Paul Rolly: Taking Utah County’s wackiness to a new level

By PAUL ROLLY

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: April 18, 2014 10:45AM
Updated: April 18, 2014 07:18AM
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Paul Rolly

I’ve always maintained Utah County is a wacky place for politics.

It just got wackier.

As reported last week, Republican delegates in northern Utah County’s House District 57 received a letter earlier this month purportedly from the Utah chapter of the Foundation for Government Accountability that assessed the three GOP candidates for that seat.

It had high praise for the incumbent, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, and deep criticism for the two Republican challengers, former Rep. Holly Richardson and John Stevens.

The unsigned letter even implied Stevens had misrepresented his business experience.

The letter, written on the foundation’s letterhead and using its logo, was bogus. The Florida-based foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute, does not have a Utah chapter. It has no state chapters.

In a formal complaint sent to the Utah lieutenant governor’s office, the foundation’s general counsel, Jonathan Bechtle, noted the group takes positions on issues but does not endorse candidates. To do so would jeopardize its 501(c)3 status.

“This blatantly false representation is, at best, a clumsy attempt to steal our credibility in order to affect the outcome of the election in District 57,” Bechtle wrote, “and, at worst, a direct attempt to undermine our tax status with the Internal Revenue Service.”

Here’s where the story jumps from being simply bizarre to Utah County-level bizarreness.

After the state received the foundation’s complaint, the anonymous perpetrator wrote an anonymous apology letter to the foundation and the lieutenant governor‘s office.

“I clearly crossed the line and am so deeply sorry for hurting you all,” Mr. or Ms. Anonymous wrote. “I have never and will never do anything like this again. I hope you can forgive me and maybe you would consider not pursuing charges against me.”

Mr./Ms. Anonymous then wrote an apology to the delegates who received the first letter. He/she expressed regret about hurting the foundation’s reputation. Interestingly, the letter did not express regret for harming the reputations of Richardson and Stevens.

“I’m asking for your forgiveness,” the writer said, leaving delegates to wonder just whom they are supposed to forgive. “I got swept up in the ugliness of politics and for that I am sorry.”

Here’s the kicker: Delegates received that letter in their mailboxes Saturday afternoon — after they had voted at the convention and handed Greene the party nomination with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

The writer may be asking for compassion, but Stevens is in no mood to forgive.

“This has damaged me personally,” he said. “It has hurt my reputation, my business and my family. It’s the worst slander piece I have seen.”

He said if the letter writer is identified, he would consider suing him/her.

He also said the bogus letter has caused a rift among the candidates that may never heal.

Richardson said she erred by not reacting more strongly when the first letter went to delegates. “It was not signed by anybody. It quoted anonymous sources. I just didn’t think the delegates would take it seriously. But I was wrong.”

Utah elections director Mark Thomas said the letter’s misrepresentations could result in misdemeanor charges against the perpetrator. But, at this point, there is no evidence to indicate who sent the letter.

Greene did not respond to my voice message, text or email about the issue. But he told Provo’s Daily Herald that he had checked with his aides and found no one associated with his campaign knew anything about the letter. He also expressed disappointment at such political tactics.

prolly@sltrib.com