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Campaign donors: NRA, big tobacco, Biden

The two candidates vying for a local state House of Representatives seat have amassed their campaign largesse through conflicting strategies, with the Republican incumbent relying on corporate donations and political-action committees and the Democratic challenger sprinkling individual donors into the fundraising strategy.

Republican Mel Brown, who holds the 53rd District seat, and his Democratic opponent in November, Kathy Lofft, have filed campaign finance statements with state election officials showing Lofft has raised and spent more money than Brown has. Brown’s campaign, though, benefited from a substantial pre-election balance.

According to the statements, which were due to the state by Tuesday:

Brown has received $5,250 in contributions and has spent $5,249.16. He had $8,720 in his campaign account as Election 2008 started.

Lofft garnered $13,461.78 in donations and spent $13,622.03, leaving her with a $160.25 deficit during the beginning months of her campaign.

The 53rd District covers Park City and the East Side of Summit County, and it stretches through rural areas of several surrounding counties.

Brown, who is a well-connected legislator who served in the House in another district before winning the local seat, has secured money from the gun-rights lobby, big tobacco and labor interests, among others. None of his donors are individuals.

The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund gave $500, the parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company gave $250 and EnergySolutions, the nuclear waste company, provided Brown with $250.

Other Brown donors include PacifiCorp. and a Utah homebuilder political-action committee. He took money from the Utah AFL-CIO as well.

"No I haven’t done anything special for them," Brown said about his campaign donors, describing that the corporate interests represent the "free market, free enterprise."

Brown, a gun-rights supporter, said he completed a questionnaire for the NRA before the Political Victory Fund gave the donation. He is proud of the donation.

Brown does not smoke, but he accepted the donation from the R.J. Reynolds parent.

He explained the donation from the Utah AFL-CIO, which is usually seen as supporting Democrats, by saying he smoothed relations between laborers and management as Interstate 15 was reconstructed in the 1990s.

"I’ve never denied anyone an opportunity to talk about their issues," Brown said.

Lofft, a political newcomer, donated $1,166.20 of her own money to the campaign through the reporting period. She lists well-known local politicians as donors, including Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott and Christine Johnson, a state legislator who represents the Snyderville Basin.

Other notable donors from Summit County include Laura Bonham, who leads the county Democratic Party, Summit County Council hopeful John Hanrahan and City Hall official Myles Rademan.

"We have substantial support from people, individuals, who live in this district," Lofft said.

Lofft, meanwhile, accepted $1,000, one of her largest donations, from a Wilmington, Del., political-action committee affiliated with Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate. Other donations came from ActBlue, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group that raises money for Democratic candidates.

The donation from the Biden political-action committee, Lofft said, is a reflection of the national Democratic Party’s efforts to compete across the country.

"You look at all races as potentially winnable races," she said.

Democrats have had difficulty making inroads in the 53rd District, with Republicans holding the seat for years. The Democrats have long coveted the seat, though, an Lofft expects she can defeat Brown in November.

The Democratic candidate typically sees solid Election Day returns in the Park City area, but the Republican candidate has routed the Democrats in the rural areas of the other counties.


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