This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Overstock founder Patrick Byrne has once again opened his wallet for his business partner Jonathan Johnson's bid to knock off Gov. Gary Herbert in the Republican primary later this month, giving the challenger another $250,000 and bringing his total contributions to $850,000.
Herbert has referred to Byrne as Johnson's "sugar daddy" and questioned what Byrne expects in return for his generosity. And on Wednesday, his campaign accused Byrne of trying to purchase the governor's office.
"It has become painfully obvious one man is trying to buy the governor's office by running his employee and registered lobbyist and funding him at an unprecedented level," said Herbert's campaign manager, Marty Carpenter.
Johnson, current chairman and former CEO of Overstock, said he is grateful for Byrne's support and that nothing is expected in return.
"Patrick has not asked, nor would he ever ask me, for a favor in return for his donation," Johnson said in a statement. "Let me be perfectly clear: I have never, nor would I ever, make a promise associated with a donation."
Johnson, who remains a registered lobbyist for the company, said that by raising questions about the donations, Herbert indicates "his attitude that donations do buy influence in the Herbert administration."
Byrne's contributions appear to be the single-largest amount an individual has given to a political candidate in Utah history although some candidates have given more to their own campaigns and donors have given more to ballot-initiative efforts, including about $4 million that Byrne and his family gave to the school-voucher campaign in 2007.
In an opinion piece in Wednesday's Deseret News, Byrne said he was raised by his parents to support causes he believes in and "giving is in my blood and a lifelong habit."
"Jonathan and I disagree on numerous issues of significant importance to me," Byrne wrote. "He has made it very clear to me and I to him that there is no quid pro quo for my donations, which is fine with me. I still know he'll be a fantastic leader for Utah."
Byrne also suggested that potential donors who don't want to risk losing access to the governor's office can't give money to a challenger. "That is why I step up," he said.
But Carpenter said Byrne has been on the wrong side of the issues in his giving in the past.
"The fact is, Patrick Byrne has fought for policies Utahns have rejected," Carpenter said. "He funded the fight to overturn Utah's traditional-marriage laws. He poured millions into fighting and losing an education-ballot initiative. When he lost, he responded by calling the vote an IQ test and 'Utahns failed,' " Carpenter said. "He also has an interest in protecting his company's unfair competitive advantage by not collecting taxes like other businesses have to do."
Herbert has supported a proposal to have online businesses begin collecting and remitting sales taxes to the state. Currently the inability to collect sales taxes on internet purchases is costing the state an estimated $185 million a year.
Overstock has opposed the state proposal, and Johnson said recently he favors a national solution being considered by Congress.
The $850,000 that Byrne has given to Johnson's campaign and his political-action committee make up about 60 percent of the money that Johnson has raised. Johnson and his wife, Courtney, have given or loaned the campaign another $191,000, and Chuck Warren, a friend of Johnson and Byrne, has given about $200,000 worth of data used to target voters.
Those three combined have accounted for more than 85 percent of Johnson's campaign funding.
The fireworks over fundraising come after Johnson hit Herbert hard for a meeting he had with lobbyists at the Alta Club in late April, after the state GOP convention.
In the meeting Herbert told the lobbyists he would go anywhere and meet with donors and that he was "Available Jones," a reference to a character in the Li'l Abner comic strip who was available to do any job for a price.
Absentee and mail-in ballots were sent to voters this week. The primary election between Johnson and Herbert will be held June 28. The winner will face Democratic nominee Mike Weinholtz in November.