 2004 gubernatorial run.

"We have no idea how much longer (the Zion ads) are going to run," Hansen said. "But I knew they were back on this summer and I wasn't calling up (Zions) and complaining about them," he joked.

Stephens holds no hard feelings. "Zions has been very good to me" in allowing Stephens to spend several days each week on state business. After he was chosen speaker by fellow GOP House members five years ago, Zions bosses moved Stephens from heading the bank's insurance department — "more than a full-time job" — to overseeing the bank's disaster recovery operations. That's a job Stephens says he can work on "at nights and on weekends," freeing him up to work on state business two or three days a week.


E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com