Report: Utah’s Oligarchs – Fighting to Maintain Their Political and Economic Control
Dive into Utah’s Swamp
An Investigative Report on Utah’s Elite
By Ronald Mortensen, Columnist at Utah Standard News / April 30,
Originally published at: https://www.utahstandardnews.com/report-utahs-oligarchs-fighting-to-maintain-their-political-and-economic-control/
oligarchy is a system where power rests
with a small number of people—the rule of the few. The oligarchs may
be distinguished by their wealth, their family ties, or by
corporate, religious or military control. The word “oligarch” is generally
used when referring to Russian entities. President Trump
recently laid sanctions on 38 Russian oligarchs, government
officials and business groups. In Utah we have our group of oligarchs who
exercise disproportionate political and economic power.
Utah Oligarchs and Ballot Initiatives
Utah’s Oligarchs’ fingerprints can be found all over the Count My Vote
(aka Buy My Vote), Our Schools Now and Medicaid expansion citizen
(ballot) initiatives. The Count My Vote initiative greatly enhances the
Oligarch’s political power by ensuring that money plays the key role
in deciding the outcome of political campaigns. The Our Schools Now
initiative forced the 2018 legislature to raise taxes and increase
education funding. And, if passed, the Medicaid expansion ballot
initiative will allow the Oligarchs to shift a portion of their health
care costs to the taxpayers.
years, the Utah Oligarchs have consistently fought to maintain their power
whenever they felt threatened. In 2000, the Oligarchs were
surprised when Governor Michael O. Leavitt was forced into a primary election
but he still won so no real harm was done. Four years later the Oligarchs were
angered when Governor Olene Walker was denied the Republican gubernatorial
nomination but they let it pass since she entered the race late and delegates
sent two candidates who were fully acceptable to the Oligarchs to a
primary election – Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Nolan Karras. However,
they were shaken to the core when Senator Robert Bennett’s career was
unceremoniously ended by the delegates to the Republican State
convention in 2010 and they resolved to never let it happen
January of 2012, Leavitt announced that
he was supporting the Oligarchs’ Count My Vote ballot initiative that
would be placed on the 2014 ballot. That ballot initiative was
subsequently withdrawn after the Utah state legislature caved-in to the Oligarchs’
demands and passed SB54 in March 2014. SB54 gives candidates a
dual pathway to the ballot—by the convention or by gathering
signatures. This ensures that the Oligarchs can maintain political control by
financing campaigns which are now money driven. When the Oligarchs faced
pushback against SB54 from Republican Party activists, the Oligarchs resurrected their ballot
initiative and are close to getting it on the 2018 ballot.
second Utah Oligarch driven ballot initiative in 2017/18 was titled My Schools
Now. Like the original County My Vote ballot initiative, it achieved its
desired results without requiring a vote of the people because the legislature
caved-in and gave the Oligarchs most of what they were
demanding: a property tax increase, sharply increased education funding and an
agreement to put a question on the 2018 ballot asking taxpayers if
they support a 10 cent per gallon (33%) gas tax increase. The Oligarchs were
for the most part held harmless because over the years, they have managed to get
the legislature to either totally eliminate or sharply reduce the
taxes they pay.
ballot initiative supported by the Oligarchs would require Utah to fully
implement the Obama Care Medicaid expansion. This
would allow the Oligarchs to shift some
of their health care expenses to the taxpayers by moving
lower paid employees from their employer health plans onto
Medicaid. Perversely, the Oligarchs are relying on the
non-profit, United Way to support the Medicaid initiative on their behalf.
Identifying the Oligarchs—Follow the Money
Utah’s Oligarchs can
be identified by following the money and by looking at the intricate
systems that they have put in place to grow and protect their political
and economic power.
