Obama ekes a lead among Utah donors

Published October 26, 2008 2:47 am
The Democrat has outraised McCain 7-to-1 since the start of September
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WASHINGTON - Utahns have topped the $10 million mark in supporting what will be by far the most expensive presidential race in U.S. history.

State residents have forked over more than 10 times the amount they did during the 2004 election.

But what may be more surprising is that in one of the most Republican states in the land, Democrat Barack Obama has raised more money than Republican John McCain.

McCain had a $200,000 advantage in Utah donations at the start of October, but a recent surge in fundraising has given Obama a tiny $8,000 lead.

Obama has outraised McCain in Utah by nearly 7-to-1 since the start of September.

"That's really extraordinary," says Matthew Burbank, chairman of the University of Utah political science department. "Part of that clearly has to do with the Utah effects of what's happening nationally, because obviously Obama has developed a very sophisticated fundraising operation."

A direct comparison between the candidates is impossible, because McCain decided to take $84 million in public financing after the Republican National Convention, requiring him to stop raising money in traditional ways. Obama became the first presidential candidate to opt out of the system, giving him far greater latitude to tap his donors for more cash.

McCain can't raise money directly for his campaign account, but supporters have sent big checks to the "McCain Victory Fund," a joint account with the national party that helps pay for expensive television advertising and staff in battleground states.

Obama also has a victory fund, which bypasses the normal $2,300 limit on individual contributions. Some Utahns have given more than $30,000 to these secondary accounts.

When these victory funds are added to the normal campaign haul, Obama has raised $1.672 million in Utah to McCain's $1.664 million as of Oct. 15.

In 2004, President Bush raised a little more than $500,000 and Democrat John Kerry raised only half that. In all, Utahns donated about $1 million that year.

This election cycle, Utah ranks 23 in donations by state, despite that it has only the 34th largest population.

Jeff Hartley, a Republican political consultant in Utah, says Obama's take is impressive given Utah's red glow. He attributes much of it to the enthusiasm gap among Republicans and Democrats.

"It's not too surprising that the excitement the Democrats feel toward Obama has drawn him equal in dollars to the lack of enthusiasm a lot of Utahns have for McCain," Hartley said.

Many Utahns supported Mitt Romney, a Mormon and head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, who dropped out of the race in February. Romney raised $5.5 million from the state, more than Obama and McCain combined. Still, Utahns have given McCain more than three times what they gave Bush in 2004.

"Maybe we're seeing a new era of political contributions in Utah, which all of us who work in politics hope would happen," Hartley said.

Utah Democrats are ecstatic at Obama's fundraising totals, hoping that it will lead to electoral success for local candidates as well. They say the neck-and-neck fundraising race is remarkable considering the fundraisers hosted on behalf of McCain by President Bush, Romney and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

"In most Utahns' lifetimes, there hasn't been anything like this," said Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Todd Taylor. "The widespread enthusiasm we are seeing this year is truly unprecedented."

And some have done much more than donate; both campaigns have turned to wealthy and connected supporters to act as bundlers, who solicit funds from their contacts on behalf of their favorite candidate.

Bundlers, made famous by President Bush, have been quite active in the race that has already surpassed $1.5 billion in contributions. McCain has received more than $76 million from his elite fundraisers. Obama's have helped him bring in $63 million.

Federal laws require little disclosure of bundlers, though the campaigns voluntarily release their names and the rough amounts they have raised.

McCain has identified six bundlers from Utah, including the governor, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and David Simmons, a major Republican donor who owns a number of radio stations.

Simmons, who beyond his own contributions raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for McCain, said he held a fundraiser at his home and called his friends and business associates.

He said Romney's big haul from Utah made it more difficult to raise money for McCain, but it did help that the argument changed from "who is the better person to be our nominee to how do we help our nominee."

Obama lists only one bundler from Utah. John Cumming, who owns ski resorts including Park City Mountain Resort, has raised between $50,000 and $100,000. That's on top of the $4,600 he and his wife, Kristi, donated to Obama's campaign account and the $74,000 they donated to the "Committee for Change," a joint account between the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The Cummings held a fundraiser for Obama in August 2007. As a thank-you, the state Democratic Party named Kristi Cumming as a superdelegate to the national convention.

Don Peay, who has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 in Utah donations for McCain, is an expert at priming the pump for candidates. He has raised money for President Bush, Romney and even Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.

He claims a common-sense motivation: "I do it because you reap what you sow. If you don't elect good people, you get bad government."




* TONY SEMERAD contributed to this report.

* With just 10 days left until the election, Obama and McCain spend Saturday working to win over the Rocky Mountain West. A3

* Democrats see both risks and rewards if the party sweeps the election. A4

High-powered bundlers

Wealthy and connected supporters raise big dollars for Barack Obama and John McCain.

John McCain's bundlers from Utah

* Don Peay, businessman best known for founding

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife; Bountiful: $100,000 to $250,000

* Jeffrey Wright, Actium Partners investment firm;

Salt Lake City: $100,000 to $250,000

* Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Salt Lake City: $100,000 to $250,000

* Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Sandy: $50,000 to $100,000

* David Simmons, Simmons Media Group;

Salt Lake City: $50,000 to $100,000

* Greg Hopkins, EnergySolutions, Holladay: $50,000 to $100,000

Barack Obama's bundler from Utah

* John Cumming, Powdr Corp., owner of ski resorts: $50,000 to $100,000

*Search a database of all Utah donations to Obama and McCain,

at http://extras.sltrib.com/FEC.



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