Handful give lots of $$

Top 10 political donors have big impact in Utah

By Lee Davidson and Bob Bernick Jr.
Deseret Morning News

Published: Monday, May 22 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

In the 1932 movie "If I Had a Million," comedian W.C. Fields uses $1 million he inherits to buy countless cars to crash into any vehicles that cut him off while driving.

Utahns Patrick and Jack Byrne, the president and chairman of Overstock.com, did a political version of that recently. They combined to spend $1 million on ads designed to help crash John Edwards' vice presidential campaign two years ago.

They did not respond to inquiries about exactly why they did that. But it helped make Patrick Byrne the top individual political donor in the state (giving at least $676,500 since 2003), and make Jack Byrne No. 3 (with $510,800.)

They are among a relative handful of Utahns who supply a huge share of the state's political donations. Politicians have long complained that raising money here is difficult because most residents prefer to give any extra funds available to churches and charities, not politics.

In fact, Patrick Byrne by himself managed to supply about $1 of every $20 given by Utah individuals to candidates or political groups, according to a Deseret Morning News analysis of federal and state campaign disclosure data from 2003 to now.

The Top 10 political donors gave about 21 cents of every $1 raised from individual Utahns. The Top 100 donors gave about 42 cents of every $1 raised — meaning those few nearly equaled the total given by all of Utah's other 2.5 million residents combined.

That gives those few big donors extra political influence — which some of them acknowledge. It helps their businesses, promotes their personal agendas or even wins elections for friends or family — or greases big political appointments.

"Does giving enhance my influence? Politicians always listen to people from whom they want money. That does not necessarily mean they do whatever that donor asks. That is why I insist on knowing their position on this issue (gay rights) before I give them anything," says Bruce Bastian, the state's No. 2 donor.

style="border:1px solid #999999;">

Related content
Deseret Morning News

Utah's top 100 individual political donors

He was a co-founder of WordPerfect, is an activist on gay rights and gave at least $657,000 politically since 2003.

As the current election year heats up, the following is a look at some of Utah's biggest donors who supply the money that fuels races.

Patrick and Jack Byrne

The son-and-father Byrnes, Utah's No. 1 and No. 3 individual donors respectively, in 2004 formed a political communication group called Save American Medicine.

They each gave it $500,000. The resulting $1 million purchased ads nationally targeting John Edwards, the running mate of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry.

Edwards' career as a trial attorney before becoming a U.S. senator was unpopular with many doctors because he won many big malpractice suits. The ads asked viewers to call Edwards to ask him to support tort reform.

Patrick Byrne also gave $2,500 to "Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth," a group that attacked Kerry's Vietnam War record.

But their efforts to derail Kerry and Edwards does not mean the Byrnes dislike all Democrats. In fact, Patrick gave $25,300 to the Utah Democratic Party in 2003, $25,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $1,000 to Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

That helped make Byrne the fifth largest individual Utah donor to Democrats since 2003. But he was also the state's fourth largest individual donor to Republicans. Like many businessmen nationally, he appears to seek friends in both parties.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere