SALT LAKE CITY — The four Republican candidates running for Utah governor in this month’s primary election have spent more than $6.2 million combined since the beginning of the year, according to the latest financial disclosures filed with the state.

The biggest outlays — more than $1.8 million each — came from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., long the front-runners in the race. Former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright reported expenditures of more than $1.3 million, and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, more than $1.1 million.

At this point in Utah’s last gubernatorial primary four years ago, when state GOP delegates forced Gov. Gary Herbert into a primary against businessman Jonathan Johnson, Herbert had spent just under $1.5 million to less than $882,000 for Johnson.

In this year’s primary race, three of the candidates qualified for the ballot by gathering voter signatures: Cox, Huntsman and Wright. Hughes competed only at the state Republican Party convention for delegate support and was advanced to the ballot.

Cox reported having the most cash on hand, nearly $514,000, in the filing due Tuesday that covers two months ending in mid-June, while Huntsman had just over $61,700. Hughes had more than $337,000, while Wright reported just over $47,000 in an amended filing after initially showing a nearly $120,000 debt.

The difference for Wright was that the initial report listed a hefty digital marketing expense that had not yet been billed, according to his campaign. Wright said he has since loaned himself $88,000 and that his real estate company has contributed $25,000. Hughes, too, has loaned money to his campaign, more than $358,000.

All of the campaigns reported some high-dollar donations. Utah does not limit campaign contributions to state races, but does require candidates to post contributions within 31 days of receipt — or just three business days in the lead-up to a contested party convention as well as a primary or general election.

Cox received $75,000 from the National Education Association’s political action committee. The national teachers union made the contribution after the Utah Education Association backed Cox in the race. The lieutenant governor also was given $25,000 from Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, who recently endorsed him.

Huntsman’s biggest contribution, $250,000, came from his mother, Karen, but he also received $100,000 from philanthropist and motivational speaker Barbara Barrington Jones, and $50,000 from Washington, D.C., attorney C. Boyden Gray, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel.

Hughes’ biggest financial supporters have been a pair of developers, Utah House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, and Kevin Garn, a former GOP legislative leader who resigned in 2010 amid controversy. In this reporting period, Schultz gave $250,000 and Garn, $100,000.

Wright collected $155,000 this cycle from his brother-in-law, Fred Lampropoulos, founder, chairman and CEO of Merit Medical Systems, and $140,000 from the congressional campaign war chest of his running mate, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Voters often say they don’t like big money in politics, but it seldom makes a difference in how they cast their ballots, University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said. He said that’s especially true among GOP voters.

“There seems to be very little electoral punishment to raising big money contributions,” Burbank said. “For Republicans, particularly for Republicans in a very competitive race, are they going to limit themselves? Not a chance in the world.”

Making the four-way race even more expensive has been the impact of COVID-19 on campaigning, he said, driving candidates to rely more on TV commercials and other advertising to make up for restrictions intended to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

They also have little incentive to hold onto much campaign cash for what’s expected to be a much less competitive general election, Burbank said.

The winner of next Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat Chris Peterson, a University of Utah law professor, in November, but because Utah hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor in 40 years, the race is seen by many as choosing the state’s next governor.

Herbert, who served as Huntsman’s lieutenant governor, is not seeking reelection after more than a decade in office and has endorsed Cox. The most recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed Cox pulling ahead of Huntsman, followed by Hughes with Wright trailing.

Cox “is extremely grateful for the almost 3,000 individual donors to his campaign, the most ever in a race for Utah governor. Despite running against candidates with unlimited personal wealth, our campaign has been an unprecedented grassroots movement from the beginning,” his campaign spokeswoman Heather Barney said.

Huntsman’s campaign manager, Lisa Roskelley, said “this has been a competitive race and we are happy with our ability to reach voters and engage them in the process. We are focused on June 30 and using our resources as best we can to win the primary.”

Hughes’ campaign manager, Greg Hartley, said the campaign “can do more with less” and pointed out the uniqueness of the election.

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“With COVID and this being the first gubernatorial primary election with multiple candidates on the ballot — the 2020 election has been like no other before it. It has also made it more expensive. And with the economic shutdown impacting so many, fundraising has been difficult,” Hartley said.

Wright also said the price tag for the race went up because of the virus’ affect on campaigning.

“It forces you to put your message out in different ways from home, and those ways are expensive. I would have much rather done it face-to-face. Quite honestly, I feel like I was the strongest candidate face-to-face and that nobody would have worked harder,” he said. “We just weren’t able to do that.”

Voters “recognize this is an important race for the state of Utah and they have four serious candidates who want to get their message out so they can make an informed decision,” Wright said. “I understand that it’s a big number. But it’s the cost of competing in these races. We’re all doing our best to connect with voters.”

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