A month after the January 6 uprising, Utah Senator Mike Lee criticized House Democrats for what he called a mischaracterization of a random phone call to Senator Tommy Tuberville that then-President Donald Trump made on Lee’s cell phone while the president’s supporters were passing the U.S. Capitol.
The Republican senator temporarily derailed impeachment hearings by publicly protesting statements by the House impeachment prosecutor, a Democrat, who accused Trump of fomenting the insurgency. The Democrat’s comments were removed from the committee record on Jan. 6 — as Lee requested — and the hearing continued.
The following day, Lee and several other senators — the president’s impeachment jurors who would ultimately acquit the twice-impeached president — met with Trump’s lawyers. Local and national media reported on the encounter moments later.
And on the same day, February 11, 2021, according to Federal Election Commission records, Lee received a $2,500 contribution to his campaign fund from one of his most prolific supporters — a California man named Simon Goe.
Goe, who owns a brine shrimp company in Snowville, has donated millions of dollars from his fortune to GOP politicians, with most of those contributions occurring since Trump rose to fame and power in the party.
The out-of-state donor with an outsized wallet remains largely out of the public eye — an Internet search turned up no photos of the multi-company executive, and he has declined repeated requests for comment. But his political contributions, especially in Utah, speak volumes.
Who is Simon Goe?
Snowville, a town of fewer than 200 people and tucked between mountain passes on I-84 between Salt Lake City and Boise, is quiet beyond the hum of the freeway and the occasional mooing of cows. But the seemingly unassuming stop before the Idaho border is more than just a watering hole for travelers — it’s the source of huge amounts of money that are fed to politicians in Utah and across the country.
Just beyond City Hall is a cluster of red-roofed buildings where workers process shrimp eggs harvested from the Great Salt Lake. The workers are employed by Ocean Star International, a nearly four-decade-old company owned by Seoul-Sun Goe, which is Simon.
“Of all the (shrimp) species out there, those from the Great Salt Lake are the most abundant, highly pigmented and rich in protein,” according to Ocean Star International’s website. According to the company, Utah’s most famous lake is the only commercial source of brine shrimp eggs in the country.
Although Goe built his family home—referred to by locals as “the mansion”—within the wrought iron fence surrounding the main part of the company’s property, the Chinese immigrant’s main residence is in the Bay Area of California. And his business extends beyond I-84 — Goe also owns a pharmaceutical company based in Beijing that is registered in Utah as Goegoe Pharmaceutical Company.
A little-known businessman whose international fortune began selling farm-raised fish feed from a town that calls itself “Utah’s Outback,” he has given away millions of dollars to conservative politicians in recent years and has a particular interest in politics. of the Beehive State.
Where does Goe’s money go?
Goe and his wife, who is referred to as both Nadejda and Nadja in public records and is listed as “domestic,” have participated in political campaigns on and off since the mid-1990s.
But after a hiatus of more than a decade from contributing to political causes, according to FEC reports, their contributions increased in 2015 as Republicans prepared for next year’s election.
Prior to 2015, Goe’s donations do not appear to have exceeded $15,000, with the last in 2003. His largest donation was a $4,000 check to the Republican National Committee in 1995, a year before GOP candidate Bob Dole and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot. they were defeated by then-President Bill Clinton.
Twenty years later, Goe gave $34,000 to joint fundraising committees in support of the late Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and another $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Goe gave hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next four years.
But when the 2020 election cycle rolled around, the businessman’s contributions multiplied again, totaling more than $1.5 million. And Brett Kappel — a Washington, D.C. campaign finance lawyer who has represented politicians, political action committees and super PACs across the political spectrum — took notice when he came across one of Goe’s larger donations.
“I’m like, wow, I’ve never heard of this guy. And because I’ve read so much of this stuff, I’m familiar with the names of a lot of the major donors,” Kappel said. “Then I looked up the FEC website and found that his usual contribution is $250 or $500. And then suddenly it jumps to $100,000. This is unusual. People don’t usually do that… unless you have a reason — something you want to do and you want people to be elected to do it.”
Goe has not responded to numerous requests for an interview over the past several months, starting in July.
The Salt Lake Tribune left voicemails with Salt Shrimp, sent him emails and relayed messages to him through the company’s secretary and vice president, both of whom recently said he was overseas in Asia. Reporters also traveled to Snowville and knocked twice on the door of a building labeled “office”. Although there were cars parked outside, no one answered.
Ocean Star International Vice President Mark Lamon said no one at the company could comment on its political donations because Goe, although semi-retired, is the owner.
The international mogul and his wife gave over a quarter of a million dollars to former President Donald Trump and continued to donate to him after he lost the 2020 presidential election and in the days following the January 6 uprising at the US Capitol.
Other Republican politicians and organizations across the country also benefited from the couple’s money. Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue received more than $50,000 from the husband-and-wife pair over two 2020 U.S. Senate races in Georgia that carried over to 2021.
However, most of the California couple’s contributions are aimed at influencing the election results in Utah.
Between 2015 and 2017, Goes dal Hatch received nearly $70,000. While Hatch’s replacement, Sen. Mitt Romney, does not appear to have received any family money, his Senate counterpart may be the politician who has benefited the most from their wealth.
Ocean Star International was one of the lead sponsors of a super PAC formed to support Sen. Mike Lee during the last election cycle as he ran in his most competitive — and expensive — general election to date. Lee’s re-election was arguably Utah’s richest Senate campaign in history.
Liberty Champions, the super PAC responsible for mailings and text messages that labeled Lee’s challenger, conservative independent candidate Evan McMullin, “dead” and a “puppet of the Republican-hating radical left,” received $300,000 from Ocean Star International and $10,000 outside. out of Goe’s own pocket. This super PAC shares a treasurer and PO Box with Lee’s main campaign committee and his PAC leadership, and has paid for the services of a fundraising consulting firm of which Lee is listed as a client.
According to FEC filings, Lee’s campaign and leadership PAC received another more than $50,000 in support from Goes. A spokeswoman for Lee’s office, which has also received consulting fees from the campaign, said it would be best to direct questions about the contributions to the senator’s campaign, and a campaign spokeswoman said she did not have a statement immediately available.
In statewide elections, Goe’s top beneficiaries include former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Attorney General Sean Reyes, who accepted donations of $100,000 and $55,000 from the businessman.
A spokesman for Huntsman’s 2020 gubernatorial campaign told The Tribune that the former governor was traveling and was unable to be reached to answer questions about the post.
In a phone call with The Tribune, Alan Crooks, Reyes’ campaign spokesman, said the attorney general has a relationship with Goe similar to those he has with other businessmen around the state, and dismissed claims that Goe is not widely known. in Utah.
“He’s known in business circles and I think in political circles,” Crooks said. “But I mean, he’s a successful person in our community, so he’s pretty well known.
But the head of the state GOP said he had never heard of Goe.
“I can honestly say I have never met (Goea) nor do I know who he is,” Carson Jorgensen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, told The Tribune in an email.
More to the man
In the years since Goe opened Ocean Star International for business in the 1980s, he has been working to grow his empire – both in the rural town named after the pioneering prophet and around the world.
He slowly bought up more and more of Snowville, becoming the largest landowner in the town. The property includes a barn that houses exotic animals such as a camel and zebra, and sprawling vineyards that Goe planted with the desire to open a winery (Ocean Star International also does business as Purple Sky Winery, according to Utah business records).
“The place he bought was kind of a run-down place, he bought it and then cleaned it up. He bought the lot next door, cleared it, built a big mansion and kept buying,” said Jackie Carter, sitting at a table at Mollie’s Cafe — a fresh-baked, mid-century eatery with a neon sign exterior — that she runs.
Businesses like Goe’s, Carter noted, keep small towns like Snowville alive. Carter has had to sell the restaurant and cut back its hours in the past few years to stay open.
“(Ocean Star International) kept a lot of people in town visiting other businesses, buying things,” Carter explained.
Goe’s involvement in Utah politics also made the campaigns more competitive. In Huntsman’s case, for example, Ocean Star International decided to collect the largest contribution he received in 2020 when contributions from his mother are excluded. Huntsman was close behind Gov. Spencer Cox in the Republican primary.
While much of Californians’ multimillion-dollar contributions go to national political organizations, those that end up in the accounts of Utah politicians are among the largest. And without intervention from Californians, Utah candidates — who typically receive little outside financial attention because races in the crimson state are often considered a foregone conclusion — would have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Editor’s note • Jon Huntsman Jr. is the brother of Paul Huntsman, who is chairman of The Salt Lake Tribune.
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