GOP Utah attorney general candidates accuse each other of trying to sell or buy the office

(Tribune file photos) Republican candidates for Utah attorney general David Leavitt, left, and Sean Reyes.

David Leavitt, who is challenging incumbent Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes in Tuesday’s GOP primary, says new campaign financial disclosures again show that Reyes has a “for sale” sign on his office.

“The reason why I say that the Attorney General’s Office is for sale because people give him huge quantities of money,” Leavitt said Wednesday. “He spends very little of it on actual campaign-related events. And at the end of the day, he’s spent it on himself or for the benefit of his friends.”

Reyes’ campaign returned fire, calling Leavitt a “rich, elitist and entitled hypocrite” who is trying to buy the office himself by pouring into the race more than $350,000 of his own money and $40,000 from his family.

New disclosure forms show that Reyes’ campaign raised $1.4 million during his four-year term. But just $400,000 was spent during this election year, and he has only $33,600 in cash left. In the last reporting period from mid-April to mid-June, he raised a relatively small $67,890.

However, the national Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) formed a political action committee, RAGA Utah PAC, and provided the nearly $300,000 that it spent to campaign independently on behalf of Reyes. Leavitt calls that a “money laundering” operation to hide who is financially supporting Reyes.

Meanwhile Leavitt, the Utah County attorney, this period raised nearly six times as much as Reyes’ campaign: $424,227, but nearly all of it came either from his own wallet or his extended family.

Leavitt’s family donations included $5,000 from his brother, former Gov. Mike Leavitt. David Leavitt also received $1,000 from John Swallow, the former attorney general who resigned amid scandal in 2013. After being tried and acquitted on multiple felonies, Swallow tried a political comeback this year, running for his old office, but was defeated in the Utah Republican Convention.

Swallow said he donated to Leavitt, in part, because “Reyes has been secretive, dishonest with voters … and has made no reforms in seven years. It’s time to replace Reyes with someone seriously concerned about our problems.”

Alan Crooks, campaign manager for Reyes, said, “It is not surprising that John Swallow donated $1,000 to David Leavitt. They have been working together since the convention cycle.”

Crooks also said Leavitt’s self-funding shows he “is a rich, elitist and entitled hypocrite. In 2008 he spent over $500,000 in only a five-week period trying to buy his way into an elected office [Congress]. He is on pace to spend even more in this race. He failed then and he will fail again.”

Leavitt said he and his family are providing so much money because they believe in his judicial reform platform, and because it’s tough to run “when these big-money people won’t give to you” because of his attacks on such donations.

Leavitt on Wednesday especially attacked RAGA and its aid to Reyes.

It earlier gave Reyes’ campaign $125,000 directly, in addition to the $300,000 it since spent separately on the race. Leavitt has said those donations essentially bought Reyes’ support for RAGA’s partisan efforts, such as pushing for the release of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Leavitt said RAGA donated directly to Reyes “until I started shining a light on it, and now they’re sending it to their PAC. I think it strains credulity to think that he’s not directing that money, despite their statements to the contrary.” Such direction would also be illegal.

Also, Leavitt said RAGA accepts money from many groups that do not disclose their own donors, providing a path for donors to Reyes to remain anonymous. “That’s nothing different than a money laundering organization.”

(Courtesy of David Leavitt campaign) Image of a mailer from RAGA Utah PAC attacking the attorney general campaign of David Leavitt.

He adds, “It makes you wonder why an association for Republican attorneys general would pump so much money into a Republican primary. The reason is that Sean Reyes is bought and paid for by RAGA, and they know that I won’t be.”

Crooks responded, “RAGA is probably just like many others who don’t want another John Swallow as attorney general of Utah.”

Leavitt also on Wednesday said Reyes has been spending his big donations through the years to enhance his lifestyle.

“He spent seven years raising campaign money, spending it on himself and on high priced consultants and basically augmenting a lifestyle that’s far in excess of what the attorney general makes,” he said.

In the last three nonelection years — 2017 through 2019 — Reyes raised $960,000 but spent even more: nearly $1.1 million at a time he was not yet facing reelection.

Almost half of the amount, $487,000, when to Crooks’ Comprehensive Strategic Solutions for campaign consulting. Reyes spent $90,000 on personal travel in those years, which Crooks has said saved taxpayers’ money because at least some of it was reimbursable by the state.

Some questionable donations Reyes accepted included $51,000 from principals of Washakie Renewable Resources — most of whom have ties to the Kingston polygamist group. Five were found guilty on federal charges in a fraud scheme involving $1.1 billion from a government biofuel program.

In 2016, Crooks said the campaign would put the questionable donation money in escrow pending the outcome of the investigation into Washakie. The campaign later refused to return the money, saying it had been spent.

Some other controversial donations Reyes accepted include $5,000 from Bristlecone Holdings, which has been criticized in the news media for a possibly fraudulent lending operation.

He also took $5,000 from the Habematolei Pomo of Upper Lake tribe in California, which had been sued by federal regulators for its payday loan operations, although it was later withdrawn.

During the three nonelection years, analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune shows Reyes also accepted $66,000 from multilevel marketing firms; $32,500 from high-interest lenders that offer payday or title loans; $26,000 from timeshare companies; $18,000 from tobacco or e-cigarette companies; and $5,000 from a casino.

Crooks has said Reyes accepts money from such industries because many good players in them want to weed out bad actors.

The latest disclosure forms show that during his latest four-year term, Reyes has accepted donations of $10,000 or more from 40 separate donors — and eight of them gave more than $25,000.

Despite little money remaining in their campaign accounts now, both Reyes and Leavitt say they will be able to raise enough for the general election against Democrat Greg Skordas — who has $128,742 in cash on hand compared to $33,576 for Reyes and $63,258 for Leavitt.