Donation from Overstock CEO to Johnson campaign draws criticism

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson at a town hall meeting, St. George, Utah, Feb. 13, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – Jonathan Johnson’s campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Gary Herbert as Utah governor announced it received a large financial boost from Overstock.com founder and CEO Patrick Byrne Wednesday.

FILE - Gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson speaks during the Utah Republican Party 2016 nominating convention in Salt Lake City. Johnson is challenging Gov. Gary Herbert, who said he is dropping his support of Common Core education standards as he faces a re-election fight for his party's nomination. Herbert said in a letter to the State Board of Education Wednesday, May 4, 2016, that he shares the concerns of Common Core opponents and instead wants new, Utah-specific standards, Salt Lake City, Utah, photo taken April 23, 2016 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News
In this file photo, gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson speaks during the Utah Republican Party 2016 nominating convention, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 23, 2016 | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

The Johnson campaign announced that Byrne had donated another $250,000. That brings the amount he has given to the campaign to around $850,000.

In a statement released by the campaign, Johnson thanked his business partner and friend for his support, while also stating that support was coming with no strings attached.

“We agree on many things, but there are some issues where we do not see eye to eye,” Johnson said. “Patrick has not asked, nor would he ever ask me, for a favor in return for his donation. Let me be perfectly clear – I have never, nor would I ever, make a promise associated with a donation.”

Johnson and Byrne have known each other for 14 years. Johnson originally served as the head of Overstock.com’s legal department and is currently the chairman of the board for the company.

Byrne has become the single-largest donor to the Johnson campaign. He has referred to himself as such in an opinion piece he submitted to The Deseret News.

“Jonathan and I disagree on numerous issues of significant importance to me,” Byrne wrote in The Deseret News. “He has made it very clear to me and I to him that there is no quid pro quo for my donations, which is fine with me. I still know he’ll be a fantastic leader for Utah.”

News of the large donation drew the attention and criticism of the campaign to re-elect Gov. Herbert.

Marty Carpenter, Herbert’s campaign manager, said in a statement that Byrne didn’t stand for the same policies Utahn’s supported and that he is basically trying to buy the governor’s office. Carpenter said:

The fact is, Patrick Byrne has fought for policies Utahns have rejected. He funded the fight to overturn Utah’s traditional marriage laws. He poured millions into fighter and losing an education ballot initiative. When he lost, he responded by calling the vote an IQ test and ‘Utahns failed.’ He also has an interest in protecting the company’s unfair competitive advantage by not collecting taxes like other businesses have to do.

It has become painfully obvious one man is trying to buy the governor’s office by running his employee and registered lobbyist and funding him at an unprecedented level.

FILE -Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks with reporters during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. The governor signed a bill Monday, March 28, 2016, that makes Utah the first state to require doctors to give anesthesia to women having an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later. The bill signed by Republican Gov. Herbert is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb 17, 2016 | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News
In this file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks with reporters during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 17, 2016 | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Herbert has called Byrne a “sugar daddy rich guy” in reference to his support of Johnson’s campaign.

However, Herbert came under fire from opponents last month for telling a group of lobbyists he would meet with them in exchange for campaign donations.

He referred to himself as “Available Jones” in this case, referencing a character from the “Li’l Abner” comic strip who was available for anything for a price.

Herbert and Johnson will face off in a primary election set for June 28. The winner will go on to face Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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1 Comment

  • Bob June 9, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Gary Herbert comes out and admits on recorded audio that he’s basically for sale to the highest bidder yet mormons still love him and swoon over him like he’s the greatest thing ever. figure it out…

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