Spencer Cox’s new liaison to the business community is a big fan of the governor — and also a big donor

Utah businessman Brad Bonham will be Utah Gov. Cox’s pro bono “entrepreneur-in-residence.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Gov. Spencer Cox discusses his priorities for the upcoming legislative session, Jan. 12, 2023.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday he’d created a new pro-bono position, an “entrepreneur-in-residence,” and that he’s selected a Utah businessman to hold the residency inside his Office of Economic Opportunity.

A review of the governor’s campaign filings by The Salt Lake Tribune shows that the newly-appointed advisor had recently given thousands to Cox’s campaign accounts, though both said Thursday the donation didn’t play a role in the appointment.

In a news release Thursday, Cox said he’d appointed Brad Bonham to be the state’s first entrepreneur-in-residence. The position is unpaid, Cox told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday.

Bonham is the founder and board member of Walker Edison, a Utah-based furniture company, and now runs BONCO, a company that invests in startups and real estate. Bonham also serves on the Go Utah Board — which focuses on promoting economic opportunities in Utah — which is within the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

A 2022 year-end campaign finance report from Cox shows Bonham and his wife gave Cox’s campaign $50,000 on Nov. 28, 2022. The donation was one of 13 other contributions — totaling over $163,000 — from other supports made to the campaign the same day.

Bonham also made contributions to Cox’s 2020 campaign for governor, state campaign finance reports show, giving Cox $10,000 in May 2020 ahead of the primary election, and $32,500 in October 2020 before the general election.

Both Bonham and Cox told The Tribune the position isn’t a reward for a past donation, with Cox adding that Bonham will be working for free.

“It’s not rewarding a donor for something that they’ve done. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. We’re making life worse for Brad not better,” Cox joked.

Bonham told The Tribune he often gives money to political campaigns. He said he loves the work Cox and other state leaders are doing for the state, and he wants to see it continue.

In 2022 alone, Bonham himself donated over $89,000 to numerous federal campaigns, including those for Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Blake Moore, Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

“When we give money, it’s mostly about making sure that we have people in positions that can affect policy for good, because this is where I’m raising my family, this is where my kids live,” Bonham said Thursday. “Good policy leads to good results, which leads to a great place to live.”

Cox said the job was created for someone from the entrepreneurial world to act as a liaison between the state government and the business community. He said he will look to Bonham as someone to give feedback and advice to the state, while also communicating the state’s priorities to the business world.

The businessman said he wants Utah to be the number one state for startups and entrepreneurial ventures, and that’s something Cox wants as well.

Bonham would serve as an advisor to Ryan Starks, whom Cox promoted Thursday to executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

“I’ve appointed people to positions who literally ran against me for governor,” Cox said Thursday. “And and so we tried to just find the best people for the best jobs, regardless of whether they supported me in the past or not, and I think (Bonham) checks all those boxes.”