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Huntsman PAC paid top consultant $436K

Published June 11, 2012 8:41 pm

Politics • Horizon PAC amends its campaign filing to reflect early payment.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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 • Jon Huntsman's presidential strategist pocketed more than $436,000 before the former Utah governor even announced his White House bid, according to a recently amended campaign finance report.

Added to the $131,750 John Weaver made during the actual presidential run, the top consultant pulled in north of a half-million dollars for Huntsman's unsuccessful campaign, records show.

Huntsman supporters launched the Horizon political action committee in Utah in advance of the ex-governor's return to America after serving as President Barack Obama's ambassador to China. The move was described as Huntsman's presidential "campaign in waiting."

Originally, the Utah-based PAC had reported that $208,000 of its expenses had gone to "For Bahm Marketing." But the owner of New York-based Bahm Marketing later told the website BuzzFeed that he was only paid $20,000.

The report was amended last week to say that funds went to The Network Cos., which is owned by Weaver.

Mark Thomas, head of Utah's Elections Office, had opened an investigation into the disbursement but said Monday he is likely to drop the probe after the filing was amended.

"I don't see anything else that would need to be reviewed," Thomas said, noting that the filing was made on time — albeit with incorrect information — and was amended as allowed under state law.

Weaver said that the quick rush to build a national campaign from scratch is why the cost was so high.

"Other campaigns had years to gear up and spent literally millions to do so," Weaver wrote in an email. "We rushed an effort overnight with some of the top political talent in the country. That type of effort, especially in a hurry and trying to make up ground, is not cheap."

Huntsman, a multimillionaire, poured more than $4 million of his own money into his campaign, and he still owes about $1.3 million to vendors, according to his last filing with the Federal Election Commission. Some vendors have considered suing over the unpaid debts.

Huntsman, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

The Horizon PAC, which could accept unlimited contributions for use once the presidential campaign officially began, was largely funded by Huntsman's family, including a $350,000 contribution from his dad, Jon Huntsman Sr., and mom, Karen. Huntsman's brothers kicked in another $200,000.

Tim Riester, a Phoenix-based marketing consultant who is the treasurer of the Horizon PAC, said Monday that The Network Cos. managed a "significant amount of work" and also administered a number of vendors and subcontractors.

"In fact," he said, "much of the billing from The Network Companies was reimbursable outside costs and not professional fees."

tburr@sltrib.com