While Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said he will not seek re-election in 2020, he still raked in nearly $630,000 in political contributions last year.
Herbert wasn’t just letting money flow in, he actively sought it — including spending at least $158,000 to host his annual fundraising gala, and another $15,500 to stage a fundraising golf event.
So why is noncandidate Herbert still raising so much?
“The governor has a lot of things and issues that he cares about, including supporting other candidates,” says Derek Miller, Herbert’s political adviser and former chief of staff who now is president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah.
So Miller said the governor raises money to spread to other candidates, his party and some other items of interest, “like last year sponsoring an honor flight, taking a flight of 40 veterans back to Washington, D.C., for them to be recognized and to see the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War memorials.”
Of course such things help win friend and allies — especially among legislators who may receive his donations — easing the way for the governor to push his agenda.
But the amount Herbert raises from special interests may raise eyebrows — especially because of controversy in his 2016 campaign when he described himself as “Available Jones.”
Secretly taped audio revealed him telling a group of lobbyists during that campaign that he would be willing to meet anytime, anywhere to discuss topics of interest with donors.
“However we want to do this — if we want to have multiple meetings or we sit down and talk and you give us a check later or before. However you would like to do it,” he said after one lobbyist questioned the appropriateness of discussing policy issues at the same time checks are handed over.
Herbert said, “I’ll just say, I’m available. I’m Available Jones.”
“Available Jones” apparently was a reference to a character from the old-time comic strip Li’l Abner, a hillbilly from the town of Dogpatch who was always looking to make a dollar and was available for a price.
Herbert later said he regretted his zeal in fundraising.
“As far as the optics of what happened, I’m disappointed in myself and how we handled that,” Herbert told reporters. “That being said, when you’re an average guy like me with average means, you have to go out and ask people for money.”
Miller said the continuing fundraising by Herbert, even though he is not seeking re-election, should not and will not hurt Herbert’s public image.
“We’ve got one of the most popular governors in the country, so I don’t think that people view the governor negatively. The polls show otherwise, and people believe that the governor is doing a good job,” Miller said.
“Not only do people feel and believe he is doing a good job, he is doing a good job,” Miller added, noting new figures showing the state has the nation’s fastest-growing economy.
Last year, Herbert raised just over $629,000 through his Governor’s Leadership Political Action Committee, his own campaign fund and the Friends of Gary Herbert PAC — not counting transfers between those funds and some refunds from contractors.
Herbert’s new disclosure forms include many large donations, at least for a nonelection year, from special interests.
The biggest was $28,000 from Dominion Energy, formerly called Questar gas. Five donors gave $25,000 each: Deseret Power, Huntsman International, NuSkin, Qualtrics and Zions Bank.
The Utah Workers Compensation Fund gave $15,000, and the Utah Association of Realtors gave $14,000 (Herbert is a former real estate agent).
Seventeen donors gave $10,000 each: 1-800 Contacts, Academy Mortgage, Alan Ashton (Thanksgiving Point founder), Dentaquest, Gail Miller (Utah Jazz owner), Gay Phillips, IM Flash, Lifetime Products, Merit Medical, Motorola, O.C. Tanner Co., Reagan Outdoor Advertising, Select Health, TAC Air, Utah Rural Telecom Association, Wang Organization and Wasatch Acquisition & Capital.
Another 39 donors gave more than $5,000 each.
Herbert’s various political funds spent more than a combined $625,000 last year, nearly matching the amount he raised (but he still has $338,000 in cash on hand). It went for such things as fundraising, donations to others, gifts and greeting cards, and pay for staff and consultants.
He spent $40,000 on the honor flight to take veterans to Washington.
Another $28,000 donation went to the Utah Republican Party, which has been struggling to dig out of debt. Also at least $8,900 went to county Republican parties, mostly for Lincoln Day dinner donations.
The governor donated to only one candidate during the nonelection 2017, $1,000 to Logan Republican Casey Snider, who has said he will run for the Utah House this year.
Herbert spent at least $26,500 on his inauguration last year.
Another $8,245 went to make “governor coins,” given to visitors as souvenirs. Also, $9,220 went to holiday cards, and just over $2,000 was spent on gifts.
He spent $23,000 on political consulting, and nearly $54,000 on staff salary and payroll taxes.
He reimbursed the state just over $13,000 for travel on a trade mission. He spent nearly $11,000 at restaurants for food for what he lists as the “capitol working group.”
Editor’s note • Huntsman International is a limited liability company that lists as managers the father and brother of Tribune Publisher and owner Paul Huntsman.