Philanthropy: Huntsmans win fame for generosity

By Bob Bernick Jr. and Jerry D. Spangler
Deseret Morning News

Published: Friday, Jan. 16 2004 10:30 p.m. MST

Outside of the LDS Church, two years ago Huntsman organized the Alliance for Unity, a group of Utah community business, religious and civic leaders whose aim is to heal wounds in the community caused over Mormon/non-Mormon clashes, media sales, banking mergers and other divisive issues. Deseret Morning News editor and COO John Hughes sits on the Alliance board.

Huntsman Sr. said he knows most of the 100 U.S. senators personally and visits Washington, D.C., regularly lobbying for more federal money for cancer research.

Huntsman Sr. praises Hatch for "getting a few lines" in the huge new Medicare reform bill that just passed Congress and provides federal cancer care monies that should allow the new Huntsman Cancer Hospital to get several million dollars a year.

Like other endeavors, he puts his money behind his talk. The Huntsmans are Republicans. But three years ago, Huntsman said he'd start giving to any congressional candidate who promised to support cancer research.

The Huntsmans as individuals, through their political action committees and Huntsman corporations give around $300,000 a year to local and national campaigns and parties.

During 2000 and 2001, the Huntsmans gave $200,000 each to both the national GOP Senate committee and the national Democratic Senate committee, the money then being mainly used to re-elect sitting senators. But individual giving by the family to specific candidates and PACs leans heavily to Republicans, a review of Federal Election Commission reports shows.

Today, about 45 percent of the Huntsmans' political giving is going to Democrats, says Olsen.

In the early 1990s, Huntsman Sr. gave $60,000 to the fight against legalizing parimutuel betting on horse races in Utah. He also gave $10,000 to Hatch's legal defense fund when Hatch was accused of wrongdoing in the Bank of Commerce and Credit International scandal. (Hatch was later cleared of those accusations.) And in 1991, Huntsman gave $5,000 to help host a National Republican Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake City.

In 2002, the last big election year, Huntsman's political contributions fell second only to Democrat Ian Cumming's among all Utahns, a Deseret Morning News computer search of FEC reports showed at that time.

It's fairly clear, then, that when Huntsman Sr. talks — even when he takes a public stand against a popular movement — people listen.

His was one of the few credible voices raising concerns about how the Salt Lake Organizing Committee was handling fund-raising and conflicts of interest among its board members as SLOC prepared for the 2002 Winter Games. In 1999, after SLOC was reorganized — following a bribery scandal that rocked the organization — and Mitt Romney was hired to turn Utah's Games around, Huntsman Sr. endorsed the Olympics and became one of the most ardent supporters with a $1 million donation. (Before the scandal broke and Romney was hired, Huntsman Jr. offered to take over SLOC's helm and serve at no pay — an offer that was turned down by SLOC's board.)

'Out of my back pocket'

But it's the family's charitable giving — and the big numbers with it — that may have the most long-term impact on Utahns and those across the country.

While Huntsman Sr. says his family has given or pledged $400 million over the past 10 years for a variety of charities, public records on their activities are sketchy. So it's difficult to get a complete picture of the family's economic impact in the state.

But clearly the generosity involves tens of millions of dollars a year — with one newspaper account in the late 1990s placing the giving between $30 million and $50 million a year.

"We give most of our money in Utah, around 75 percent," Huntsman Sr. said.

By comparison, the Utah United Way in 2002 raised around $8 million in the state, getting money from 35,000 individuals and businesses, a United Way spokeswoman said. Another well-known benefactor, the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, gave away $36 million in 2001 and $193 million between 1992 and 2001, its annual report shows.

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