Utah governor’s campaign opponents criticize his fundraising tactics

Posted at 5:08 PM, May 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-16 21:04:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert's election opponents are criticizing him for offering his time to lobbyists and other donors to his re-election campaign.

Following a luncheon at the Utah Taxpayer's Association meeting on Monday, the governor's Republican and Democratic challengers both expressed their displeasure at reports Herbert had offered to set aside time for lobbyists and others who would donate to his campaign. A recording of the offer was obtained and published by The Salt Lake Tribune.

"If we want to have multiple meetings or we sit down and talk and you give us a check later or before," the governor said on the recording. "However you would like to do it, I'll just say I'm available. I'm 'Available Jones.'"

On Monday, the governor expressed some regret for it.

"As far as the optics and what happened, I'm disappointed in myself and how we handled that," he told reporters. "That being said, when you're an average guy like me that has average means, you have to go out and ask people for money."

Herbert insisted there was no quid pro quo for any of the campaign donations. The governor said he would take steps to change the tone of his fundraising in the future.

"When I listened to the tape, I was physically shaking," the governor's primary election challenger, Jonathan Johnson, said as he left the Utah Taxpayer's Association meeting. "It's so offensive. That's what we get when we have a career politician looking to stay in office."

Speaking to reporters, Johnson likened the recording to a videotape of former NFL player Ray Rice, who was caught on tape beating his wife.

"To me this tape is the same thing, it's offensive to listen to," he said.

Mike Weinholtz, the Democratic candidate for governor, told reporters he disagreed with the governor's fundraising style.

"It seems a little untoward," he said. "I think him saying his time is for sale is not professional, in my opinion. It's not something I would do."

The governor pushed back at his challengers' wealth and their self-funding of large parts of their gubenatorial bids. Speaking to reporters, Herbert accused Johnson of being beholden to CEO Patrick Byrne.

"He not only can self fund, but he's got a sugar daddy rich guy Pat Byrne at Overstock who's funding half his campaign," Herbert said.

Johnson, who is the chair of the board at said he faces a heightened level of scrutiny for his ties to Byrne.

"It's disclosed and it's out there. Never once have I said, 'Patrick, whatever you want you get!'" Johnson said.

The GOP candidates for governor face a June 28 primary election. On Monday, Herbert won the Utah Taxpayer's Association straw poll.