Utah effort to scrap caucuses raises $810,902

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A ballot initiative drive that seeks to change the way Utah elects candidates for political office raised more money last year than any other political group or candidate in the state.

Year-end disclosure forms filed Friday show the group Count My Vote raised $810,902 in 2013 through its fundraising arm, the Alliance for Good Government.

The figure is 88 times more than the $9,224 raised by the group opposing the initiative, Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, and its fundraising arm, the Utah First Political Issues Committee, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The initiative wants direct primaries to replace party caucuses and conventions. Count My Vote says its bipartisan donors believe the caucus system can allow small groups to pack neighborhood gatherings and produce more extreme candidates than the public wants. The group says a primary would ensure truly representative candidates are elected.

Protect Our Neighborhood Elections counters that caucuses give candidates with fewer funds a chance to compete by focusing on a relatively small number of delegates to conventions.

Count My Vote co-chairwoman Gail Miller, owner of the Larry Miller Group, donated $100,000 in cash, plus another $18,000 in in-kind services by allowing use of her Megaplex theaters to gather signatures.

Former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt, another leader of Count My Vote, was among 19 people who contributed $25,000 each. Others were Dell Loy Hansen, owner of the Real Salt Lake soccer team; John Price, developer and former U.S. ambassador; and businessmen Ian Cumming and Roger Boyer.

An additional dozen donors gave $10,000 or more, including Bruce Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect; Koshrow Semnani, founder of Utah’s low-level radioactive landfill; and the Sandy Chamber of Commerce.

Count My Vote organizers must collect nearly 102,000 signatures, including 10 percent of voters in 26 of the 29 state Senate districts, to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

“We’re doing well,” Taylor Morgan, executive director of the group, told The Tribune. “We don’t have an exact number right now, but it’s in the tens of thousands of signatures.”

Robert Cox, treasurer of the opposing Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, said his group is trying to wage a less expensive effort by using social media and asking local governments to pass resolutions in support.

“It is very hard to compete against that kind of money,” he said.

The second highest amount raised by any political group in the state last year was $693,057 by Gov. Gary Herbert’s leadership political action committee. Herbert raised an additional $103,023 directly to his campaign.

The Utah Democratic Party raised the most among political parties, with $555,572, while the National Association of Realtors spent the most on political races and candidates in Utah, with $201,903.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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