Political scientist David Magleby — who has written books about fundraising by presidential candidates — is actually surprised that President Donald Trump is raising twice as much money from donors in heavily Republican Utah as Democrat Joe Biden.
“The surprise is that he’s not outdistancing Biden 4-to-1,” says Magleby, an emeritus Brigham Young University professor. “Seriously, I’m not making that up. I mean, this is a state that’s overwhelmingly Republican and even more so at the donor level.”
Trump has raised $1.37 million from donors in Utah so far this cycle, while Biden raised about $617,000, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of disclosure forms filed by the candidates with the Federal Election Commission.
In short, for every $1 that Biden raised from Utah donors, Trump raised $2.22.
But Magleby says Trump should be doing even better, given that the state has nearly four times as many registered Republicans as Democrats, and most of its large number of unaffiliated voters also lean Republican.
Why isn’t he?
“I would say the reason is that Utah Republicans are hesitant Trump supporters, not fully converted,” he said. That was seen in 2016, when Trump won a plurality of 45.5% of Utah votes — the lowest percentage in any state that Trump won.
Magleby notes that the Utah donor situation was much different in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the GOP presidential nominee, and Utahns became major players as presidential donors for the first time ever that year. He said that was because Romney is a Latter-day Saint and attracted major donations from members of his church — which have not surfaced for Trump.
Also, some recent polls suggest shaky support for Trump in Utah, although the ranges they report vary widely — between showing Trump up by as few as 5 percentage points here to as many as 19 points ahead.
Another area where Trump is politically anemic, Magleby says, is in the number of Utah Republicans who have given him the maximum-allowed donation of $5,600 this cycle.
The Tribune analysis found that only 18 Utahns did that for Trump (compared with five for Biden).
“That’s stunning. By this time in a competitive race, you would expect triple-digit [Utah] Republicans to be maxed out,” Magleby said. “And believe me, the Trump fundraising operation has been trying to get those maxed-out donors.”
He adds, “That’s further evidence that they [Utah Republicans] are begrudging Trump supporters.”
Yet another sign comes by looking at donations to all presidential candidates this cycle — not just Trump and Biden. Utahns donated more to Democrats than to Republicans (but most of that was during competitive Democratic primaries while Trump had only token GOP challenges).
Utahns gave $3.25 million to presidential candidates, and 57.6% went to Democrats, 42.3% went to Republicans, and 0.3% went to minor party candidates.
A look at some of the Utahns who gave the maximum possible allowed by law — $5,600 — to Trump and Biden shows some surprises.
One is that four of the 18 Utah Republicans who maxed out for Trump are tied to the controversial payday loan industry, which in Utah charges an average 522% interest.
Trump has helped that industry. He appointed a new chairman to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who promptly helped roll back restrictions on those loans.
Among the payday lenders who donated the maximum to Trump are Kip Cashmore, owner of USA Cash Services; Tracy Rawle, CEO of Check City, and his wife, Jan; and Todd Rawle, a director of Tosh Inc., the parent company of Check City.
Another surprise is that many of the maximum donors from Utah apparently aren’t really permanent Utah residents. They use the address of their vacation homes in Park City for their donations. That, of course, reduces even further the donations (and maximum donations) that permanent Utah residents are making.
An example is Trump supporter Brian Fitterer, who made a fortune in mobile home parks. In 2011, he sponsored the Miss USA swimsuit competition — a pageant then owned by a real estate mogul named Donald Trump, according to the Willamette Week.
Another maximum GOP donor in Park City is Jerry Grundhofer, former CEO of U.S. Bancorp. A third, Edward Robinson, is listed in disclosure forms as retired.
Two maximum donors for Biden live in Park City, including Mark Gilbert, vice chairman of UBS financial services, a former Chicago White Sox player and former ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Another is New York City lawyer Eric Robinson. And Park City donor Raymond Johnson is listed as retired.
Relatively few well-known wealthy Utahns are among the max donors. But one such Republican is William Reagan, owner of Reagan Advertising. Max donor Democrats include Kevin Steiner, co-president of Alsco (American Linen & Supply Co) and his wife, Alice, a former executive director of the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency.
Most others are relatively unknown. The Republican list includes entrepreneur Shaun Davis of St. George; homemaker Nadia Goe of Snowville; retired Joseph Johnson of Lehi; roofer Greg Kendrick; retired Kurt and Elizabeth Ockershausen of Torrey; Robbie Pratt, president of Havenpark Communities; Mike Siaperas, CEO of Med USA; and physician Mary Tipton.
Many of the donors either could not be reached or declined to comment about why they donate.
One who did explain why he donates is Trump supporter Kevin McLaws, of Santa Clara, who made dozens of small donations over time between $22.50 and $375 until he hit the maximum. He notes he even voted against Trump four years ago when he supported independent Evan McMullin.
“I don’t necessarily like Trump from a personality point of view,” he said. “But he’s a person that upholds our freedoms and liberties.”
He said Trump’s views on abortion are a key for him. “I love children. The push from the left for late-term abortions and expansion ... is top of my list of things that make me want to support our current president.”
McLaws added, “I don’t like some of his attitudes, but I know he’s going to keep America strong and safe for my kids and my next generation” — and that led him to donate to Trump’s campaign.