Senator raised big money | ParkRecord.com

Senator raised big money

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

State Sen. Kevin VanTassell, in an impressive display of his fundraising skills, became a financial powerhouse in his successful bid for the Legislature’s upper chamber, raising and spending many times more money than his Election Day opponents.

VanTassell, a banker from Vernal, showed his connections to big business, relying on corporate interests as well as donations from individuals, as he amassed more than $103,000 in donations. His campaign cost him a little more than $94,000, leaving him with about $9,000.

The six-figure sum he raised and the $94,000 in expenses are staggering compared to the numbers posted by Roland Uresk, his Democratic opponent. Uresk raised a little less than $4,300 and spent about $3,258.

VanTassell routed Uresk and Sonya Ray, a Constitution Party candidate. His tougher challenge was for the Republican nomination. He beat David Ure, who was a veteran member of the state House of Representatives from Kamas, for the GOP’s nomination.

The winner of the Republican nomination was expected to easily win on Election Day.

VanTassell says his campaign anticipated that the contest against Ure for the Republic nomination would be pricey, influencing the strategists to seek the big donations early. He also funded some of the campaign himself, giving about $25,000.

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VanTassell says Ure, who went into the election with almost $50,000 in his campaign account, was a formidable fundraiser and the Republican contest was costly. VanTassell estimates roughly 60 percent of his contributions and expenses occurred in anticipation of a primary election between himself and Ure.

"I was surprised, to be honest," VanTassell says about the costs of the primary, noting that he purchased lots of signs and other campaign materials in his contest with Ure.

Ure had been a long-serving member of the House, representing Park City and the East Side of Summit County, with parts of more rural counties also in the district. Ure and VanTassell were vying for the Republican nomination in a district that was previously served by Beverly Evans, a popular Republican lawmaker who retired from the Senate.

The two frantically campaigned in the expansive District 26, where Ure did not have much political capital in the eastern reaches and VanTassell was largely unknown to voters in the western parts.

"They are huge numbers," VanTassell admits. "It’s a big district."

He says he advertised in up to six newspapers and his travel expenses were costly.

Ure spent about $36,342 in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination. He raised $19,245 in 2006, adding to the money he had set aside from previous campaigns.

comparison, Evans, in her last campaign for the Senate seat, in 2002, raised almost $39,900 and spent just a little less than that amount. She was a well-respected incumbent that year and did not face a serious challenge.

VanTassell’s donor list is stacked with corporate interests but the senator says big business will not be overly influential as he considers legislation. He pledges he will not be a tool for the corporate interests.

"I don’t think I’m beholden to any one group," VanTassell says.

He accepted donations from EnergySolutions, development and banking interests and health insurers. Other energy interests also gave to VanTassell, including a $1,200 donation from a Mobile, Ala., firm identified as Oil Shale Exploration Company.

Some donors from Summit County include $1,200 from Jim Shea Jr. Enterprises and $200 from Park City-based Nutraceutical Corp.

EnergySolutions stores radioactive waste in the desert west of Salt Lake City and activists worry about the company someday storing hotter waste at the facility.

VanTassell says he toured the EnergySolutions grounds and agreed to accept $450 in donations from the company afterward. EnergySolutions donated $300 on Nov. 27 and $150 on Nov. 21.

"I think they’re doing a good job and felt I could accept their (political-action committee) money," he says.

VanTassell says "there’s no way" he wants the hotter waste stored in Utah, however.

"If they came and wanted to increase the activity . . . I’m not sure if I can support that," he says.