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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon says there appears to be a pattern of big donors to Gov. Gary Herbert getting contracts or benefits from the state, and thinks the governor needs to answer some tough questions.
"I think there's information that needs to be provided to the public," Corroon said Friday. "I think Gary Herbert should provide all the information about his meetings and his appointments and the contracts that were given to the people who gave significant contributions to him."
Herbert campaign spokesman Don Olsen said he is frustrated with the attacks from the Corroon camp.
"This is just negative campaign politics at its very worst," Olsen said. "Anyone who knows Gary Herbert, as I believe Peter Corroon does, knows that he is honest as the day is long."
Chief among the projects the Corroon campaign is questioning in the memo titled "Gary Herbert: Governor For $ale" is the awarding of the contract to rebuild Interstate 15 in Utah County, a $1.1 billion contract awarded to Provo River Constructors.
The consortium of companies gave a total of $82,500 to Herbert's campaign, including $65,000 within two months before the December 2009 awarding of the contract. Guy Wadsworth, president of the leading donor, Wadsworth Brothers Construction, met twice with the governor, once before the contract was awarded and once several months after.
W.W. Clyde & Co., which was a competitor for the I-15 contract, also gave Herbert $35,000, but it did not win the contract.
Olsen said the governor played no role in the awarding of the I-15 contract, or any other contract.
"The process by which the state awards contracts has been long-established," Olsen said. "It meets the highest standards of integrity on everyone's part and the highest standards of performance and it doesn't involve the governor at any stage of the process, and Peter Corroon knows that … the governor has no opportunity to influence that process."
Corroon's camp, though, questions the pattern of favored treatment to donors. In addition to the highway project, it points to meetings and donations from Fred Lampropoulos, CEO of Merit Medical, months before the Governor's Office of Economic Development awarded a tax break to Merit to expand its business in Utah.
Merit gave separate $25,000 checks to the Herbert campaign on Nov. 2, 2009, and Jan. 21, 2010, and the governor and Lampropoulos met in October 2009. In December 2009, Merit got $4.4 million in tax credits.
"I think it certainly raises a red flag when you see a pattern of contributions, contracts and meetings all within a certain time period not just one of them but several of them within a short time period," Corroon said.
The campaign also questions a similar $10,000 contribution made by Alton Coal shortly before the state expedited approval of its request to strip mine coal and several other contributions from energy companies that the Corroon campaign says may have been tied to expanded oil and gas drilling.
Corroon said Herbert should release records regarding the deals in question and correspondence between the campaign and the Governor's Office regarding campaign donors. Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said the Governor's Office would release those public records under an open-records request, which The Tribune filed Friday.
"I'm not making any accusations or allegations, but this is exactly the reason why we need campaign finance reform," Corroon said. "We need to take away the influence of money" in politics.
Corroon, who is mayor of Salt Lake County, said the state needs to adopt some of the campaign reforms that have been enacted in the county. Specifically, he said, contributions at the state level which now are unlimited should be capped at $10,000.
Individuals or companies that contract with the county can only give $100, and the same should be done at the state level, he said.
"I have to play with the rules of the game in place and Gary Herbert is the one that doesn't believe in campaign finance reform," Corroon said.
Herbert has steadfastly opposed any campaign limits, arguing that the ability to raise money allows the average candidate to compete against well-funded incumbents.
For his part, Corroon has received a number of contributions that exceed his proposed $10,000 threshold, including $50,000 from prominent developer Kem Gardner. Corroon said he is not aware of any special treatment that Gardner has received from the county, but he would release any information related to the county's dealings with the developer.
Corroon said his campaign will make an issue of Herbert's conduct in the coming months, focusing on ethics in government in a yet-to-be-produced television ad.
Corroon campaign questions guv's donors
Here are two examples of deals that Peter Corroon's gubernatorial campaign says raises red flags:
I-15 contract • Partners in the Provo River Construction group that won the $1.1 billion Interstate 15 reconstruction project have given $82,500 to the Herbert campaign. Of that, $65,000 was given before the contract was awarded.
Merit expansion • Merit Medical received $4.4 million in tax incentives for a planned expansion a month after Merit founder Fred Lampropoulos gave Herbert $25,000. Merit gave another $25,000 a month after receiving the credits.