Utah governor Gary Herbert seeking donations for inauguration

Published: Sunday, Dec. 19 2010 11:46 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is seeking to cover costs of his upcoming inauguration by selling tickets to a private dinner.

Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling told The Associated Press on Thursday that the dinner isn't an official inauguration event and won't be at the State Capitol.

The donations do not guarantee a ticket to the Jan. 3 inauguration in the Capitol Rotunda, Welling said. That event is open to the public, although tickets will be limited.

Last week, an e-mail from Karen Hammond, Herbert's fund-raising director, asked donors to give between $2,500 and $5,000. In return, they were promised a ticket to the inauguration ceremony.

Welling said that was a mistake and the promise of inauguration tickets for donors has been retracted.

Herbert is hoping to raise enough money to pay for the inauguration, which is expected to cost up to $40,000. Welling said any additional money raised will go to the Friends of Gary Herbert political action committee.

While Herbert's fund-raising has drawn some critics, it does not violate any state campaign finance laws, and soliciting private donations for an inaugural event is not uncommon around the country.

Herbert also is tapping political donors to pay for events connected to the 2011 National Governors Association conference, scheduled for July 15-17 in Salt Lake City.

In a fund-raising letter dated Monday, Herbert asked for money to pay for things like security and transportation.

"We are dedicated to hosting this event without burdening Utah's taxpayers, and, as such, the State relies on private contributions," Herbert wrote.

Welling said that similar pitches have been made by governors in other states that have hosted the conference.

Kim Burningham, with Utahns for Ethical Government, said that Herbert's pleas to donors demonstrate that the current campaign finance system is broken. UEG is backing a ballot initiative that would institute new ethics and campaign finance laws for Utah legislators.

"I can see the rationale of not wanting to use public funds" for the inauguration and NGA conference, Burningham said. "But the concern is that those elected officials will then be beholden to those donors."

Herbert won his first election in November after taking over when former Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned in August 2009 to become U.S. ambassador to China.

During this year's campaign, Herbert was accused by his Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, of supporting a corrupt system in which large campaign contributors were awarded state contracts and other benefits. Herbert angrily denied the accusations.

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