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The Utah GOP is so broke that Rep. Jason Chaffetz is footing the bill for Saturday's convention

Published June 17, 2017 9:11 am

Politics • New GOP chairman says the party is $500K in debt, has to accept Chaffetz's donation to pay tab for Saturday's convention.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While Republicans control nearly all major elective offices in Utah, new party Chairman Rob Anderson outlined Friday for the GOP's biggest donors just how financially broke it is because of infighting that chased away contributors.

It is $500,000 in debt, higher than earlier estimates of around $400,000, said Anderson, who campaigned and won last month largely on vows to fix that problem.

In fact, he told the Elephant Club that the party is so destitute for the moment that:

• The only way it can afford a special convention Saturday to nominate a replacement for outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz is that Chaffetz is donating the money to pay for it. (The five-term congressman had a $400,000 balance in his campaign account as of the end of March.)

• Even with Chaffetz's help, the party chose Timpview High School in Provo as the convention venue because it is among few it could afford. "The building is free," Anderson said, thanks to school board generosity and negotiating by state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

• The party still owes $30,000 from last month's state convention, which rented some pricey high-tech clickers for each delegate to speed voting and counting. Anderson said it is using a much cheaper system Saturday that will require most delegates to use their own smartphones or similar devices loaned by the party.

• The GOP could not have afforded a needed mailer without Sen. Orrin Hatch providing $20,000 for it. "It is not well known that Governor [Gary] Herbert and Senator Hatch have been keeping the party afloat. We need to recognize their dedication and generosity," Anderson wrote in a handout given to the big donors.

So at the Elephant Club lunch Friday at Salt Lake City's Alta Club, Anderson and Herbert both called for the party to end a civil war of sorts that chased away many donors and led to such financial problems.

The rift comes between conservatives who favor the traditional caucus-convention system to select nominees, and moderates — including many big-donor business executives — who also want to allow a path to the primary for those who collect signatures, and perhaps nominate people who are more mainstream.

Caucus-convention supporters also have contended that the signature route allows people who are Republican in name only to make end runs around loyalists, and they created rules requiring signing what some call "purity pledges" to be official GOP candidates.

"Some people talk about purity to solve our problems," the governor said. "I'm here to suggest to you that purity won't solve the problems, but unity will."

Anderson said he hopes to unify the bickering wings, and attract back some large donors who stopped giving for fear their money would go to expensive lawsuits challenging SB54, the law that allows gathering signatures.

He gave some statistics that show how much the party needs such donors, and how some recent grass-roots fundraising has made virtually no dent in the party's debt.

He said a recent email campaign seeking donations from party members raised only $840. Donations solicited at the state convention raised only $1,200, or less than 50 cents per delegate.

The party asked delegates to Saturday's special convention to pay a $20 participation fee, which it said was highly suggested but not mandatory. So far, that has raised $1,921, or $1.76 per registered delegate.

Anderson said such paltry returns show the party cannot solve its financial woes "through grass roots alone. We're going to need to bring back the business and donors to help us out."

He told the big donors at the Elephant Club that each of them probably knows at least 10 people who used to be members, and asked them to invite their friends to return.

Similarly, Herbert said, "It's time to resurrect the Elephant Club, and bring business back into the fold."

Anderson was asked how the party under his leadership will treat candidates who qualify for the ballot by gathering signatures. Some past GOP leaders withheld aid to them and even spent party money to campaign against them.

Anderson said he would not do that, and pledged that the party would treat all GOP candidates equally and fairly regardless of how they qualify — which brought hearty applause from that big-contributor group.






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