The Utah political action committee formed to launch Jon Huntsman’s bid for president made more than $200,000 in payments to a phantom company, one of Huntsman’s consultants told BuzzFeed Thursday.
Utah financial disclosure reports for Horizon PAC show three payments totalling $205,000 between February and April of last year to a company called “For Bahm Marketing LLC,” which does not exist in the comprehensive record of American companies maintained by the service LexisNexis.
The records also show a single $20,000 payment to the similarly-named “Bahm Marketing LLC,” a New York City political consulting firm. But Bahm Marketing’s owner, Steve Goldberg, said he had been surprised to see the payments to the other entity.
"I own Bahm Marketing — it's named after my children — and I don't know how another company came up with the same name,” he said. Goldberg said he found the three payments in the filing “strange” and stressed that he had not received, and had not expected to receive, the $205,000.
The apparent financial irregularity in the pro-Huntsman PAC — which cost his billionaire father and other about $5 million, according to public records — is the latest chapter in the acrimonious collapse of the former Utah Governor’s political operation. Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye, was quoted recently blaming her husband’s political consultants for the campaign’s failures, prompting some former aides to point fingers back at the candidate.
Huntsman’s main consultant, John Weaver, said in an email that Goldberg was “mistaken” in thinking his firm hadn’t received the money. The payment related, Weaver said in the brief email, to Goldberg’s “expertise in modeling/profile creation.”
But the unusual situation prompted an immediate reaction from the office of Utah Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell, which is responsible the state’s campaign finance laws.
“We will take a look into it and see if there is a logical explanation for this,” Mark Thomas, the Utah State Election director who oversees the campaign finance disclosure system told BuzzFeed. “If further investigation is necessary we will work with the Attorney General’s office for a criminal investigation.”
The Utah-based Horizon PAC was the first of three entities supporting Huntsman, and was described by one aide as a “campaign in waiting.” It employed the team, led by Weaver, that built political support and media buzz around the ambassador’s return to the United States from Beijing. It was underwritten primarily by Huntsman’s family, who gave $765,500 to Horizon PAC. Horizon PAC receded after Huntsman announced his bid for the presidency on June 21, and Weaver and the campaign staff and other consultants moved onto the payroll of the campaign itself, while Huntsman’s father, a leading Utah industrialist, continued to fund television ads for his son under the rubric of a Super PAC called the Our Destiny PAC.
The venture was marked from the start by a power struggle between Huntsman’s Utah loyalists and Weaver’s team of national political professionals, whose experience with the process gave them the upper hand. A key Huntsman ally, David Fischer, was forced off the campaign in the summer of 2011 after disputes with Weaver.
Outsiders viewed the campaign as an ill-advised boondoggle for the consultants.
“BREAKING IN 2015: John Weaver to con another rich guy into wasting millions of dollars running a losing campaign,” Commentary editor John Podhoretz joked on Twitter.
The campaign, though, had been Weaver’s brainchild, and his primacy internally reflected the candidate’s choice of his vision. And while he and other consultants were well-compensated by the campaign, according to public filings, there has not been any previous suggestion that any money actually went missing.
Goldberg, the consultant whose firm initially appeared to be the recipient of the payments, is a veteran of Republican politics best known as one of the inventors of the modern practice of political telephone campaigns in the 1980s, when he ran what was at its time the largest voter contact program ever for George H. W. Bush's 1988 campaign. He still specializes in the low-profile, large-scale business of reaching voters directly through telephone banks. He worked with Weaver on John McCain’s 2008 campaign, and more recently ran telephone programs for the campaigns of New York Rep. Bob Turner and of Rick Santorum, who spent nearly $500,000 on his phone banks during the primary campaign, according to campaign finance records.
The payments to the similarly-named companies first emerged when, when Horizon PAC filed its public disclosure statements but remained a mystery at the time. Goldberg said he was speaking publicly now because he considered it “strange” that there was a company that was similarly named to his, and that he didn’t want to be associated with payments he hadn’t received.
The Huntsman Corp., owned by Jon Huntsman Sr., and the top officials of Horizon PAC, Huntmsan allies Scott Anderson and Tim Riester, did not respond to a series of inquiries about the mystery payment. Huntsman did not respond to an inquiry through a spokeswoman about the payment.
Rosie Gray, McKay Coppins, and Zeke Miller contributing reporting to this story.