Utah A.G. candidates quietly raising big bucks

Published January 12, 2012 11:17 am

Politics • GOP contenders rack up an eye-popping $800,000.
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It hasn't got the attention of other, higher profile races, but the contest for Utah attorney general has the makings for a big-time cage match, with the campaigns of the top two contenders combining to raise nearly $800,000 last year.

Sean Reyes, a lawyer making his first bid for political office, reported raising $463,518 in 2011 — most of that coming from in-kind donations such as office space, supplies and staff from businesses and a law firm Reyes has worked with.

The other leading Republican candidate, Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow — who has the endorsement and major financial backing of his boss, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff — raked in $324,710, with Shurtleff providing slightly more than 40 percent of it from his own campaign accounts.

Outside of Gov. Gary Herbert, who raised more than $1 million last year, Reyes and Swallow have raised more than any other state-level candidates and appear headed for a big-spending, hard-fought campaign.

"Those are substantial amounts of money, given that they weren't even in the election year yet," said Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah.

"The attorney general race is always a little bit different. … You don't tend to have the kind of big public events, you don't tend to have the kind of advertising. It often is a much more low-key affair," said Burbank. "Given the sums of money that are being raised here, it looks like this may take on a higher profile, at least on the Republican side."

Swallow reported spending less than $1,000 on his campaign during the year and had nearly $325,000 in the bank at the end of the year. Reyes, because more of his contributions were in-kind instead of cash, reported slightly less than $225,000 at the end of the year.

Reyes is the general counsel for the company eTAGZ, a Provo company that attaches digital advertising — things like CDs or thumb drives — to products. The company gave Reyes $50,000. The company's president, Isaac Jacobson, covered $16,000 more for laptops, travel expenses and event costs.

One of Reyes' major fundraisers during the year was an auction in which he sold off donated gold, jewelry and other items. And Don Salazar, a business associate of Reyes' gave more than $59,000.

"In tough economic times, it's humbling to have so many people sacrifice financially to help us with this election," Reyes said. "For us, the report reflects our broad support from the business and legal communities and the state of Utah at large and it doesn't even show all the volunteer hours being worked."

Swallow drew heavily from dietary supplement companies — most prominently Usana and NuSkin — and real estate and wealth "coaching" companies that have traditionally been big supporters of Shurtleff. Swallow had worked as an attorney in the supplement industry before joining the Attorney General's Office.

"It takes money to get out the conservative message, just like it takes money to stop the Obama administration in court," Swallow said in a statement. "Whether it be fighting for access to our public lands or overturning the President's unconstitutional health care bill, we'll be ready to continue the fight."

Swallow received $25,000 from Provo-based home security company Vivint, his second-largest donor.

Some of those same companies also gave heavily to Shurtleff, who donated $132,000 of proceeds from his annual "Turkey Shoot" fundraiser to the Swallow campaign. Shurtleff's donors also included two law firms — Siegfried & Jensen and Heard Robins Cloud & Black — which have represented the state in the past in high-profile lawsuits.

A Nevada-based investment fund gave Swallow $15,000 and the Real Estate Investor Education and Intelligent Wealth LLC each gave $12,500.

In other disclosures in the latest reports, Herbert raised $1.28 million during the course of the year. His Republican challengers have raised a total of $18,900.

The money that Herbert has in the bank will make up the bulk of what he has to spend to fend off the challenges, however, since he cannot raise money during the legislative session or for 20 days after the session, when he can sign or veto bills. That prevents him from fundraising until just a few weeks before the April 21 Republican convention.

Herbert's top donors were NuSkin executives, who gave $60,000 and Deseret Power, which gave $50,000.

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, who is running against Herbert, raised $14,250 and Morgan Philpot, who is also running for governor, raised $5,400.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, raised more than any other state legislator, bringing in $77,400 during the year. House Speaker Becky Lockhart raised $65,300 and her Speaker's Victory Fund raised another $91,000.

gehrke@sltrib.comTwitter: @RobertGehrke —

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