The Oligarchs who
developed and/or provided major funding for
the Count My Vote ballot initiatives include former Governor Mike Leavitt, Gail
Miller, Scott Anderson, Kem Gardner, Dell Loy Hansen, Khosrow B. Semnani, Bruce
Bastian, Mark Miller, John Price, H. Roger Boyer, Brent Beesley, and David
Simmons. Other Oligarchs giving substantial support to the
initiative included Val Overson, Kirk Jowers, Norma Matheson, S.F. Eccles,
Bryson Garbett, LaVarr Webb and Rich McKeown. Oligarch controlled
organizations that provide support included the Salt Lake and Sandy
Chambers of Commerce, the Hatch Election Committee, Garff Enterprises, and the
the same oligarchs that support the Count My Vote ballot initiative
were behind the Our Schools Now tax increases passed by the legislature.
These include Scott Anderson, Gail Miller, Robert Garff, Kem Gardner, Brent
Beesley, and Mark Miller. They were joined by Lane Beattie, Bob
Marquardt, David H. Burton, and the heads of major Utah businesses
including Bear River Mutual, CBRE, the Boyer Company, Jacobsen Construction,
Clyde Company, Intermountain Health, NuSkin, Leavitt Partners, Sandy Chamber of
Commerce, City Creek Center, and Maverick.
be seen below, the names of the individuals and corporations that are
associated with the ballot initiatives come up over and over again as
one looks at the systems that have been put in place to achieve the
Utah Oligarchs’ agenda.
Organizations that Support and Further the Oligarchs’ Agenda
The Oligarchs rely
on a wide range of organizations to shape public opinion. These
include the Salt Lake Chamber and its numerous front groups (Prosperity 2020, Utah
Transportation Coalition, the Downtown Alliance), Utah Policy, Utah Pulse, the United Way, the Utah
Foundation, Envision Utah and the Kem C. Gardner Public Policy
Institute. The Oligarchs fund these organizations and are
represented on their boards of directors. In return, the
organizations give legitimacy to the Oligarchs’ agenda, build
public support for Oligarch initiatives and discredit or neutralize
any opposition to the Oligarch’s agenda that may arise.
Lake Chamber of Commerce: The Salt Lake Chamber is where the Oligarchs come
together to develop their plans and it plays a
key role in implementing the Oligarchs’ agenda. The Chamber has
conferred its “Giant of the City Award” on
leading Utah Oligarchs—Roger Boyer and Ellis Ivory, Bishop H.
David Burton, Kem C. Gardner, A. Scott Anderson and Harrison Simmons,
Michael O. Leavitt, Gail Miller and Senator Orrin Hatch. A. Scott
Anderson, Kem C. Gardner and Mark Miller have chaired the Chambers’ board.
Lake Chamber helps develop the Oligarchs’ public policy initiatives ranging
from the Utah Compact to gasoline tax increases. It serves as
the lobbying arm
of the Oligarchs and it creates front groups to promote Oligarch
Programs. The Salt Lake Chamber funds that advances the Oligarchs’
agenda and has seats on their boards of directors.
Policy plays a key role in maintaining the Utah Oligarch’s control of
public policy in Utah. Their activities “are designed to help policymakers accomplish their objectives.” Utah Policy is joined at the
hip with Utah Pulse which is a Zions Bank product. The President and CEO
of Zions Bank, Scott Anderson, is also a major supporter of the Count My
Vote and Our Schools Now initiatives. In addition, Zions Bank is a
major funder of Utah Policy’s push polls which are designed to get
predetermined results that show strong public support for the Oligarchs’ political and policy
LaVarr Webb is
the publisher of both Utah Policy and Utah Pulse. He is also the
founder of the Exoro Group, a political consulting group that proclaims: “We find the answers, relationships and resources you need to get the change you want.”
Among Exoro’s clients are
Count My Vote, Zion’s Bank, the Salt Lake Chamber, the Downtown Alliance, Sandy
City, Utah Policy, and the Utah Foundation.
