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Overstock founder gives another $250K to Jonathan Johnson's campaign for governor

Overstock.com founder and former CEO Patrick Byrne added another $250,000 Wednesday to Jonathan Johnson's campaign for governor, bringing his contribution total to at least $700,000.
Overstock.com founder and former CEO Patrick Byrne added another $250,000 Wednesday to Jonathan Johnson's campaign for governor, bringing his contribution total to at least $700,000.
Composite photo, courtesy of Patrick Byrne and Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Overstock.com founder and former CEO Patrick Byrne added another $250,000 Wednesday to Jonathan Johnson's campaign for governor, bringing his contribution total to at least $700,000.

The contribution was announced by Johnson's campaign. Johnson, who is challenging Gov. Gary Herbert in the June 28 Republican primary, is chairman of the Utah-based online retailer.

In a statement, Johnson said he was "thankful for the support of my business partner and friend" but added that "Patrick has not asked, nor would he ever ask me, for a favor in return for his donation. Let me perfectly clear — I have never, nor would I ever, make a promise associated with a donation."

In an op-ed published by the Deseret News, Byrne said he wanted to address the controversy associated with his contributions. He said he has given big contributions in the past to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and others.

"This isn't to brag, but to simply say giving is in my blood and a lifelong habit," Byrne wrote, adding he was supporting Johnson "because he is the kind of principled leader we need more of in this state."

Byrne had already given $400,000 directly to Johnson's campaign, including a $250,000 contribution in late May, and another $200,000 to Johnson's Promote Liberty PAC, which sent at least $50,000 of that to the campaign.

That was the most given by a single individual to a campaign in at least the past five years. There are no limits in Utah on the amount of money that can be contributed to a political campaign.

The governor's campaign manager, Marty Carpenter, said Byrne "has fought for policies Utahns have rejected," the losing battle to stop an anti-school voucher referendum, and the successful challenge to the state's same-sex marriage ban.

"It has become painfully obvious one man is trying to buy the governor's office by running his employee and registered lobbyist and funding him at an unprecedented level," Carpenter said.

Herbert, who has come under fire for telling lobbyists in a secretly recorded meeting he would meet with their clients in exchange for campaign contributions, has criticized Johnson for depending on "a sugar daddy rich guy" to fund his race.

Johnson called that characterization "offensive and indicative of his attitude that donations do buy influence in the Herbert administration" and referred to the governor calling himself "Available Jones" at the meeting with lobbyists.

The governor remains ahead in fundraising, collecting more than $614,000 since mid-April, compared to nearly $589,000 for Johnson, counting the latest contribution from Byrne.

Johnson beat Herbert at the state Republican Party convention in April. Voters will choose the GOP nominee for governor in the June 28 primary election.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics