Two people close to Jon Huntsman this morning rejected speculation from a liberal blog that the former candidate's wealthy father is the source of unsubstantiated claims that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid first made the accusation last month, attributing it to an anonymous source who had invested in Bain. In a widely-circulated blog post yesterday, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulistas suggested that the man behind the claim could be Jon Huntsman Sr., a Utah philanthropist and industrialist who has donated to Reid's campaign in the past, has business contacts in the Bain world, and whose son bitterly fought Romney in the Republican primaries earlier this year. It's unclear whether Huntsman Sr. himself has invested in Bain, but the venture capital firm did buy a $600 million equity stake in a Huntsman-owned chemical company in 2001.
"Sure, the evidence is circumstantial, but still pretty solid, wouldn't you say?" Moulistas wrote.
But one Huntsman family member, reached for comment from BuzzFeed, expressed amusement at the notion that the conservative family patriarch would turn so sharply against Romney.
"Honestly, we have no idea who Reid's source is," said the family member.
Chuck Warren, a Salt Lake Republican strategist who endorsed Romney in the primary and has fundraised for the younger Huntsman's gubernatorial bid, dismissed the speculation as "ridiculous."
"I mean, people who believe this are the same people who espouse a theory that Big Foot is making crop circles with his space ship," said Warren, whose firm is Silver Bullet. "Besides the obvious fact that Mr. Huntsman is not Gov. Romney's accountant... he is simply a more honorable man than that. He doesn't work in the shadows, and because you donate $9,600 to someone, probably less than .0001% of what Harry Reid collected that cycle, doesn't make them BFFs."
Another Utah powerbroker who endorsed Huntsman in the primaries was similarly incredulous.
"Personally I would REALLY doubt [Huntsman Sr.] is behind this — Harry has tons of other dubious source possibility," the source e-mailed. "And [Huntsman Sr.] is behind Mitt now, too."
Indeed, Huntsman Sr. endorsed Romney in 2008 and donated heavily to his campaign effort. While his own son's efforts kept him from backing Romney this time around — causing some hostility between the two camps —many in Utah's political class say the elder Huntsman remains a strong admirer of Romney's, and would have little incentive to spread damaging rumors about the GOP nominee.
"I don't know if Huntsman likes to go bowling with Romney, but I can't imagine he doesn't want a new president," said Warren, adding, "This is just a stupid theory and people who believe it are wearing aluminum foil around their heads. Hell, I thought Republicans had the corner on aluminum foil market. Apparently I was wrong."
This article has been updated to add another source.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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