You say sugar daddy, I say sugar daddies.
—by John deJong
In the ever more interesting race for Utah’s governorship, Gary Herbert has labeled Republican primary opponent Jonathan Johnson’s generous friend and boss Patrick Byrne a sugar daddy. Herbert was defending himself to reporters in the wake of his “Available Jones” comments before the Utah Taxpayers Association at the Alta Club in May, where he offered to sit down with anyone willing to pony up $1,500 for his gubernatorial campaign.
In the world of abnormal relationships, one sugar daddy is a sugar daddy. Multiple sugar daddies are called customers and you’re pulling a train.
Herbert’s campaign pointed out that Johnson is Byrne’s registered lobbyist, implying that Johnson is just Byrne’s sock puppet. But whose sock puppet is Herbert? Rather than $600,000 from one source, Herbert raised the same amount in one recent month, including a 12 checks for $25,000 each.
One hand in the sock puppet, many hands in the sock puppet. I don’t see much of a difference.
If Herbert is willing to sit down with anyone for a mere $1,500, what is he willing to do to entertain anyone who donates $25,000? Friend them on Facebook? Invite them to the next campaign fundraiser?
How much of a sit-down does $1,500 buy, anyway? Followers of Li’l Abner will know that for 10 cents, Available Jones barely listens, yawns in your face and the cheap advice you get will do more harm than good. But for 50 cents, he listens politely to every word, gives you surefire advice, addresses you as Miss or Mister and wears a snappy seersucker jacket. For an extra nickel, he’ll even wear a silk hat. For those of you following the fashion statements of this election cycle, Herbert has been spotted wearing a dashing blue silk neckerchief. He must have been talking to some really good friends.
The perverse economies of scale of post-Citizens United political campaign funding raise their ugly hydra heads. At $1,500 a pop, Herbert would have to meet with 400 contributors to raise $600,000. Allowing for five minutes between visits, that’s a cumulative 133 solid hours of chat time. The eyes glaze over at the thought.
How does Herbert find the time to do anything else? Can contributors/friends take a rain check and have that sit-down when something urgent arises down the road? That would be convenient, since donating while the legislature is in session is illegal. Meeting with once and future contributors isn’t illegal, as long as no palms are crossed with silver. And, if the intention to contribute in the future can be conveyed with a wink and a nod, so much the better. That isn’t illegal, either, and difficult to prove if it ever becomes illegal. Which isn’t very likely in this state.
One solution to the problem of politicians being unduly influenced by their campaign contributors? All contributions could be blind, with the donors’ identities unknown to politicians.
But that’s not very likely, is it.
I should have gone to Governor Herbert’s energy development summit at Grand America last month to see who was purchasing audiences with his governorship. But the thought of seeing democracy being sold out by the yard made my necrodemocrophobia relapse. It was like I was back on the Salt Lake City School Board watching the Utah legislature twist every principle of democracy beyond recognition for the benefit of their “principles” and campaign contributors at the expense of their constituents and our school children.
Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, who has been covering two bases—first, performing Herbert’s gubernatorial duties when Herbert has more important things to do and, second, overseeing Utah elections—declined to investigate Herbert, perhaps because he was in the room when Herbert made his “Available Jones” comment, going so far as to be caught on the recording saying “This isn’t ‘Come give us a check and we’ll take care of your issue.’” He may have been aware that the proceedings were still being recorded. As there was no accompanying video, we don’t know if Cox’s comment was delivered with a wink and a nod or in all sincerity. But if there ever was a case of a Cox guarding the whorehouse, this is it.
Other than the sugar daddy tack against Johnson, Herbert’s main defense of his “Available Jones” comment was that the optics were bad. Bad optics is a brand marketing term that means the dog shit is spilling out of the beautifully designed packaging.
The Associated Press version of the “Available Jones” story made local television newscasts across the country. Strangely, an early Google search brought up the AP story in conjunction with national weather maps. Either the local stations couldn’t get good photos of Herbert or the story ran next to the local weather.
Anyway, Utah, in the minds of viewers across the country, is now the state with the governor from Dog Patch. Talk about bad optics!
John deJong is the associate publisher of CATALYST.