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Utahns among mega-donors unleashed by court ruling

Published April 8, 2014 9:48 am

Campaign finance • Three Utah residents are among 646 who hit the now-scrapped limit in the last election.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A hedge-fund manager in Cottonwood Heights with deep ties to Wall Street and even deeper pockets is among an exclusive group of campaign contributors. Arthur Lipson is one of just three Utahns who hit the overall cap on political donations in 2012, a limit the Supreme Court obliterated in a major ruling last week.

The other two are WordPerfect co-founder and gay-rights activist Bruce Bastian and John Riley Miller, a close friend of Mitt Romney's who once ran National Beef Packing and now leads a private equity firm in Salt Lake.

They were among 646 people identified by the Center for Responsive Politics, who reached the now-defunct cap on contributions, a number that falls short of $150,000 when contributions to candidates, political parties and political action committees (PACs) are added up.

This tiny band of wealthy contributors can now give in the millions of dollars as long as they stick to the limits for individual PACs ($5,000), state political parties ($10,000), national parties ($32,400) and individual candidates ($2,600).

Does the Supreme Court's ruling mean that Lipson will pump more money into politics?

"Sadly, yes," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "I have the financial resources to do it, and I believe in my progressive politics. And it is sad because lots of rich people on both sides of the political spectrum will essentially be influencing the behavior of candidates."

Lipson would prefer lower limits on campaign giving, but he isn't prepared to cede the playing field to others who will give as much as they can.

At the same time, he bemoans the impact that such money has on politics.

"Money creates beholden candidates who are responsive to the donors more than the average individual," he said. "I would like to think the candidates I support are not beholden to donors but they are human. I certainly think candidates on the Republican side are beholden to donors."

Lipson, an unabashed liberal, gave $130,300 in contributions during the 2012 cycle, much of it going to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and to 17 Democratic Senate candidates. His goal is to change the makeup of the Supreme Court, which took a conservative turn under the presidency of George W. Bush with the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Roberts, now the chief justice, wrote the opinion — joined by the court's other four conservative-leaning members — that eliminated the aggregate caps. In reaction, a number of campaign-finance experts predict the individual donation limits may soon fall,too.

Lipson said that limit has stopped him from being able to donate to candidates in the past and he didn't see that as a bad thing.

Miller and Bastian did not return calls for comment.

Miller and Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, once owned vacation homes next to each other in Deer Valley and then again in La Jolla, Calif. They became friends and when Romney ran for president in 2008 and 2012, Miller was a member of his finance committee, helping raise money for the campaign.

Miller gave $133,200 in 2011 and 2012 by sending cash to Romney, his PAC and the Republican National Committee, along with a series of state parties. None of those contributions went to entities in Utah.

Bastian wasn't as focused in his giving as Lipson or Miller. He has long been a major contributor to liberal causes in Utah and elsewhere. In the 2012 cycle, Bastian contributed a total of $151,500 to a series of Senate and House candidates, including prominent gay politicians such as Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. He also gave to President Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee and a bunch of state Democratic parties, including those in Utah, Iowa, Nevada, Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

In 2008, Bastian contributed $1 million to fight California's effort to ban gay marriage. His WordPerfect co-founder Alan Ashton donated $1 million to the proponents of that movement.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham