Thanks to resources like the TheQPages and QSaltLake, queer Utahns can easily find gay-friendly businesses that deserve community support. But determining the opposite—which businesses are anti-gay—is usually not as straightforward. To help gay and lesbian locals decipher who, exactly, is funding anti-gay legislation, QSaltLake analyzed the most recent finance reports from the three political groups supporting amendment 3.
To keep things simple, we researched only individuals or companies whose donations totaled $500 or more. As expected, Utah County residents account for most of the money, but there are some surprises, including one mystery corporation giving big money to the fight against Utah’s gay families.
Amendment supporters organized three separate groups to battle the Don’t Amend Alliance. Those three groups together make up the coalition we’re calling “Yes on 3.” Yes! For Marriage is the smallest of the three groups, with donations totaling about $17,000. Yes! For Marriage’s reports list only one major donation: Yes! president Susan Roylance’s contribution of $6,750 from the proceeds of her book, Defending Marriage & Family.
The second Yes on 3 group is the Constitutional Defense of Marriage Alliance (CDOMA), whose officers are long-time Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka and amendment co-sponsors Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, & Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper.
CDOMA had received nearly $104,000 by October 26, the last reporting deadline. QSaltLake traced $40,000 of that to Traverse Mountain, a Utah County planned community currently being built in Lehi between I-15 and the Wasatch Range. One-third of Traverse Mountain’s contribution is listed from Ted Heap, a partner in the development, and another one-third is listed from Julie Sandlin, wife of Traverse partner Kinnon Sandlin. The remaining $20,000 is from Fox Ridge LLC, a subsidiary holding company belonging to the development. Heap did not return repeated calls for comment and Julie Sandlin would only begrudgingly verify that she and her husband made the contribution.
Another $20,000 of CDOMA’s funds is from Howard J. Schmidt, who serves as a trustee of the Utah Boys Ranch, where Sen. Buttars was executive director until September of this year. Schmidt funneled half his donation through Willow Cove, a South Jordan apartment complex owned by his company, Apartment Management Consultants (AMC). AMC owns or manages 18 apartment communities in Utah as well as 13 in surrounding states. Schmidt proudly told QSaltLake that his contribution was the “best money I ever spent.”
Other notable contributors to CDOMA include Perry Homes; steel contractor SME Industries; Gaylord Swim, board chair of the Sutherland Institute, a right-wing think tank; Reliance Homes; Greg Miller, general manager of Larry H. Miller Toyota (and Larry’s oldest son); and the campaign fund of Utah Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy, whose Mansell & Associates realty is now part of Coldwell Banker.
The wealthiest group in Yes on 3 is Utahns for a Better Tomorrow, which by the filing deadline had received nearly $328,000 in contributions. At first glance, both major donors to Utahns for a Better Tomorrow are mysterious: $100,000 from AK Holding Company in Provo and $170,000 from Marriage Education Initiatives in Salt Lake City.
The address listed on campaign forms for AK Holding Company indicates that it is one of a number of companies owned by Alan Ashton, co-founder of WordPerfect. Ralph Rasmussen, spokesman for AK Holding, refused to comment about the contribution. The Ashton family also owns Thanksgiving Point, Beesmark Investing, BMA Construction, and runs the Ashton Family Foundation. Incidentally, Ashton’s former WordPerfect business partner, Bruce Bastian, is the Don’t Amend Alliance’s largest donor, contributing more than $300,000 to fight amendment 3.
Marriage Education Initiatives (MEI) is a more difficult puzzle to unravel. According to the Utah Department of Commerce, trustees Neal Blair, Lloyd Davis, and Richard Jaussi incorporated MEI as a “domestic nonprofit corporation” on October 18 – the same day it gave its first contribution to Utahns for a Better Tomorrow. The tenants occupying the suite listed as MEI’s address said they didn’t know anything about the group, but that Blair previously sublet space in a suite across the hall before leaving in early October.
Utahns for a Better Tomorrow spokeswomen Laura Lee Adams, Nancy Pomeroy, and Ann Wood all told QSaltLake on October 29, in separate conversations, that they knew nothing about MEI, but Adams did say Blair had just left for Florida to work on the Bush campaign and that she was “sure there is nothing out of line” with the corporation.
In an expenditure disclosure form filed that same day with the Utah Elections Office, MEI accountant Suzanne Thomas listed Neal Blair’s room at the Carlton Hotel as the corporation’s new address. Carlton Hotel front desk staff said that the room in question was rented on a weekly basis and had been “occupied by the current tenant for quite some time.” Thomas said she didn’t have any information about the source of MEI’s funds.
Jaussi could not be reached on several occasions and Blair did not return repeated messages left on his cell phone. Davis said he didn’t know anything about the finances of MEI and refused to elaborate about his involvement, saying only that he’d been a trustee since incorporation two weeks earlier and that “Neal Blair handles all the money. I don’t know where it came from.”
Amy Naccarato, director of the Utah Elections Office, said that while MEI was required to report its political expenditures, state law does not require corporations—even non-profits—to report their income sources. Only candidates, political parties, political action committees, and political issue committees must file a contribution disclosure.
Even though MEI is registered as a nonprofit corporation with the state of Utah, Bill Brunson of the Internal Revenue Service said the finances of non-profits are open to the public only if the non-profit is considered tax-exempt.
“We have no record of a corporation called ‘Marriage Education Initiatives’ requesting tax-exempt status,” Brunson said. He could not reveal whether or not MEI had paid tax on their income. In fact, taxable corporations’ information is so guarded that Brunson couldn’t even confirm whether or not the IRS had record of MEI’s existence.
In an October 29 email to media Blair said, “We do not currently intend to release our donor list to the media or otherwise make the list public.” The following day, Naccarato told the Deseret News it appeared that Marriage Education Initiatives had found a legal loophole that allowed its supporters to remain private.
“It’s something new that I don’t think our law is ready to address,” Naccarato said to the News. “It’s something we may have to ask the Legislature to help us address in the future.”
Opponents question why the donor or donors to Yes on 3 are hiding behind the secrecy and legal wranglings of Marriage Education Initiatives. Campaign finance reports are made publicly available by law because the electorate deserves to know who is influencing public policy through donations. They wonder if a disclosure of those contributors would reveal the presence of organized and controversial anti-gay activists, or possibly a religious organization.