Income tax donations to Utah Republicans, Democrats falling

It’s tax time – the personal income tax filing deadline is April 15th – and Utahns will get the chance to “check-off” $2 on their income tax returns to the political party of their choice, as they have for years.

Data from the last 17 years of the political party check-off provided to by the State Tax Commission (it’s public information) shows some interesting trends.

Utah’s largest party, the Republicans, got $50,242 donated to them last tax year, 2015.

That is the lowest amount since 1999.

The state GOP this year decided to use all of their check-off funds to pay down the debt they owe two attorneys over the party’s SB54 lawsuit. (See accompanying column by contributing editor Bob Bernick.)

The Utah Democratic Party – drawing from a much smaller political base – took in $39,592 from the 2015 tax returns.

In 2008, the Democrats gathered $41,592. Before 2015 that take had dropped below $39,000, to a low of $35,752 in 2014.

20170406 State Tax Commission Chart

So 2015 was a good year for the check-off for the Democrats, as they rebounded some.

James Evans, chair of the Utah Republican Party, said his party had not promoted the tax check-off for some time.

And that’s why he believes it has slowing diminished over the years.

In any case, for the Republicans, their total of $50,242 in 2015 means 25,121 folks checked off the $2 donation on their returns.

For the Democrats, their 2015 $39,592 means 19,796 checked off the party donation on their return.

The latest poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 46 percent of adults polled said they are Republicans, 16 percent said they are Democrats, 24 percent said they are political independents, and 12 percent said they belong to some other political party.

The Infoplease website says there are 1,514,471 adults over 18 in Utah.

So, you do the math (always a frightening thing for a reporter), and you find there are 696,656 Republicans in Utah and 242,315 Democrats.

Further calculations show, then, that the state GOP got donations from 3.6 percent of Republicans, while the state Democratic Party got check-offs from 8.2 percent of Democrats.

Utah Democratic Party chairman Peter Corroon says he believes Democrats do better on the check-off than Republicans because “they are always suspicious of government, and maybe some Republicans think (the check-off) is the federal government trying to take their money” – even though the check-off is on state income tax returns.

What does all this mean?

That the state Republican Party, while getting more money overall in the check-off program, is still falling behind Democrats in this fundraising category.

Evans has admitted that the party’s battle over SB54 – the dual-track candidate nomination process – has harmed party fundraising, as wealthier donors from years gone by have not donated, and archconservative anti-SB54 members have not stepped up to take on that lost cash flow.

If you look at the chart, you’ll notice that both the Republicans and Democrats more than doubled their check-off monies in 2006.

Corroon said he recalls that that year the state Dems and Republicans conducted a joint PR campaign asking Utahns to check off $2 for the party of their choice.

“Too bad we didn’t think about that this year,” said Corroon. Democrats split each $2 donation, $1 to state party operations, $1 to county parties based on the home address of the tax filer.

Republicans did the same state/county split, until deciding to give all of the check-off funds to their attorneys.

Likewise, Evans said it is probably too late for a comprehensive PR campaign this tax year. “We’ll probably send out a mass email” of registered Republicans, asking them to consider the $2 check-off.

In any case, across the nation, and in Utah, as well, Democratic Party leaders are saying the election of Donald Trump as president, and Trump’s rocky start in his four-year administration has proven a fundraising boon for the Democratic Party.

We’ll see how that bears out when state financial reports for political parties are filed later this year.