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Lee's chief of staff sells lobbying firm for $1M

Published June 29, 2011 9:56 am

Politics • Stokes takes big pay cut for new job, but old firm payouts continue to roll in.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Spencer Stokes was one of Utah's premier lobbyists when he became Sen. Mike Lee's chief of staff, a job that required him to take a $400,000 per year pay cut and sell his business to a close friend.

Taking a congressional job required him to file a financial disclosure report, which shows that Stokes sold his lobbying business for $1,138,000 before joining Lee's staff on Jan. 5.

Stokes sold his practice to Stephen Hunter, who most recently worked at the Utah League of Credit Unions. Hunter agreed to pay Stokes an initial sum of $135,000 and a monthly payment of $17,000 for the next five years.

The filing also indicates that Stokes made $565,000 last year lobbying for 20 entities including 1-800-CONTACTS, EnergySolutions and Weber State University. Almost all of his clients were focused on bills before the Utah Legislature, though Stokes did seek federal funding and earmarks in Congress for a few organizations.

As Lee's chief of staff, Stokes has received a salary of $41,000 for the first three months of the year, which would equate to an annual salary of $164,000.

Stokes said it was "extremely emotionally challenging" to walk away from the lobbying firm he developed over the past 12 years.

He said he made the move because he believed in Lee as a senator and he sees the job as a way to give back to Utah.

"It really is an opportunity to give some service. I really feel what Senator Lee is doing back here is monumental," Stokes said. "I was raised in a household where you are taught and believe in giving service and this is part of that."

The one time Weber County Commissioner and former state Republican Party director didn't discount his current salary, but noted that it is a departure from his previous standard of living.

"I'm paid well for what I'm doing," he said.

Stokes also doesn't rule out a return to lobbying in the future, though he would not go back to his former clients.

Lee said it is a credit to Stokes that he left a well-paying job and sold his business "at a time when it is not optimal to sell any business."

"Spencer Stokes is the brightest political mind in Utah politics and I feel very fortunate to have him as my chief of staff," Lee said. "He has done an excellent job."

The financial disclosure filing also shows that Stokes is a member of a small company called Dick Whitman Enterprises, a nod to the lead character in the TV show "Mad Men." The company makes applications for smartphones, including "Obama Bloopers," which highlights the president's misstatements. It sells for 99 cents.

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