SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah lieutenant governor's office is looking into allegations raised by an online news source Thursday that a state political action committee formed to help former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s presidential bid made more than $200,000 in payments "to a phantom company."
An update posted by BuzzFeed early Thursday evening said the money from Horizon PAC actually went to a top Huntsman campaign adviser, John Weaver.
"It peaks our interest, obviously, as our office oversees the financial disclosures part and we want to make sure things are accurate and make sure there is no violations of the statutes," Mark Thomas, state elections director, said in response to the initial report.
Thomas said the PAC may need to amend its financial disclosure or file additional reports. There is no penalty for such changes, but if they're not made as required, Thomas said, that could result in a misdemeanor charge.
"If it's something more than that, if it's somebody who's trying to funnel money or set up some fake accounts or such — which I'm not suggesting is the case at all — but if it is, we would send that over likely to our Attorney General's office," he said.
According to the initial article by Ben Smith, a company listed on the PAC disclosure form as "For Bahm Marketing LLC" filed with the lieutenant governor's office as receiving three payments totaling more than $200,000 does not appear to exist.
Smith's update said that the money actually went to Weaver's Austin-based consulting company, on top of the more than $228,000 Weaver's company was paid from the PAC. It said Weaver didn't immediately respond to questions about receiving the payments.
BuzzFeed cited PAC treasurer Tim Riester as the source of the disclosure. Riester is quoted as saying he is "satisfied those funds were dispersed to the Network Companies LLC" and are "not missing from Horizon PAC."
The owner of Bahm Marketing, Steve Goldberg, told BuzzFeed that he was surprised to see payments to For Bahm Marketing, calling the payments "strange" and not money he had received or expected to receive.
But Goldberg was called "mistaken" by Weaver, according to the earlier online report, describing the payments as related "to Goldberg's 'expertise in modeling/profile creation.'"
Goldberg told BuzzFeed he was speaking publicly now because "he didn't want to be associated with payments he hadn't received."
The PAC raised and spent more than $2.1 million last year, receiving contributions of as much as $250,000 from donors including members of the Huntsman family, Nike founder Phil Knight and billionaire cosmetic mogul Ron Perelman.
The PAC has been called Huntsman's "campaign in waiting." When it was formed, he was still the U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman ended his run for the White House earlier this year after placing a disappointing third in the New Hampshire primary.