Big tech and Democratic donors spending big to elect independent Senate candidate in deep red state

Utah independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin, despite a pledge not to caucus with Democrats if he is elected, has received millions in support from tech leaders and groups aligned with the Democratic Party as he seeks to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee.

The contentious race has been inundated with outside spending as super PACs unaffiliated with either the Lee or McMullin campaigns spend heavily on glossy mailers and on attack ads on local TV channels in the lead-up to the midterm elections.

Campaign finance disclosures filed Friday, covering a period through Oct. 19, show the McMullin campaign raised $6.9 million and Lee’s campaign brought in $8.6 million.

Though they’re spending heavily on their own campaign ads, polling, consultants and staff, the candidates are receiving boosts from independent expenditure committees that aren’t allowed to coordinate with their campaigns.


Independent Utah Senate candidate Evan McMullin participates in the discussion on democracy and the future of the American political system at the Salt Lake City Public Library on Oct. 20, 2022.
(Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The most active is a pro-McMullin super PAC called Put Utah First. It has spent $5.1 million throughout 2022, including $3 million from Oct. 1 to Oct. 19.

The group, according to a report from The Associated Press, has received most of its funding from Blake Murray, the former CEO of the financial services technology company Divvy. Murray is among a number of Utah technology leaders and venture capitalists supporting McMullin and co-hosting a fundraiser Tuesday with former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams. The group also received $250,000 from American Bridge’s political action committee. American Bridge has spent $45 million nationwide on the midterm elections and is running ads on abortion in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Put Utah First got an additional $100,000 from the Republican Accountability PAC, which is also running ads against Senate candidates, including Herschel Walker in Georgia and JD Vance in Ohio.

Put Utah First also has received $700,000 in total from members of the Cumming family, which owns POWDR, one of the Rockies’ largest ski resort operators. POWDR’s founder and chairman John Cumming; his wife, Kristi; his mother, Annette; and his brother, David, are longtime Democratic donors and this cycle have also contributed to Planned Parenthood’s political action committee, the Arizona Democratic Party and Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly.


The group’s ads target Lee over votes against spending bills that featured moves to fund benefits for veterans and are set to ominous music. While not mentioning their own source of funds, the Put Utah First ads blast him for taking campaign contributions from special interest groups.

McMullin, who received an endorsement from the Utah Democratic Party in April, attempted to portray himself as the moderate candidate in the race during an interview with Fox News on Monday. Noting that the Biden administration “certainly has responsibility for the track we’re on and for inflation and so many other problems that we’re facing,” McMullin said during the interview that he would not caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected.

The campaign website for McMullin, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, states that America’s “democratic republic is at risk” and that “division, extremism and conspiracy promoted by dishonorable politicians now dominate our politics and create dysfunction, chaos and instability in our country.”

Independent expenditure groups are also supporting Republican Senate candidates throughout the country as they defend Lee and invest in ads and mailers against McMullin, including the Koch Network-backed Americans for Prosperity, the Consumer Technology Association, Liberty Champions PAC and Crypto Freedom, a pro-Bitcoin PAC affiliated with Club for Growth.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin shake hands following their televised debate, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Orem, Utah.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin shake hands following their televised debate, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Orem, Utah.
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)


The conservative Club for Growth Action PAC had spent more than $3.7 million to oppose McMullin as of Oct. 19 and said last week that its total spending had grown to more than $8 million.

Earlier this month, Fox News reported that McMullin’s campaign has paid over $1.6 million to Democratic firms and uses the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue, despite running as an independent. The report also showed that McMullin has neglected to pay back over $600,000 in debts incurred during his failed campaign.

Fox News’ Jessica Chasmar and The Associated Press contributed to this article.