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Lawmakers say Lee acted as lobbyist

Published June 4, 2010 9:35 am

Politics • He says state official told him he did not need to register.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two state senators say unequivocally that Mike Lee lobbied lawmakers on behalf of 1-800-Contacts last year, a revelation that might cause problems for the now-U.S. Senate challenger who never registered with the state as a lobbyist.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, who favored the Draper-based company's bill, said he was "100 percent" sure Lee lobbied on behalf of the measure during the 2009 session on more than one occasion.

"He actually was a pretty good lobbyist; he had some effectiveness," said Urquhart, R-St. George, who backed Sen. Bob Bennett in the Republican State Convention battle and has not endorsed either of the two GOP primary candidates. "I was quite surprised to learn ­— I just learned a couple weeks ago — that he never registered."

Lee listed 1-800-Contacts as one of his clients at his law firm in his personal financial disclosure for last year.

State law defines a lobbyist as someone "communicating with a public official for the purpose of influencing the passage, defeat, amendment or postponement of legislative or executive action."

That description, state Sen. Dan Liljenquist says, matches the action he saw during the 2009 session; Liljenquist, who opposed the 1-800-Contacts bill, is also neutral in the U.S. Senate race.

"If you go off of your description, I was being persuaded to vote for the bill and I was not persuaded," Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, said Thursday after being read the law. "He came up, he advocated for a bill and he did a good job. … He met with several people over several days in the Senate lounge."

Mark Thomas, Lieutenant Governor's Office administrator, confirmed his office had received a complaint regarding the allegations and said it is being reviewed. State law allows for a $1,000 fine for each violation of the lobbyist act plus a fine of up to $5,000 for subsequent breaches.

Lee has made an issue during the campaign for Bennett's seat of opponent Tim Bridgewater's previous registration as a lobbyist for a foreign corporation; Bridgewater did register with Congress for two years on behalf of the Thai Frozen Food Association.

Lee's spokesman, Boyd Matheson, dismissed the accusations that Lee should have registered, noting that Lee met with then-state elections director Michael Cragun before the 2009 session and was informed that answering questions about the bill's constitutionality wouldn't trigger a need to register as a lobbyist.

"This is really nothing more than a last-minute attempt, two weeks before the [primary] election, by Bridgewater's henchman, Urquhart, to smear Mike over an action that he cleared with the Lieutenant Governor's Office a year ago and I think the timing is both suspect and a little unseemly," Matheson said. "I think the voters will see through it. I think it's really just a thinly veiled attempt to hide Bridgewater's own record of lobbying in D.C., which he did for foreign companies."

1-800-Contacts general counsel Joe Zeidner said Thursday that the company asked Lee about this issue and was assured that he had met with Cragun and didn't need to register because he only worked on behalf of the company to answer questions about the constitutionality of the measure.

Retired federal Judge Paul Cassell worked in the same capacity, Zeidner said. Cassell didn't register either as a lobbyist.

For his part, Bridgewater says that while he was registered to lobby Congress, he never did and only referred a consulting client to a D.C. firm. Bridgewater adds that Lee is mischaracterizing his previous work.

"I think Mike's attack piece, some parts of it are false, some parts of it are misleading and I don't want to get down in the gutter with dirty, negative attack politics," Bridgewater said. "I think voters deserve better than that and we're going to run a strong campaign focused on the issues."

The bill Lee purportedly lobbied for would have restricted using trademarked terms to pinpoint online ads through services like Google AdWords in Utah. It was defeated during the 2009 session.

tburr@sltrib.com

Primary election

Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater are vying for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. The winner will be decided in the June 22 runoff. The victor will advance to face Democrat Sam Granato in November's election.