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GOP rakes in majority of Utah donations

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Federal candidates and causes that seek money in Utah are much luckier if they are Republicans. Utahns gave GOP groups $4.29 for every $1 they donated to Democrats so far in this two-year election cycle.

Better yet, candidates should hope their name is Mitt Romney.

The former Salt Lake Olympic boss took 55 cents of every $1 that Utahns spread among more than 400 federal candidates, party groups and political action committees. While others saw only a trickle of money from Utah, Romney enjoyed the equivalent of a gushing fire hydrant.

That's according to a Deseret News analysis of campaign disclosure forms filed this month by federal candidates and groups. The analysis also shows who the biggest donors are among individuals, local ZIP codes and groups of employees by company.

Utahns giving more money to federal GOP candidates than to Democratic candidates "will always be the case here as long as the party affiliation is so skewed to Republicans and as long as our major officeholders are mostly Republicans," said Kelly Patterson, a Brigham Young University political science professor who has studied Utah campaigns.

"Incumbents can raise more money than challengers," he adds. "Those two factors — party loyalty and Republican incumbents — feed off each other, they reinforce each other" in the race for campaign cash.

Of every dollar that Utahns gave to federal races and groups, 73 cents went to Republicans; 17 cents went to Democrats; almost 10 cents went to political action committees (formed by special interests or industries which may give to either party); and the Libertarian and Constitution parties had less than a twentieth of a penny each.

For the record, Utahns donated $9.98 million to federal races and causes from the 2006 election through the end of March. Republicans took $7.3 million; Democrats received $1.7 million; PACs took $973,667; the Libertarian Party took $2,500; and the Constitution Party had $1,925.

Except perhaps for Romney, Utahns do not have a culture of giving to political candidates, says Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. It is not just hard for Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party to raise money here, either. Republicans have their financial problems, too, said Taylor, who has worked in politics since the 1980s.

Because of lax campaign finance laws in Utah, local candidates, especially those running for the Legislature and state offices, can raise most, if not all, of their campaign money from corporations, lobbyists and PACs, Taylor said. There are no campaign donation limits in state races, nor any limits on where the money can be raised.

So over time individual Utahns have gotten used to not giving to political races — mainly because no one is asking them for money, Taylor said. And that attitude is reflected in little giving to federal races, as well.

"At the very most basic grass-roots level, you don't have people giving to individual fundraising," said Taylor. And there is much ignorance in political giving, as well.

"One thing we find fairly regularly is that (possible donors) don't even know the most basic things — who to make the check out to, how much to give, is it too much, too little," he said. "(Donors see newspaper) articles where candidates are getting $5,000 and $10,000 a pop and they think $5 and $10 donations don't matter when in fact small donations do matter a great deal and are actually desired by candidates."

Romney, the erstwhile presidential candidate who headed the 2002 Winter Olympics Games in Salt Lake City and is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a fundraising powerhouse in Utah.

He took 55 cents of every Utah dollar that went to federal races or causes. In a distant second place was Hillary Clinton, who took 4 cents of every dollar. Barack Obama was close behind her at 3.8 cents. Presumptive GOP nominee John McCain took only 1.9 cents of every dollar here.

Among other notable groups, the National Republican Senatorial Committee took 2 cents of every $1 in Utah donations; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took 1.8 cents; taking about 1.6 cents each were the Republican National Committee, Rudy Giuliani and 3rd Congressional District candidate David Leavitt, although about one-fifth of Leavitt's money came from his own pocket.

Utahns gave at least some money to 404 different federal candidates, party groups and PACs.

Somewhat ironically, Utah's incumbent members of Congress were relatively far down the list of top recipients of Utah money.

For example, Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, was on the bottom half of the list at No. 233, receiving only 0.01 cents of every $1 donated by Utahns — far behind his GOP challengers of Leavitt at No. 10 and Jason Chaffetz at No. 27 (0.4 cents of every dollar).

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, was No. 19 (0.7 cents of every $1 donated by Utahns); Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was No. 20 (0.6 cents); Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, was No. 23 (.46 cents); and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was No. 31 (0.3 cents). Bennett and Hatch do not face election this year. The others do.

Some familiar names, at least to political observers, top the list of biggest individual donors to federal causes and candidates.

Arthur Lipson, owner of Western Investments, gave the most of any Utahn to federal races and Democratic-leaning causes, a total of $267,450, or about $1 of every $20 donated by all Utahns. His wife, Rochelle Kaplan was No. 7 on the list, giving $45,750.

All of the donations from Lipson and Kaplan went to Democrats or Democratic-leaning PACs, although Lipson said he has supported and voted for Republicans before, as well.

"I'm no different than any other American who loves this country," said Lipson, 65. He said he gives to candidates and causes he believes are trying to make America a better place. He does not give attempting to influence any individual candidate or to influence any government action, he said.

"I do no business with the federal government, want nothing from the federal government," he said. "This is a wonderful country. It gave the opportunity for a boy raised poor to have financial (success)."

When told he was the largest donor giving to Democratic causes from Utah, Lipson said: "I'm a low-key person. I'm not a big hitter in any sense. I'm just glad I live in this country."

The No. 2 federal donor in Utah was Bruce Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect and an activist for gay rights. Almost all of his donations went to Democrats and PACs, although he gave $500 to moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Other top individual donors in Utah included: No. 3, EnergySolutions chief Steve Creamer, $75,100; No. 4, Karen Huntsman, mother of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., $74,800; No. 5, industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr., $71,200; No. 6, mall developer and former ambassador John Price, $47,500; No. 8, former Envirocare owner Khosrow Semnani, $41,300; No. 9, banker Spencer Eccles; $33,400; and William K. Reagan, chairman of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, $31,800.

Those top 10 donors by themselves provide almost 10 percent of all donations to federal campaigns and causes provided by Utah's 2.6 million residents.

While corporations are banned by law from giving directly to federal campaigns, disclosure forms allow tracking how much their employees give and to whom, and corporations may also form PACs to raise and give money.

The corporations whose officers and employees gave the most are: Western Investment, owned by Lipson, $313,750; the Huntsman Corp., $163,115; EnergySolutions, $144,055; the University of Utah, $96,086; NuSkin, $67,551; Price Realty Group, $54,400; Zion's Bank, $49,010; S.K. Hart Management, $41,300; Xango, $38,960; and Brigham Young University, $35,390.

Disclosure forms also show which ZIP codes provide the most political donations. The most generous was 84108, on the east side of Salt Lake City, the home of such people as the Huntsmans and Eccles. It provided $565,000 — or about 6 percent of the total from all Utahns. It gave 64 percent of its money to Republicans, 19 percent to Democrats and 17 percent to PACs.

Other top ZIP codes include: 84604 (Provo), $549,144; 84103 (Avenues of Salt Lake City), $451,534; 84060 (Park City), $356,225; and 84097 (Orem), $355,771.

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