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Mystery donors to political groups seek to sway Utah voters

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The group has lobbied Congress to fight online piracy, and Hatch has been a leader on that issue.

Bensing has also contributed to Hatch’s campaign, writing a $1,000 check last November.

At a glance

Outside spending

Political organizations are spending big to persuade Utah voters to either re-elect Sen. Orrin Hatch or give an upstart Republican a chance to take his spot in Washington.

Here are the groups and how much they have spent so far:


Purpose » Opposes Hatch

Amount » $571,000

Purchased » TV and radio ad, mailings, polls

Freedom Path

Purpose » Supports Hatch

Amount » $280,000

Purchased » TV ads, mailings

National Rifle Association PAC

Purpose » Supports Hatch

Amount » $13,500

Purchased » Mailer

American College of Radiology PAC

Purpose » Supports Hatch

Amount » $77,000

Purchased » Mailers

Source: Federal Election Commission

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He said his donation was not Zuffa-related and he would not say whether his clients have also given to Freedom Path, only reiterating that all of its donors will remain anonymous. A Zuffa spokesman said the corporation hasn’t given money to Freedom Path, but he couldn’t speak for the executives or affiliated companies like the Station Casinos.

November Inc. » The Freedom Path staff, including Bensing, Mike Slanker and its two lawyers, all worked together at the National Republican Senatorial Committee when former Nevada Sen. John Ensign led the group and Hatch was his second in command.

Bensing and Slanker were among Ensign’s closest advisers, and they are partners in a full-service political consulting firm, November Inc.

Their company became embroiled in a sex scandal that led to Ensign’s resignation last year. Ensign had an affair with a married campaign staffer whose husband worked on his Senate staff. The senator helped that man get a job at November Inc.

The company remains a force in Nevada politics, representing Sen. Dean Heller, who replaced Ensign, while also providing services to the NRSC and Hatch’s campaign.

Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager, said Bensing and Mike Slanker have never directly worked for the senator, but Hansen did meet with Slanker in January 2011 to explore such an arrangement.

"There was some discussion about whether Mike would be involved," Hansen said. "He said, ‘I have some other things to do,’ and he didn’t exactly specify."

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That same month Bensing created Freedom Path, though the group’s first ad, which supported the senator’s efforts on a balanced budget amendment, didn’t appear on Utah televisions until July.

Hansen said it was only after that first ad that he learned Slanker and Bensing had started a pro-Hatch group.

"I know in some things it is better not to ask a lot of questions because you don’t want to know some of the stuff that is happening," he said.

But Hansen did talk to his lawyer and checked on the legality of continuing to employ the Slankers’ companies on the campaign.

Lindsey Slanker runs a fundraising operation under the name October Inc., receiving $37,000 in payments from the Hatch campaign in 2011. And Mike Slanker owns Autumn E-Media, which the Hatch campaign paid $34,000 in the past year for website support.

These three companies are intertwined, sharing logos, P.O. boxes, phone numbers and email addresses. November Inc.’s website refers to Autumn as "an in-house team to assist online and Web-based campaigns," while October Inc.’s mission statement says it has experience creating political nonprofits.

The firewall » Slanker’s connections to both Freedom Path and Hatch’s campaign are most likely legal, according to Matt Sanderson, a campaign-finance attorney based in Washington, D.C.

He noted that other outside groups share vendors with candidates, and the Federal Election Commission has said that is fine as long as there are separate employees working on the accounts and those employees don’t discuss their work with each other.

"The FEC would start from the presumption that they are separate," said Sanderson.

Bensing said November Inc. is aware of the law and follows a strict "firewall policy" when it serves clients that could get into trouble for coordinating.

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