Bank’s Utah Pulse lists Utah Policy as one of its partners. Other
Utah Pulse partners are the Governor’s Office of EconomicDevelopment where
Leavitt’s former chief of staff and spokesperson serves on the
Executive Management Team, the World Trade Center—Utah where
Zions’ president and CEO, A. Scott Anderson serves on the Board,
USTAR which Anderson once
championed and chaired and where LaVarr Webb played a
role, and Mountain West Capital Network (business
networking organization). But perhaps Utah Policy’s most important partner is
the powerful and ubiquitous Salt Lake Chamber.
According to the
Deseret News, Zions Bank President & CEO, A. Scott Anderson’s “fingerprints are all over the state.” Anderson is
a former two time chair of the Salt Lake Chamber’s board. He was honored
by the Chamber as a “Giant of the City.” In turn, Zions Bank has been a “Chairman Level Sponsor” of the Salt Lake
Chamber and the Salt Lake Chamber, is Zion’s Partner in Utah
Pulse. Zion’s Bank also funds and has seats on the boards of
directors of many other organizations that support the Oligarch’s agenda.
2020: The Salt
Lake Chamber hosts Prosperity 2020 which
is a partnership of 21 chambers across the state of Utah. Prosperity 2020
promotes increased government spending and tax increases that are
designed to maximize the benefits that accrue to the Oligarchs.
Bank President & CEO A. Scott Anderson has been a member of Prosperity
2020’s Business Executive Leadership Council. In 2014, he published an Op Ed in
the Deseret News promoting the Prosperity 2020 agenda.
Lake Chamber and Prosperity 2020 were listed as partners of Education First Utah which
morphed into the Our Schools Now ballot initiative.
Transportation Coalition: In order to further the Oligarchs demand for
increased funding for transportation, the Oligarch driven Salt Lake Chamber
created another front group, the Utah Mobility Coalition around 2011, to focus
on long-term taxpayer funding and planning issues related to Utah’s
mobility. The Chamber’s former executive vice-president and general
counsel, Robbin Riggs, was chosen to lead it.
the Chamber and the Oligarchs had replaced the Utah
Mobility Coalition with another front group, the Utah Transportation Coalition. The
Transportation Coalition’s Director, Abby Osborne, has a Salt Lake Chamber
business address, a Salt Lake Chamber e-mail address and a Salt Lake
Chamber phone number.
Transportation Coalition collaborates with its partners “to make smart and sustainable transportation choices and to secure adequate,
stable and long term [taxpayer] funding to support a high quality of life and economic growth in Utah.” This
includes a 20% gas tax increase that was passed in 2015 and a demand
for yet another 33% gas tax increase.
Transportation Coalition’s members include
tax consuming (governmental) entities, the Salt Lake Chamber, the Utah Transit
Authority (UTA), and the major construction and other
transportation oriented companies in Utah that benefit directly from taxpayer
funding of transportation projects.
2013, LaVarr Webb of Utah Policy wrote: “I work with the Utah Mobility Coalition, sponsored by the Salt
Lake Chamber, so I am involved in a variety of transportation issues.” He
then moved on to work with
the Utah Transportation Coalition.
Systems Reform Task Force: On the health care front, the Oligarchs, through the Salt
Lake Chamber, favored a “measured approach” to Medicaid expansion
which would have allowed the Oligarchs to move their lower
paid employees onto taxpayer funded Medicaid. The Chamber sponsored a survey
designed to show strong public support for Governor Herbert’s “Healthy Utah”
plan and the Chamber uses another front group, the Health Systems Reform Task
Force, to push the Oligarch’s health care agenda.
