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Huntsmans put close to $5M into White House bid

Published February 6, 2012 4:06 pm

Father funded more thantwo-thirds of a super PAC that aired ads in New Hampshire.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman forked over nearly $2.6 million of his own fortune to fuel his presidential bid, while his father pitched in another $2 million-plus for a group pushing his son's White House campaign, new reports show.

The millions from the Huntsman clan account for a large chunk of the money spent trying to usher in a President Jon Huntsman, and it contrasts with what the family had initially said about campaign fundraising.

"Unless you can raise it legitimately, you don't win," Huntsman told The New York Times a month before announcing his bid when asked if the multimillionaire would self-finance. "I learned that running for governor."

But as Huntsman's campaign struggled, and continued to yearn for front-runner status, the former governor opened his checkbook and kept his bid afloat. His father, a billionaire, did so as well, funding more than two-thirds of a so-called super PAC that aired television spots urging voters to support Huntsman.

The elder Huntsman, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, said the family has no regrets.

"It was worth every penny to him and to me to see that he presented a message that was constantly on target" about setting America on a better track, Huntsman Sr. said. "I think he brought Utah a deep sense of credibility and respect ... in my opinion, it was money extremely well spent."

The elder Huntsman said in addition to the $1.9 million reported Tuesday, he may have added another $200,000 to $300,000 that will be detailed in a report due later this month.

The former Utah governor withdrew from his presidential bid days before the South Carolina primary after a third-place finish in New Hampshire where he'd staked his campaign's hopes. His campaign, by then, was drowning in debt and the candidate had sworn off tossing any more of his own money into his bid.

Huntsman told reporters as he launched his campaign that he put some of his own money in to "prime the pump," and a campaign adviser touted raising $4.1 million in the first nine days of his effort.

But the first time Huntsman revealed his campaign financing in October, it turned out his primer was $2.25 million — about the same as he raised from supporters, including several family members.

Huntsman's campaign had initially planned an ambitious three-state strategy with a matching multimillion budget. But when donations trickled in, the campaign shrunk its staff and its hopes.

Huntsman, according to his end-of-year report, had more than $1.2 million in debt in addition to the total $2.54 million the candidate had by then loaned his effort. In the months between October and December, Huntsman raised just over $1 million from others.

That said, Huntsman's campaign spokesman, Tim Miller, noted that Huntsman's third-place showing in New Hampshire was "achieved at a lower cost per vote than any other" candidate.

As for the donations from Huntsman himself, Miller said, "His contributions were consistent with his promise to help launch a campaign organization that rivaled his competitors and took him from zero name ID to an unexpected third-place finish in New Hampshire."

Of course, the Our Destiny PAC, funded largely by Huntsman Sr., kept Huntsman's White House plans afloat and helped him with his New Hampshire drive. The PAC spent $2 million pitching Huntsman's candidacy and attacking rival Mitt Romney in television advertisements.

Huntsman Sr. said the need for family cash was necessary because his son had spent the previous 18 months as the U.S. ambassador to China and not running for president like many of his competitors. The younger Huntsman met his soon-to-be campaign advisers hours after returning from China.

"Jon Jr.'s situation was so different than any of the other candidates," Huntsman Sr. said. "He didn't return from China until May 1; he didn't have a fundraising organization in place. He was the latest of any of them to prepare for and enter the campaign."

The so-called super PAC raised $2.7 million by the end of December, according to a new filing with the Federal Elections Commission.

The PAC also received $100,000 from Walmart family heir, Jim Walton, and another $100,000 from Park City's James Swartz, founder of the venture capital firm, Accel Management Company. California investor Robert Arnott also contributed $250,000 to the PAC.

Super PACs, which are allowed to take unlimited personal and corporate donations, have been responsible for a flood of money into the presidential race this cycle.

The Huntsman campaign investment, though, pales in comparison to several candidates who have come before, including Romney who spent $44.6 million of his own fortune in his unsuccessful 2008 bid. Former presidential contender Steve Forbes tossed in $37.9 million in his 1996 campaign and $38.7 million in his 2000 bid.

"Obviously having deep pockets is one of those things that can keep you in the race," says Bill Allison, managing director of the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks and analyzes campaign donations. "You've got that one donor, that set of donors, that can keep you going."

For Huntsman, the lack of supporter donations showed a lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy, Allison says.

"If you don't have that kind of candidate that can get that kind of person to give or donate to you and make small donation, then you've got a real enthusiasm gap," Allison said. "If they can't give you $5, they're probably not going to come to the polls either."

Huntsman received about $181,000 in donations of less than $200, according to his latest report.

tburr@sltrib.com