SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert's Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, said Friday he would not accept campaign contributions from companies competing for "significant" state contracts as governor.
Corroon's pledge comes as questions are being raised about campaign contributors to Herbert getting private meetings with the governor and then contracts and tax incentives from the state.
A spokesman for the Herbert campaign, Don Olsen, issued a statement Friday calling the governor "as honest as the day is long" and accusing Corroon of "negative campaign politics at its worst."
A KSL News analysis of Herbert's schedule and contributor list reported Thursday showed the group of companies awarded a $1.7 billion contract to rebuild I-15 through Utah County contributed a total of $82,500 to his race.
The money came before and after the Provo River Construction bid team won what is the biggest-ever roads contract. The head of one of the companies on the team met twice with the governor in advance of the bid award.
In another instance, Herbert accepted $25,000 from Merit Medical CEO Fred Lampropoulos and met with him twice before the state gave Merit Medical a $4.36 million tax incentive to expand. Following that decision, Lampropoulos gave the governor another $25,000.
Corroon, who outlined those examples in a memo Friday, called on the governor to release all of the information abut the meetings, the contributions and the contract awards.
The mayor said he would push as governor for restrictions on campaign contributions including a $10,000 limit and even less for contributors who do business with the state, as is the case in Salt Lake County.
Utah is one of just four states that place no limit on campaign contributions in state races. Corroon isn't imposing limits on gifts to his own gubernatorial campaign, accepting, for example, $50,000 from developer Kem Gardner.
But the mayor said if he's elected, he wouldn't wait for the state Legislature to put limits in place, at least when it comes to individuals or companies looking to do business with the state.
"I would make a commitment that if somebody was seeking a state contract, and I knew about it, and it was a significant contract, I wouldn't go out and seek their contribution," Corroon said.
Nor, he said, would he accept any such contributions. Corroon declined to be specific about what amounts to a "significant" contract with the state.
Olsen declined to comment on Corroon's pledge, as did the governor's spokeswoman, Angie Welling. In his statement, Olsen said, "The process by which the state rewards contracts is long established. It meets the highest standards of integrity and performance and does not involve the governor."
David Magleby, dean of BYU's College of Family, Home and Social Sciences and a political science professor, said states have adopted contribution limits to avoid the appearance of corruption.
"The governor is saying there's no shakedown, quote unquote," Magleby said. "But we don't know for sure. Frankly, in this world, you don't have to say that. It's implied."
Magleby said the controversy surrounding Herbert's contributions and meetings "is a classic case of why the appearance of corruption or corruption itself, we don't know, is a legitimate public" concern.
The worry "is the loss of public confidence in the integrity of elected officials and the election process," he said. "If it looks like elections are up for sale and entities can effectively purchase benefits through contributions, that is terribly damaging."
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and an adviser to Herbert, said it's time to take another look at the recommendations of the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy.
Jowers headed up the commission created by former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and saw its recommendations for campaign limits set aside by Herbert and lawmakers. He said the limits help candidates, too.
"The simple fact is, when you're allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money, particularly from special interests seeking favors or to do business with the state, it leaves the elected officials vulnerable," Jowers said. "The contribution limits can help insulate officials from criticism."
He dismissed Corroon's pledge not to take money from those sources if elected as "not very compelling" given that the mayor is far behind in the polls. But Jowers agreed Herbert should release the information Corroon is requesting about the instances in question.
"Whatever the governor can go to shed light on the process to support his view of how these contracts are awarded would be helpful to him," Jowers said.