Shurtleff tried to stifle news coverage
Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whose questionable connections to multi-level marketing and pay-day lending firms have become a daily soap opera in the news, tried mightily to control coverage of his dealings during his 12-year stint as the AG.
Shurtleff, who flirted with the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in 2010, was one of the most aggressive politicians in memory when it came to trying either to intimidate or punish reporters he felt covered his office unfairly.
Shurtleff and his press officer visited The Salt Lake Tribune on several occasions to complain to the editor about the coverage of certain reporters, especially when the stories detailed campaign contributions he received from corporations either under investigation or at least suspicion.
He cut off communications with Salt Lake City Weekly because of aggressive coverage by that publication of his relationship with multi-level marketing and pay-day lending companies.
He once refused to talk to me for a time because I had described him as a former voucher supporter during the time in 2007 that petitioners successfully pushed for a referendum to repeal the Legislature's law giving tuition tax credits to parents who enrolled their children in private schools.
He took umbrage at being called a voucher supporter after it had been reported that he had accepted hefty campaign contributions from Overstock.com, the most visible supporter of vouchers in Utah, and had a relationship with another voucher supporter, Rick Koerber, who had been indicted by the U.S Attorney's Office on fraud-related charges.
That indictment came after Utah Commerce Department Director Francine Giani became frustrated with Shurtleff's failure to file state charges against Koerber so she turned her department's investigative findings over to the feds.
At the time of the referendum petition drive, Shurtleff removed the title of assistant attorney general from two lawyers for the State Department of Education because they disagreed with his legal assessment that the petition itself was not valid. The Utah Supreme Court eventually agreed with the two blackballed attorneys.
But Shurtleff's rebuff of me was mild compared to his rage against other reporters. He tried to go over the head of Tribune reporters who wrote about contributions to his campaign from a law firm he had awarded a state contract and which had hired his daughter.
He objected to stories about his hyping of Usana Health Sciences on a YouTube video and writing a letter promoting the educational software firm, Digital Bridge. The company, which had given Shurtleff a $10,000 campaign donation, later filed for bankruptcy after signing a state contract, stiffing the State Office of Education for about $3 million.
He reacted by refusing to talk to certain reporters when they sought routine information about investigations or other stories involving the AG's office.
He harbored particular ire for City Weekly, which over the years has published several investigative pieces detailing campaign contributions to Shurtleff from the types of companies most vulnerable to regulatory scrutiny, like multi-level marketing firms and pay-day lenders.
He even complained to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about then U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, claiming Tolman was hogging most of the high-profile cases against Internet child predators and not giving Shurtleff enough credit for prosecutions resulting from a joint task force between the two offices.
Shurtleff fought for more than a year to keep the letter secret, spending thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money on the effort.