Company linked to Kingston polygamous group spends a lot on Utah’s Capitol Hill

Posted at 4:02 PM, Feb 15, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY -- An energy company with ties to the Kingston polygamous family has spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Utah lawmakers.

Washakie Renewable Energy was among the apparent targets of a raid by federal agents last week, where businesses tied to the Kingstons were searched. The Internal Revenue Service served sealed federal search warrants on a number of locations, including the home of Washakie Renewable Energy executive Jacob Kingston.

Washakie has faced scrutiny from federal agencies in the past, including a $3 million fine last year by the Environmental Protection Agency over allegations it "failed to produce any biodiesel" at its facility in Plymouth.

News of last week's raid surprised many Utah lawmakers, who were unaware of WRE's ties to the Kingston group. Many of them had received campaign contributions from Washakie in recent years.

"Honestly, I didn't even know it was from the Kingstons," Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, told FOX 13. "I do now."

Information source: Campaign reports, Lt. Governor's Elections Office

Campaign contribution reports filed with the Lt. Governor's Elections Office and reviewed by FOX 13 show Washakie Renewable Energy donated to a number of lawmakers in $250, $500 and $750 increments in 2014. In addition, Governor Gary Herbert's Leadership PAC got $5,000 in 2015. The Utah Republican Party received a $25,000 donation.

"Like many other businesses, Washakie made a donation to sponsor the annual Governor's Gala," Herbert re-election campaign spokesman Marty Carpenter said.

Information source: Campaign reports, Lt. Governor's Elections Office

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes received $40,000 in campaign contributions from WRE, plus another $10,000 from Sally Kingston, the wife of Jacob Kingston. Reyes' campaign said it had no relationship with any of the Kingstons other than Washakie, nor does it influence the attorney general's policies.

"The campaign was unaware of the alleged business practices," Reyes campaign consultant Alan Crooks told FOX 13 on Monday. "We have put the contribution in escrow until we get more direction from the feds."

An attorney for Washakie did not return repeated messages seeking comment.

Rep. Noel, who happens to be running a bill that could "re-criminalize" polygamy following a federal court ruling in 2014, said the donation is not influencing his decision-making. House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the contributions he receives are not tethered to the decisions he makes as a policy-holder. He told FOX 13 it would be up to each lawmaker to decide if a contribution is appropriate.

"We're still in the United States where you're innocent until proven guilty," Hughes said. "If there were subsequent events that made us uncomfortable with the people that would contribute? We'd have to decide whether we're comfortable receiving those donations."