Here’s how the Utah GOP was able to pay off $135,000 in outstanding debt

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It was quite the amazing financial comeback, how then-newly-elected state GOP chair Derek Brown raised around $135,000 in just a few months last spring to retire the Utah Republican Party’s debt.

Brown admitted at the time that it was tough getting folks to give money to pay off the party’s debt, some of which had been owed for three or four years to various suppliers/contractors.

So, who were these Good Samaritan donors who put up their own money?

Turns out the three main ones, whose names Brown has given to UtahPolicy.com, are well known inside and outside of Utah Republican politics:

— Utah House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, gave $40,000 in cash to pay off the debt.

— Brad Bonham, an unsuccessful Utah House candidate in House District 32 in 2018, also gave $40,000.

— And A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank president and CEO, who has long been a civic and Republican leader in Utah, gave $10,000.

“Those are the main big three who donated” specifically to retire the debt. The rest of the debt payments came from “smaller donors,” said Brown.

As Schultz, a successful northern Utah homebuilder has moved up the ranks/influence in the Utah House, he has also spread some money around.

For example, this year he gave former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, $125,000 as Hughes prepares to run for governor next year.

During the 2018 election cycle, Schultz also gave around $36,000 to various GOP Utah House candidates, local Republican parties and such. These donations came out of his campaign account, and so were not personal funds.

So, over the last two years, Schultz has donated more than $200,000 to Republican political causes.

Schultz told UtahPolicy.com that he gave the $40,000 to the party, “Because I appreciated what Derek was doing, trying to bring the party back together again.”

Bonham last year stepped up to run in an open Draper/Sandy House seat after former Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, who barely won re-election, by three votes, in 2016, got out of the race.

Bonham ended up giving his campaign $150,000 but lost a three-way contest to Dr. Suzanne Harrison, D-Sandy, 56-42 percent in a district that has been held by a Democrat before.

Anderson is a well-known backer of various candidates over the years, as well as supporting all kinds of civic, art, education and policy initiatives.

He has given money and effort to several citizen initiative petitions — including heading up Our Schools Now, which abandoned its 2018 citizen initiative petition drive aimed at increasing taxes for schools, after reaching an agreement with GOP legislative leaders for promises of increased school spending.

Brown, whose election as chairman has all but ended the ongoing battle over SB54 and sidelined, at least for now, a small, right-wing element in the party which sued the state over the candidate dual-pathway to a primary law, told UtahPolicy.com that several GOP supporters told him during his chairmanship race that should he win they would be interested in helping pay off the party’s debt.

The big three above were among those folks, Brown said.

“Their help had a real impact” on getting Utah’s largest political party back on a firm financial footing, said Brown.

Brown beat anti-SB54 leader, and Gang of 51 member, Phill Wright for chairman. The two past state GOP chairs say that internal SB54 battle was the main reason for the state party’s failed financial fundraising in recent years — resulting in the debt.

A number of historic big GOP donors like SB54 and didn’t want to give money to a party that was fighting it in the courts, the past chairs said.

It has been much easier to get former donors to give after they learned the SB54 battle had ended and the party had retired its debt — at one point the party was bouncing checks, and when Brown walked into party headquarters after his chairmanship victory this past spring, he found the phones turned off because of lack of payment.

Brown said he is still confident that the party can raise $1 million for the 2020 election cycle, and that getting the $135,000 debt paid off has been a great start to that effort.

Editor’s Note: Zions Bank is a sponsor of UtahPolicy.com.