Salt Lake Chamber front group is the Downtown Alliance which
is “dedicated to building a dynamic and diverse [Salt Lake City] community that is the regional
center for culture, commerce and entertainment.” The
Alliance is headed by Jason Mathis and the
Downtown Alliance’s address is the same as the Salt Lake Chamber’s. Since 2008,
Mathis has served as both the executive director of the Alliance and Executive
Vice President of the Salt Lake Chamber.
also headed the Oligarch’s efforts to obtain amnesty for illegal
aliens and for the Utah Oligarchs who unlawfully employ
them. Mathis was named a Champion of Change by
the Obama Administration for helping get the Oligarch’s pro-amnesty, Utah Compact in place.
the Utah Oligarchs rely on the Utah United Way, a non-profit
charitable organization, to advocate for many of their initiatives
including increasing the size and scope of government and tax
increases. The United Way supports the
Oligarch’s Medicaid expansion efforts, educational initiatives, and efforts to increase
who served as the President and CEO of the United Way for many years,
was formerly the Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer. Bayle shifted the
United Way’s focus to one of creating meaningful and measurable
social change and under her leadership it enhanced its public
policy and social change strategies. The current United Way CEO, Bill
Crim, serves on the Salt Lake Chamber’s Board
The Oligarchs exercise
strong control over the United Ways’ governance both directly and indirectly.
Utah Policy, Prosperity 2020 and the Salt Lake Chamber are among the
United Way’s advocacy partners. LeeAnne B. Linderman, Zions Bank Executive Vice
President and Corporate Secretary, serve on the Executive
Committee of the United Way as do representatives of the
Larry Miller family and the Mark and Kathie Miller
foundation. The Salt Lake Chamber is represented on the Board by
the Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer, Heidi Walker..
According to the
United Way website, advocacy includes influencing public policy. The United Way
actively advocates and lobbies for greater taxpayer funding for
Oligarch supported priorities including Our Schools Now, early childhood
education and government provided health care—CHIP, the Maternal,
Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, community health
centers and a ballot initiative that
would require the state to take full advantage of Medicaid
expansion. To pay for the state’s share of the larger Medicaid
program, the Medicaid expansion initiative would raise the state sales tax from
4.7 percent to 4.85 percent – or a 3.1 percent increase.
According to a December 2017 Utah Policy poll, 60% of
Utahns support the Medicaid expansion initiative.
Foundation: Another organization
that the Oligarchs use to promote their agenda is
the Utah Foundation. The Utah
Foundation “promotes a thriving economy, a well-prepared
workforce, and a high quality of life for Utahns by
performing thorough, well-supported research that helps policymakers, businessand community leaders, and citizens better
understand complex issues and providing practical,
well-reasoned recommendations for policy change.” Zions bank
along with the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies are Platinum Level
sponsors. Both have a seat on the Board of Trustees as
does the Salt Lake Chamber (Heidi Walker) and UtahPolicy (LaVarr
Foundation’s studies are frequently designed to obtain results that
support the Oligarch’s agenda. Utah Policy polls, which are often funded by
Zions Bank, are then used to show that strong public support exists
for the Foundation’s findings and recommendations.
Utah: The Oligarchs also
support Envision Utah which helps drive
the Oligarchs’ agenda. Scott Anderson serves on Envision
Utah’s board of
directors as does the Director of the Kem Gardner Policy Institute, a
representative of the Salt Lake Chamber and LaVarr Webb as well as
many others who are on the boards of other Oligarch supported groups.
C. Gardner Policy Institute: In 2015 the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute joined
the ranks of Oligarch supported organizations. Like the Utah Foundation, the
Policy Institute develops information that allows individuals and the
community to make informed decisions. It prepares the state’s
official population estimates that drive legislative decisions. Zions Bank, the
Larry Miller Group and the Gardner group are all Legacy Partners ($100,000
contribution). The Salt Lake Chamber is a Sustaining Partner ($50,000
Natalie Gochnour, serves as the director
of the Policy Institute. She also serves as the chief economist for the Salt
Lake Chamber. In addition, Gochnour has advised Utah governors Norm Bangerter,
Mike Leavitt and Olene Walker.
summary, Utah’s Oligarchs have established an entire network of
interlocking organizations to reinforce their political power and to help
make their agenda, the state’s agenda. The fruits of their labor
can be seen in the plethora of tax and fee increases passed by the
Utah State legislature in recent years, by the unwinding of the
caucus/convention system and by the growth of government at all