Big donors shower Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes with campaign cash

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks during a news conference on Aug. 21, 2018.

With the help of many big donors, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes raised 50 times more money this term than either of his challengers going into this week’s state Republican convention.

New disclosure forms show Reyes raised $1.35 million over his current four-year term, including $355,000 so far this year.

Meanwhile, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt raised $27,000 (with $20,000 of it coming from family connections). And former Attorney General John Swallow — who resigned in one of the state’s biggest political scandals but is seeking his old job back — raised $21,000, all from his own wallet.

On the Democratic side, attorney Greg Skordas reported $116,000 in donations, $100,000 of it from his own bank account. Kevin Probasco had not filed a campaign finance disclosure by Monday’s deadline.

Among Republicans, several of Reyes’ individual donors each provided more money than Swallow or Leavitt managed to raise overall.

That includes $150,000 from the Republican Attorneys General Association; $50,000 from Ocean Star International (which harvests brine shrimp eggs from the Great Salt Lake); $35,000 from James Clarke, managing partner of Clarke Capital Partners; and $30,000 from Gregory Seare, founder of Black Oak Capital.

Also giving Reyes $25,000 each this term were: Starpoint Resort Group, a timeshare company; Curt Richardson, a Colorado millionaire whose net worth is estimated at $650 million; and Merit Medical, run by powerful Utah Republican Fred Lampropoulos.

Five donors gave Reyes $20,000 each: doTerra, an essential oils company that uses multilevel marketing; Entertainment Software Association, which represents the video game industry; Entrata, a software company run by the state’s top political donor, Dave Bateman; Siegfried & Jensen, a personal injury law firm; and Smith’s Group Services, a technology group.

Another 26 donors gave Reyes more than $10,000 each this term. Among these are: tobacco company Altria ($15,000); nuclear waste disposal company EnergySolutions ($18,500); multilevel marketer Nu Skin ($15,000), high-interest lender TitleMax ($15,000); and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America ($15,000).

Although Reyes raised $1.34 million so far in his current term, he spent $1.35 million — including $579,000 on campaign consulting. Still, he reports $128,000 in cash on hand now. (Leavitt reports $22,600 in cash on hand, and Swallow reports $2,500.)

Reyes’ opponents, Republican and Democratic, have attacked his fundraising from sometimes questionable sources, as reported by The Tribune.

Swallow and Democrat Skordas both say they decided to enter the race because they were infuriated by Reyes’ actions regarding Washakie Renewable Resources. Five of its principals — most with ties to the Kingston polygamist group — were found guilty on federal charges in a fraud scheme involving $1.1 billion from a government biofuel program.

In 2016, after federal agents raided Washakie’s offices, Reyes’ political consultant, Alan Crooks, who speaks for Reyes on campaign matters, said the campaign would put donations from the company in escrow, where it would remain pending the outcome of the investigation. The donations amounted to nearly $51,000.

In 2018, Crooks reiterated that the money was still in escrow and dismissed Tribune questions about the donations as “stupid.” But last December, the campaign’s website said by the time it was contacted in 2016, the money had been spent so no refund would be made — even though the campaign continually raised big money from many sources and funds are all mingled into one pot once they are accepted.

In an interview last week, Crooks said it would be inappropriate to use donations from others to try to reimburse Washakie, and any money now would go to the U.S. attorney’s office because of the legal status of Washakie donors — and that office said it would not accept any money.

"That’s just misleading. Maybe you even call it a lie,” Swallow said last week. “When I saw that, I thought we don’t have integrity in the attorney general’s office at the top, and I’ve got to run.”

Crooks said that’s hilarious given that Swallow resigned in a scandal over “pay to play” allegations involving his donors. Swallow was later found not guilty of resulting charges.

Skordas said, “The only reason that company [Washakie] would donate $51,000 to the attorney general is to get him to look the other way. Do you call it a bribe? You can call it whatever you want, but that’s no different than what Reyes’ two predecessors [Swallow and Mark Shurtleff] made a living doing.” He alleged it wasn’t the only group that paid Reyes to look the other way.

Republican Leavitt also raised red flags about such donations to Reyes, saying, “We have a real culture of the attorney general’s office being for sale.”

Reyes, Leavitt and Swallow face one another in the Republican state convention later this week. If any of them receive 60% of delegate vote, they will proceed directly to the Nov. 3 general election. Otherwise, the top two will face off in the June 30 primary election.

Like Republicans, Democrats will hold a state convention this week to winnow candidates and, perhaps, choose nominees in contested races.