This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
About 1,400 of Gov. Gary Herbert's well-heeled supporters gathered at the governor's annual gala, pouring an estimated $700,000 into his campaign, even amid charges from his Democratic opponent that those donations may have helped some gain special access and benefits.
Herbert backers and event organizers said the questions raised by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon's campaign for governor did not cast a pall on the black-tie event, and Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen said he has heard from some donors angry at the Corroon campaign's tactics.
"They're not happy with the attacks on the governor. They really aren't," Hansen said. "They want somebody to rip Corroon's head off. They do not like to see this kind of campaigning."
Just more than a week ago, the Corroon campaign released a lengthy research memo titled "Gary Herbert: Governor For $ale," questioning whether Herbert's donors had received state contracts, tax breaks and other incentives.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell made what appeared to be a passing reference to the allegation when he welcomed the crowd at Grand America Hotel.
"By your generous support, you've shown you are willing to foster good government without any expectation of personal advance," Bell said.
A few blocks away, about two dozen protesters rallied outside the governor's mansion earlier in the afternoon, carrying signs and chanting that the Governor's Office should not be for sale.
"At tonight's gala, Gary Herbert has taken fundraising to an all-new high by having $50,000 sponsorships," said Corroon campaign manger Donald Dunn. "Under a Corroon administration, you would see contribution limits capped at $10,000 and you'd see contractors and people who do business with the state prohibited from giving."
Herbert's campaign originally asked sponsors to give $50,000 to be a top-tier sponsor but scaled it back to $25,000. Eight contributed at that level, and 21 more donated $10,000 each to be at the second tier of support.
Gala organizers said the requested amount was scaled back because many had already contributed to Herbert's campaign and it had nothing to do with the political sparring.
Fred Lampropoulos, founder and president of Merit Medical, one of the donors whose relationship with the governor has been questioned by the Corroon camp, said he is "mad as hell."
Corroon has questioned whether Merit's $50,000 contributions played a role in the company receiving $4.4 million in tax incentives if it creates 700 new jobs.
"We did it to help a governor we think has a vision on economic development," Lampropoulos said.
He said his company has also given money to Corroon's mayoral campaign and the mayor's office approved a $12 million economic development incentive at the county three years ago.
Dunn said the county was one of three entities, along with the school district and the city, that had to approve that incentive. And, he said, the donations were not nearly as large or in the same time frame as the approval.
Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said the governor is "frustrated" by the allegations that have been made and said the governor has an "open-door policy," whether the constituent has given his campaign money or not.
She also acknowledged that, as the campaign has done in the past, large donors to the event will get a one-on-one meeting with the governor so he can thank them for their contribution.
Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said he has been to fundraisers for several governors and the issue has arisen before, but he thinks the allegations are "ludicrous."
"When you have the business community as a bloc going out to support a governor, obviously you're going to have successful men and women getting awarded," Beattie said, but that doesn't mean there has been anything untoward. "The process doesn't even put him in a position to do those kinds of things."
The gala program, titled "American Tapestry," featured a long list of traditional Americana tunes, from gospel to rock and roll, including the disco anthem "I Will Survive."
As it did last year, the Herbert campaign gave part of the evening's earnings to charity. This year, the campaign gave $10,000 to the Utah National Guard Charitable Trust Fund, which cares for wounded soldiers and those in need. It was matched by $10,000 from other donors.
Sgt. Gordy Ewell, who was seriously injured in 2006 during a tour in Iraq, said he returned home and had not receiving any payments from the Army and his veteran's benefits had not kicked in.
"For some months things were pretty lean. I started looking for viaducts and refrigerator boxes," he said, but the charity helped him through. "You can hate the war but still love and care about taking care of those who were sent there."