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On Saturday, Republican delegates will elect a person to lead their party — a party that controls every major elected office in the state yet is deeply divided, struggling to raise money, mired in tens of thousands of dollars in months-old debt and operating on a skeleton budget.

The current party chairman, James Evans, has tried to put a rosy spin on the finances, using promises of money coming in to make the debt seem not so bad.

Maybe it's his business background — until recently he owned payday loan stores —┬áthat makes him believe in paying today's debt with tomorrow's windfall.

But here's the reality: As of Tuesday, the Utah Republican Party had $10,200 in the bank.

Meanwhile, the conservative party is staring at — conservatively — $100,000 in past due bills, many of them a year or more old, that have spawned collection calls to party headquarters and in one instance a lawsuit that the party recently resolved.

For example, Republicans still owe $6,441 to Thanksgiving Point for a golf tournament fundraiser held in 2015. Days ahead of its 2017 convention, it still owes $13,000 for audio/visual services for its 2016 gathering.

For more than a year, the party has owed $23,000 to Eventbrite, which built an online registration system for the 2016 caucuses — although the party is disputing the amount because it says Eventbrite botched the job. It also still owes $21,000 to Smartmatic for an online voting program for the caucuses.

Last year, as my colleague Paul Rolly reported, Redstone Design sued the GOP for failing to pay its bills. Recently the party paid Redstone about $12,000 to settle the account and Redstone, Evans said, is again doing work for the party's upcoming convention.

Hopefully Redstone got its cash up front.

And there is a looming fine expected from the Federal Election Commission stemming from an audit of the party's finances leading up to the 2012 presidential election, when the Utah GOP was channeling vast amounts of money to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Evans estimates the fines could be as high as $30,000.

That sampling of the debt doesn't include the biggest unresolved expense: More than $300,000 in legal fees left behind by the Republican Party's stubborn and virtually fruitless yearslong challenge to SB54, which created a way for candidates to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures.

Earlier this year, the party's State Central Committee voted to finally drop its appeal, after they had suffered a string of defeats. But rabid Republicans on the committee changed their minds and resurrected the appeal.

The attorneys have agreed to accept whatever payment the party can raise from supporters of the suit, but so far the backers of the lawsuit — while vocal and adamant they should press forward — have been reluctant to help pay for it.

The lawsuit did more than rack up legal bills. It also drove away the party's traditional donors, many of whom supported the electoral changes pushed by Count My Vote and the compromise measures in SB54.

Evans said he the donor exodus has tied his hands in a way that past party chairmen have not experienced. He cannot, for example, hit up a member of the congressional delegation or other elected officials to simply shake the money tree when a bill comes due.

Moreover, he said, backers of SB54 and other politically connected Utahns are using their clout "intimidating others not to give."

Overall, Evans downplays the financial morass. Other party chairmen have been saddled with debt and he predicts — using some questionable accounting — the party could be in the black this year.

He has slashed the party's payroll from $22,000 a month to just over $3,300. And he is trying to diversify the party's fundraising, attempting to sell ads in the party's convention program and on its website to businesses that want to reach the Republican rank-and-file.

He also wants the party's roughly 4,000 state delegates to each pledge to raise or contribute $50, potentially generating as much as $200,000 for the party.

Evans is seeking a third term as chairman of the party and has two challengers, his current vice-chairman Phill Wright and Davis County Chairman Rob Anderson.

Whoever wins Saturday will have an unenviable job, getting the finances on track, while trying to mend the SB54 rift and marshaling the party's resources — whatever they may be —┬áto try to defend Republican seats in what could be a very bad 2018 election.

Maybe it's enough to make being elected the Utah Democratic chairman seem not quite as bad.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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