Paul Rolly: With so many dirty hands, can Utah clean up dirty campaigns?
When investigators probing the activities of former Utah Attorney General John Swallow revealed to a House committee the dark money tactics of Swallow political consultant Jason Powers, they were shocked shocked!
But many of the legislators who will be looking to reform such misleading attacks have dirty hands themselves. Powers' way of campaigning, using phony political-action committees with anonymous donors to target his clients' opponents, has been known for years in Republican circles.
His services have been purchased by numerous elected officials, including Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee.
An analysis by the Utah Democratic Party found that, since 2006, Utah GOP candidates and organizations contracted nearly $3 million in direct consulting and campaign services from Powers.
Hatch has paid him more than $1 million during that seven-year period. Rep. Carl Wimmer, who ran for Congress in 2012, has paid him $469,296. Swallow and his mentor and attorney general predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, dished out a combined half-million dollars.
The committee members said they were stunned by revelations that Powers set up a nonprofit PAC, the Proper Role of Government Education Association, to raise money from anonymous donors to systematically destroy the reputation of then-Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, accusing him in direct mailings and robo calls of trying to pass Obamacare-type legislation in Utah, of supporting cyberbullying, and of trying to let President Barack Obama rewrite the Constitution.
These accusations were misleading, taken out of context and mostly paid for, investigators found, by payday lenders because Daw sponsored legislation to rein in that industry's predatory practices.
The campaigns that Powers ran against Daw and former Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City, were so offensive that Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, paid for a YouTube video exposing the dishonesty of the phony PAC tactics and calling for campaign reforms.
But Niederhauser employed Powers in 2006 to do similar dirty tricks against his Senate opponent, Democrat Trisha Beck. Niederhauser, according to the Democrats' analysis, has paid Powers $180,710 for campaign consulting through the years.
Other Powers clients include State Auditor John Dougall; Sens. Curt Bramble, John Valentine, Aaron Osmond, Evan Vickers; Reps. Derek Brown, Steve Eliason and Jon Stanard; former Rep. David Hinkins and legislative candidate Anne-Marie Lampropoulos, whose unsuccessful campaign sent several misleading fliers to homes that accused Rep. Carol Spackman Moss of various misdeeds.
So while some legislators are calling for reforms to stop such tactics, many legislators have supported and funded a political culture that enables them.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, sponsored legislation in the past session that requires corporate-funded nonprofit PACs to disclose their donors. For his efforts, a Republican candidate has been recruited to run against him this year and reportedly is being backed by out-of-state organizations.