If you’re not wearing a black tie or ball gown to Gov. Gary Herbert’s major fundraising gala Friday, you might be a redneck.
Jeff Foxworthy, known for his "you-might-be-a-redneck" comedy and hosting television’s "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader," will headline the annual Salt Palace bash that in past years has raked in as much as $1 million.
Herbert has not said whether he will run for re-election in 2016.
"I have not made that ultimate decision. I will be in a position to do so, if I choose to. That’s down the road some," Herbert told reporters this week. "We don’t need to make that decision today, but probably in the next year, year-and-a-half we’ll make that decision. But we’ll analyze and see how far we are in accomplishing our own agenda and make that decision at a later date."
However, the fundraiser — where sponsors are asked to kick in as much as $25,000 for sponsorships and $500 for an individual ticket — gives the governor flexibility.
"Any public official who is not raising money when they have the chance to raise money is not doing themselves any favors," said Kelly Patterson, a political science professor at Brigham Young University. "Regardless what they decide to do in the future, they want to keep their options open."
Herbert finished the year with about $350,000 in his campaign account and has raised about $100,000 this year. The governor has amassed another $230,000 in the Governor’s Leadership PAC, which will receive the funds from Friday’s event. He has another $16,000 in the Friends of Gary Herbert PAC.
His largest donors, once again, include the Utah Association of Realtors, PacifiCorp, the Price Realty Group, Zions Bank President Scott Anderson and Zions Bancorp, Merit Medical and the Clyde Cos.
Supporters who give $25,000 get their name on materials handed out at the event, 24 seats in a "premium location," and 10 tickets to a VIP reception with the governor and lieutenant governor.
Contributors of $10,000 get six guest tickets to the VIP reception and 16 seats for the dinner.
Liv Moffat, who is organizing the event, said she recognizes that the gala might not bring in as much as it does in an election year, but she still expects to raise more than $650,000.
"The governor is going to be helping candidates that believe in his issues," she said. "So that’s what we’re focusing on this year, and ultimately we’re leaving the door open for a 2016 run. And he’s not independently wealthy, so we’re going to try to raise as much money as we can to keep that as an option."
Moffat said ticket sales got a boost Monday after Lt. Gov. Greg Bell announced he would be stepping down.
"There’s so much love for the lieutenant governor," she said. "I had to call the caterer and change our numbers."
The governor also plans to make a donation to The Utah 1033 Foundation, which supports the families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The family of slain Draper police Sgt. Derek Johnson will be on hand to accept the check.
In the 2010 election, questions were raised by Herbert’s opponent, former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, about whether a pay-to-play arrangement existed in which the governor’s big contributors received special treatment in exchange for their support. That included a major Herbert donor being chosen for the $1.3 billion reconstruction of Interstate 15 through Utah County.
Patterson said that, on one hand, the big donations are "the price of politics under the current financial regime." But given the misconduct allegations against Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, there is a heightened attention to money in politics.
"Do you really want your elected officials creating such close relationships with the people who can fund their campaigns so easily?" Patterson asked. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone can’t raise large amounts from these single sources or donors, but I think it makes the public a bit more sensitive."
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