Prominent Utahns like Jazz owner Gail Miller choose sides — and cut big checks — in fights over medical marijuana, Medicaid, redistricting and school funding

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kem Garnder speaks at a news conference where a coalition including the LDS Church came out against Utah's medical marijuana initiative, in Salt Lake City on Thursday Aug. 23, 2018.

Utah’s wealthiest and most notable residents are choosing sides ahead of the election next month, when voters will decide on several contested ballot initiatives on topics such as marijuana and Medicaid.

Disclosure forms filed Monday with the lieutenant governor’s office show Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller— through her family’s philanthropic organization — along with developers Roger Boyer and Scott Keller each making a $100,000 donation to Drug Safe Utah, the group fighting Proposition 2, joining previously reported donations of that size by developers Kem Gardner and Walter Plumb III.

“All of us want medical marijuana for those it can help but only with appropriate safeguards, which the proposition does not contain,” Gardner wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, echoing the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In addition to her support for Drug Safe Utah, Miller also contributed $250,000 under her own name to Our Schools Now and $10,000 to Utahns for Responsive Government, the groups backing a nonbinding tax increase question and an independent redistricting initiative, respectively.

Miller’s spokesman said she is unavailable for comment.

Gardner, in his email to The Tribune, alluded to as much as $600,000 in additional donations by several other high-profile Utahns to the anti-Prop 2 effort. But those names were not included in the latest disclosure by Drug Safe Utah. Tim Brown, a spokesman for the opposition coalition, said some of the individuals on Gardner’s list were in error or had committed only to making a future donation.

“Not all those names have donated,” Brown said.

Drug Safe Utah’s documents show the opposition effort with more than $200,000 on hand going into the final stretch of the fall election. The coalition raised more than $650,000 during the most recent campaign period, which ended Sept. 30, and spent roughly $450,000.

“We appreciate the support Drug Safe Utah has received from many who recognize Prop 2 goes too far,” Jennifer Scott, a spokeswoman for the opposition campaign, said. “As more financial commitments become actual donations, we will disclose them in accordance with the law.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Utah Patients Coalition, which sponsored Prop 2 and is campaigning in favor of the initiative, has roughly $50,000 on hand, according to its Sept. 30 disclosure. It raised roughly $116,000 during the most recent campaign period and spent $88,000.

Its largest donor during the recently completed period was the Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization supporting marijuana legalization that gave $50,000 in cash and other in-kind donations to the Utah campaign. Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock, donated $46,000 to the Utah Patients Coalition.

“To run the kind of dishonest and half-truth-filled campaign that the opposition to medical cannabis in Utah is mounting takes a lot of money,” said DJ Schanz of the Utah Patients Coalition. “When asked to jump, many of these folks ask how high and how much.”

Schanz said the pro-Prop 2 campaign, on the other hand, "has taken in thousands of small-dollar donations, for which we are proud. Our movement has always been a grass-roots movement of the people, not the big pooh-bahs of the state.”

The initiative would legalize medical marijuana for a list of serious illnesses and for those suffering from chronic pain, requiring the state to set up dispensaries. This January, the state Legislature passed Utah’s first medical marijuana law, which would offer the drug to those who doctors say have six months or less to live.

Utah Decides Healthcare, the group backing a Medicaid expansion initiative known as Proposition 3, has roughly $150,000 on hand, according to its latest disclosure. It received more than $200,000 from The Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates raising the minimum wage and other progressive economic issues, during the most recent fundraising period.

“We are grateful at this time of so much political divisiveness that Prop 3 has seen a coalescing around support for basic access to health care for all Utahns,” said RyLee Curtis, campaign director for the Medicaid expansion.

An opposing organization, No on Proposition 3, has yet to file any received donations with the state’s election office.

Utahns for Responsive Government has more than $300,000 on hand for its campaign to create an independent redistricting commission through Proposition 4, according to the group’s latest disclosure. The group’s records show an expansive donor list, with a large number of individual donations of $100 or less.

Its largest contributions during the most recent period included more than $250,000 from the Texas-based Action Now Initiative, $20,000 from Utah philanthropist Barbara Tanner, $20,000 from former Powdr founder and former CEO John Cumming, and $13,500 from the Utah League of Women Voters.

Our Schools Now has nearly $800,000 in the bank for its campaign in support of Nonbinding Opinion Question No. 1. The group originally sponsored a binding gas tax initiative but agreed to a compromise with lawmakers that boosted education funding while asking voters to weigh in on hiking gas taxes to indirectly support education.

Our Schools Now received $150,000 from Vivint, $100,000 from WordPerfect co-founder Alan Ashton, $100,000 from private prison contractor Management and Training Corp. (MTC), $50,000 from businessman Bruce Bastian, $50,000 from Envirocare founder Khosrow Semnani, and several other donations of $10,000 or more.

“These resources help us educate Utahns that Question 1, with the support of Gov. [Gary] Herbert and the Utah Legislature, invests directly in local classrooms and costs just $4 per month,” said Austin Cox, spokesman for Our Schools Now.