Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. used a loophole in campaign disclosure laws to keep secret who is funding much of his race this year — until he was questioned about it Monday by the Deseret News and voluntarily disclosed hidden information.
But if his initial maneuver were copied by other candidates for state office and the Legislature, it could allow them to keep secret the identity of most donors until well after parties choose nominees — by forming their own political action committees. Huntsman used the legal loophole even though he has advocated reform to make state government more transparent.
Here is what happened:
The law requires the campaigns of candidates for state office to file disclosure forms a week before a party convention (or any election) to disclose all their donors, so delegates and voters can weigh such information as they vote. Huntsman's campaign filed such forms as required this week before the upcoming GOP State Convention on Saturday.
But 92 percent of the $227,177 that his campaign reported raising this year was disclosed only as coming from Huntsman's PAC, the "Governor's Special Initiatives Office," without saying who had given that PAC money. The group is a political action committee set up by the governor four years ago to raise money for a variety of reasons, including jump-starting his re-election campaign this year. The PAC has several fund-raising events annually, including the large Governor's Ball in the fall.
Reporting deadlines for such PACs are different than reporting deadlines for candidates' campaigns. The PAC, by law, does not need to report how much it raised and from whom until Aug. 31 — or months after the April/May county and state party conventions, or the June primary election.
Huntsman has used his PAC for almost all of his fundraising, and transferring money as needed to his campaign account to spend on his re-election. By funneling most donations through the PAC instead of having direct campaign fundraising, the public doesn't know who most of his donors are until well after a nominee is selected.
Huntsman faces only a nominal GOP challenge Saturday in the state Republican convention and will likely win renomination there by getting 60 percent of the delegate vote.
When asked Monday for a comment, Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley acknowledged that the loophole exists.
But then she sent the Deseret News the contribution information for the PAC in 2008 that had not been made public. She said, "Not that many people have given to the PAC this year; our main fundraiser is in the late summer."
Data she provided said the Governor's Special Initiative Office had raised $33,000 this year so far. It included donations of $10,000 from Qwest; $5,000 each from American Express, O.C. Tanner Co. and HTNB Corp.; and $3,000 from the law firm Parsons, Behle & Latimer.
Of course, one can look at the 2007 PAC contributions to see who gave back then — a broad brush of whose money may have been transferred into the governor's campaign account this year. At the end of 2007, the PAC had $220,000 in the bank (after having raised more than $700,000 in the year, and spent $543,000).
In 2007, disclosure forms show that Huntsman's PAC raised $369,484 from corporations or businesses. He raised $279,642 from individuals, mainly from people who are tied to a special interest group, like a lobbyist or CEOs. He raised $51,500 from other PACs, also often formed by businesses or interest groups.
Reagan Outdoor Signs gave $20,000 to the PAC in 2007, as did A. Scott Anderson, boss of Zions Bank (where Huntsman also had a large line of credit during his original 2004 race. He paid his credit line $100,000 this year.) Zions Bankcorp itself gave $5,000. Clyde Companies (a construction firm) gave his PAC $15,000 last year, as did Sinclair Oil Corp. The former owner of the west desert waste dump, Khosrow Semnani, gave $10,000, as did the Utah Association of Realtors.
Under Utah law, there are no restrictions on where a PAC or a personal campaign account can raise money, how much can be raised overall or how much individuals or businesses can give.
Besides helping to fund the governor's campaign, the PAC reported such other spending last year as a whopping $18,730 on gifts; nearly $6,000 on Christmas cards; about $62,000 on fundraising consulting; about $1,200 on flowers, and about $64,000 on catering.
Huntsman's campaign account, fueled by his PAC, has spent $201,000 already this year — and Huntsman has no serious GOP challenger and has only had Democratic challengers for the past several weeks. Half of that money was repaying the Zions Bank credit line $100,000. Most of the other half went to staffing and running his campaign office, his new report shows.
He spent money on campaign workers, polling, accounting and consulting. He bought booths at the local 29 county Republican conventions.
Other gubernatorial candidates report raising only a pittance compared to Huntsman — and 99 percent of the little they did raise has come from their own pockets.
Republican Chuck Smith reported raising $668 (all of it from his own pocket); Democrat Bob Springmeyer reported $1,786 (with $536 from his own pocket); Democrat Monty "Millionaire" Nafoosi raised $35,666 (all from his own pocket); Democrat Matt Frandsen reported raising nothing; and Libertarian Dell "Superdell" Schanze reported $536 (all from his own pocket).