Former Utah House speaker and potential gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes isn’t currently running for election, but that hasn’t stopped donors from cutting five-figure checks to his political action committee.
Disclosure forms for the Hughes Leadership PAC show $105,000 in receipts from four donors during the month of May, including $50,000 from prominent Utah developer Kem Gardner, $25,000 from Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, $25,000 from former House Majority Leader Kevin Garn — all on the same day, May 7. Ten days later, Energy Solutions, one of the most prolific contributors to elected Utah officeholders, kicked in $5,000.
“While I’m still exploring a race for governor, I’ve been encouraged by the support and pledges I’ve received,” Hughes said Thursday. “I haven’t been actively fundraising, but a few donors have contributed to my leadership PAC. I’ll be doing some research, examining the landscape and getting prepared should I decide to run.”
Hughes left the Legislature last year after serving eight terms in the House, including two as speaker. While he has acknowledged an interest in the governor’s race, early polling by The Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics suggests he lacks the name recognition of other confirmed and potential Republican candidates, like Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who consistently led the field in polling on Republican gubernatorial candidates, confirmed this week that he would not enter the 2020 race.
Another potential candidate, Provo businessman Jeff Burningham, has raised more than $560,000 since February, according to public disclosure forms, including a $100,000 loan Burningham made to his own campaign.
In January, Burningham launched a campaign website and fundraising committee and hired a campaign manager, but stopped short of fully committing to a 2020 run.
Cox, the only candidate so far to formally enter the governor’s race, kicked off his campaign in earnest this week with the first leg of a planned statewide tour of Utah’s cities and towns.
Disclosure forms for Cox’s campaign do not yet show any contributions — state law requires the public listing of donations within 30 days of their receipt — but his lieutenant governor file shows more than $157,000 received between January and April.
Those contributions — many of which appear tied to a January fundraiser hosted by Gov. Gary Herbert — include a $25,000 donation from Warner Truck Centers, $5,000 from Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller and $2,500 from EnergySolutions.
Austin Cox, a spokesman for the Cox campaign, said more recent donations will be made public in the coming days in compliance with state’s disclosure requirements, which, by state law, the lieutenant governor oversees. And while much of the $157,000 in Cox’s lieutenant governor account will eventually be transferred to the campaign, Austin Cox said, a portion will likely remain in place for costs associated with Spencer Cox’s ongoing duties as lieutenant governor.
“There’s a reason to keep some money in the lieutenant governor’s account, separate and apart from what he’s doing as a candidate for governor,” Austin Cox said.
Among others who have been mentioned as potential candidates for governor are former Gov. Jon Huntsman, currently U.S. ambassador to Russia; Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes; Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Director Natalie Gouchnour; Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton; and former Utah Jazz CEO Greg Miller.
Editor’s note: U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune owner and publisher.