First campaign disclosures show Spencer Cox with $250K banked for gubernatorial campaign

( Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, joined by his wife Abby, announced Tuesday, May 14, 2019 that he is running for governor.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox raised $250,000 during the first month of his candidacy for governor, according to initial figures released Monday by the Cox campaign, including a $100,000 transfer from his pre-existing lieutenant governor account.

Online disclosure forms show the Cox campaign receiving a large number of small individual donations beginning on May 14, the date that Cox formally announced his bid for the state’s highest executive office. But the list of contributors also includes a handful of four- and five-figure contributions from developers, financial institutions, lawmakers and members of Utah’s business community.

“Abby and I are thrilled Utahns enthusiastically believe in our call for elevated campaigns,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “We’re committed to bringing people together, serving our communities and discussing a conservative vision for Utah’s future without harboring contempt for our opponents.”

Topping the list of Cox’s donors is LRF Partners with $20,000, followed at the $10,000 level by Won-Door CEO Ronald Smart, real estate developers Cowboy Properties and William O. Perry and Associates, and Crystal Maggelet, CEO of FJ Management, the parent company of Maverik, Pilot Flying J and Crystal Inn.

Cox received $2,500 from Jesselie Anderson, a member of the Utah Board of Regents and wife of Zion’s Bank CEO Scott Anderson, as well as $1,071 from Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, and $1,042 from Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, and Cox’s brother-in-law.

The $100,000 transferred from Cox’s lieutenant governor account was funded by previously reported donations between January and April — coinciding with a fundraiser hosted by Gov. Gary Herbert — and which included a $25,000 contribution from Warner Truck Centers, $5,000 from Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller and $2,500 from EnergySolutions, which disposes of low-level radioactive waste.

Cox said that the campaign welcomes any contribution, whether it be $3 or $300.

“While we are not independently wealthy and will continue to rely heavily on grass-roots donations, no candidate will work harder to promote our shared values and earn the trust of Utahns,” he said.

Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said it is a “harsh reality of politics” that a significant amount of money is needed for a candidate to spread their message and build name recognition.

“Every candidate will need a strong fundraising strategy to bring in both small and large donors so they can wage the type of campaign that can beat out the big names that are rumored to be getting in this race,” Perry said. "This is a good start for Spencer Cox.”

Cox is the only candidate so far to formally launch a gubernatorial campaign, although several other Utahns are publicly or privately exploring their options.

Those candidates include Provo businessman Jeff Burningham, who has engaged in a “listening tour” of the state and has raised more than $500,000 for a potential bid; former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, whose political action committee raised more than $100,000 last month from just four big donors and who is eyeing a potential campaign launch later this year; and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, who is reportedly considering moving back to The Beehive State and a potential run for a return to the governor’s office he held for 1½ terms.

Another potential candidate, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, recently confirmed that he would not run for governor in 2020. Other names floated for potential candidacy include Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Attorney General Sean Reyes; Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute director Natalie Gouchner; Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton; and former Jazz CEO Greg Miller.

Polling by The Tribune and Hinckley Institute in February showed Cox leading the pack of presumed Republican candidates, earning the support of 28 percent of registered Republican voters. But he was closely followed by Chaffetz at 27 percent and the “Don’t know" option at 24 percent, suggesting broad territory for additional candidates to find support among the electorate.

That poll also did not include Huntsman, who has significant name recognition and remains popular in the state after serving in multiple ambassadorships and running for president in 2012.

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.