Weyher pumped money to GOP
May 31, 2006
Rob Weyher, the unpredictable chief of the Summit County Democratic Party, has since 1997 donated more money to President George W. Bush and Republican congressional campaigns than he has to Democrats, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The disclosure of his financial support for hardliner Republicans could further distance the embattled Weyher from rank-and-file Democrats in the county. In an interview, Weyher remained confident in his ability to lead the local party, however.
The donations to the GOP candidates show that Weyher, who was recently scrutinized for a contribution that could ultimately assist a local Republican, has displayed a pattern of supporting candidates outside his party for at least almost a decade.
According to election commission records, since 1997, Weyher has given $6,500 to Republican candidates and $5,800 to Democratic candidates, the state Democratic committee or the party’s election committees.
"The majority of Summit County Democrats are very conservative," Weyher said, explaining the donations. "For the majority of Summit County Democrats, I think they would have no problem."
According to the election commission, donations Weyher made to Republicans included:
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( $1,000 to Bush’s first White House campaign, reported on April 14, 1999.
( $2,000 to the president’s re-election campaign, reported on Nov. 25, 2003.
( $1,000 to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s re-election campaign, reported on Aug. 14, 2000.
( $2,000 to Sen. Robert Bennett’s re-election campaign, reported on Nov. 10, 1997 and May 22, 1998.
( $500 to Rep. James Hansen’s re-election campaign, reported on May 11, 1998.
Weyher explained the donations in various ways, including that he liked the candidates, that the donations were related to his business prospects and that he helped his daughter by giving money. Weyher said Hatch chose his daughter to be a Senate page in the late 1990s, before the $1,000 donation.
"How do you think things happen? Do you think they pick anyone," Weyher said, explaining his view that the donation helped his daughter’s chances of being selected.
Mike Leavitt, the former Republican governor of Utah and a childhood friend, asked him to donate to Bennett, Weyher said, leading to the $2,000 in contributions.
The $500 donation in 1998 to Hansen, Weyher said, was based on the former Republican congressman’s ranking position on the House Armed Services Committee. Hansen held a pivotal role in deciding whether Hill Air Force Base was closed during a politically charged base realignment. Weyher said Hansen’s position for the base benefited his construction company.
"That was a business decision and he’s a nice guy," Weyher said.
The $3,000 to Bush reported by the election commission undervalued Weyher’s contribution, he said. Weyher said he has given about $10,000 to the president, some of it to assist the Bush campaign during the Florida recount after the 2000 election.
Weyher claimed he has not paid federal income taxes since 2001 under Bush’s tax policies and that his donations to Bush were for "fiscal reasons."
"That gives me even more money to put into political races," Weyher said, adding, "I put that money back. I don’t think I should have that windfall."
Hatch’s campaign manager, Dave Hansen, disputed Weyher’s assertion that his donation landed his daughter the assignment as a Senate page.
"There is absolutely no quid pro quo of you select my daughter and I’ll make a contribution," Hansen said.
Mary Jane Collipriest, a spokeswoman for Bennett, said the senator’s record on Capitol Hill, including securing earmarks for the Park City area, are attractive to donors from outside the GOP.
"Contributors, Republican and Democrat alike, may appreciate his approach to policies affecting small businesses, recognize the benefit of his seat on the Appropriations Committee and value his expertise on tax, banking and economic policy," Collipriest said in an e-mail statement regarding Weyher.
Hansen said Hatch’s work for Utah appeals to Democrats as he explained his theory of Weyher’s donation. He said Hatch has opposed storing nuclear waste in Skull Valley and has won federal assistance for water and highway projects in the state.
"They’re not just Republican issues, they’re Utah issues he’s fought very hard for," Hansen said, adding, "He’s built up support among both Republicans and Democrats."
Weyher, who said his net worth is several million dollars, said that he expects to give $100,000 in money and services to local, state and federal campaigns in 2006. Three-quarters of the donations, he said, will go toward Democrats.
Weyher maintained, and the election commission report confirmed, that his donations recently have tended to be to Democrats.
"They grovel for my money, all of them," he said of the two political parties. "I’m continually besieged by candidates."
Democrats Weyher helped finance include Rep. Jim Matheson, who received $1,250 between 2000 and 2005, according to the election commission.
A 54-year old construction magnate who lives in Silver Creek, Weyher is a more aggressive political figure than those who have led the Summit County Democratic and Republican parties in recent years.
Through his recent drunken-driving arrest, his blunt predictions of Democratic successes on Election Day and his takedown of ex-Statehouse hopeful Jim Shea Jr., a Republican, on a residency technicality, Weyher this spring became an unusually prominent local party leader.
He plans a fierce campaign for his party’s candidates in 2006, with the Utah House of Representatives District 53 contest seeming to be the top prize. He has previously campaigned as a Democrat for the District 53 seat but was easily beaten by the Republican incumbent in 2002.
Weyher described himself as a "conservative Democrat that has some liberalism." He said he is not outside the "mainstream of the Summit County Democratic Party," which he said is controlled by conservative Democrats. Weyher said he supports Democratic principles such as universal health care, said he is pro-choice and said he supports rights for gays. He is fiscally conservative, a hallmark of the GOP, however, Weyher said.
Weyher, though, said the Republicans have moved toward the right, leading to his plans to contribute more heavily to the Democrats in 2006.
He said religious fundamentalists pushed the Republicans to the right and he said he is upset with the president’s handling of the Iraqi war. Weyher said Bush did not deploy enough troops for the occupation.
"I’m pretty dissatisfied with the Bush administration right now because they’ve screwed up Iraq," Weyher said.