Dark Money Rules in Reyes’ AG Run

Sean Reyes - Photo Credit: PoliticIt
Utah Attorney General, Sean Reyes (Republican)

The following article was submitted by Bob Henline

As the 2014 election cycle heats up, one of the highest profile races in Utah will be for Attorney General. This year Utah voters will decide who will serve out the remaining two years of John Swallow’s term. Swallow resigned the office last year in disgrace amid local, state, and federal investigations into campaign violations and criminal activities.

Utah Republicans have nominated Sean Reyes, who was appointed to the post after Swallow’s resignation while Democrats have nominated Charles Stormont, who also currently serves in the Attorney General’s office but who has taken a leave of absence while campaigning. The Libertarian Party has nominated perennial candidate and criminal defense attorney Andrew McCullough.

As of July 1, Reyes has reported close to $169,000 in total contributions. Stormont has raised nearly $39,000, and McCullough just over $1,700. While these numbers indicate a significant advantage for Reyes, there is a deeper story involved.

The overwhelming majority of Reyes’ funding, to the tune of 89%, comes from just five sources. Facebook, Clarke Capital Partners, and John Pestana (of the Libertas Institute) have each contributed $10,000. Merit Medical added another $20,000. Reyes’ single largest donor is the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA), which has kicked in $100,000 to date.

The RAGA is a group that is funded from a number of “dark money” groups, such as the American Future Fund and the Judicial Crisis Network. These groups, which are very active in state and national elections, are not required to disclose their donors.

Thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, organizations such as the RAGA have been able to hide the names of donors to their respective organizations. These organizations, in turn distribute money to candidates in the form of dark money. This is different from anonymous donations because organizations know the source of any and all contributions – they just don’t have to disclose the information to the public (unlike other political organizations).

Many campaign finance reform groups point dark money as an the epitome of money dictating policy, with the ultra-rich influencing elections with their checkbooks.

According to Open Secrets, the American Future Fund (AFF) dumped $25 million into U.S. elections in 2012. They’ve also contributed $650,000 to RAGA. Other notable RAGA contributors are Koch Industries ($125,000) and Devon Energy ($125,000).

Formed in 2000, the RAGA states that it was “formed because an inadequate number of state attorneys general were committed to defending federalism, adhering to the law during the course of multi-state litigation and applying a common-sense, free market approach to governing.” The group adds that its goal is to recruit talent from these ranks to help foster future governors and senators.

As of April 2, 2014, RAGA has filed with the Federal Election Commission to form a Super-PAC, which would allow them to raise unlimited funds from corporations, unions, other associations, and individuals. As a Super-PAC they would also be free to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns so long as they don’t work with campaigns directly. Super-PAC status would mean that RAGA would be required to report donors.

Reyes’ financial disclosures for 2014 show a total of 28 donors, 14 of which are businesses or PAC’s. He’s also spent over $125,000 to date with over $21,000 of his listed expenditures are reimbursements to himself with nearly $18,000 of that being labeled as travel-related expenses.

Reyes has also paid over $44,000 to Comprehensive Strategic Consulting. The registered agent for Comprehensive Strategic Consulting, according to Utah business records, is Jamee Porter of St. George. Jamee Porter is the maiden name of the wife of GOP operative Alan Crooks, a noted Reyes supporter.

Stormont’s financials paint a different picture. To date his campaign has received contributions from 175 donors. The majority of reported donations are from individuals. His largest expense category is labeled “Printing and Copying,” with expenses totalling nearly $5,900. Travel-related expenses total less than $100, and the campaign shows no reimbursements or payments to himself.

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