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Paul Rolly: Parody website pretends to be pro-Count My Vote

Published January 27, 2014 9:58 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ah, those sneaky devils are at it again.

Political stratagems in recent years have been littered with attack ads and direct mailers — often from made-up political action committees with anonymous donors — that cast aspersions on a candidate or a cause without accountability.

A new website wants to sway you against the Count My Vote ballot petition, which is designed to change Utah's candidate-nominating system. While pretending to be a Count My Vote information center, the site instead displays messages designed to discourage support for the ballot initiative that would allow for direct primaries.

The message on the home page says: "Utah's caucus system doesn't favor the wealthy. We intend to fix that." Another quote: "No one should be able to talk to politicians for less than $10,000 a plate." Yet another says: "We shouldn't have to meet with you people. Do you have any idea how exhausting it is listening to citizen concerns?"

The "About Us" Page contains brief bios of leading personalities behind the Count My Vote effort.

For former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, it says, "When [he] is not profiting from the health care exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, he enjoys spending his time making sure radicals like Senator Mike Lee are never elected again."

For Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers: "Enjoys commenting on the political news of the day and gazing into the eyes of his larger-than-life portrait hanging in the institute."

For LaVarr Webb, Utah Policy publisher and an Exoro Group partner: "Exoro Group was paid $86,250 for their work in Orrin Hatch's latest re-election efforts. Exoro made $25,705 from Bob Bennett's 2010 campaign and would have made much more if the caucus system wouldn't have existed."

The website was created by Michael Jolley, the social media director for the Utah County Republican Party.

He says he did it on his own, with no collaboration from any official groups linked to the party. And, he says, he did it for fun.

Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, the organization formed to oppose Count My Vote, has raised about $16,000 under its fundraising arm, Utah First Political Issues Committee, compared to Count My Vote's nearly $1 million under its fundraising arm, Alliance for Good Government.

So perhaps, with a revenue gap that great, the anti-Count My Vote effort needs to be creative.

Most of the anti-Count My Vote money has come from county Republican parties — $5,000 from Iron County, $5,000 from Davis County, $1,500 from Wasatch County and $1,000 from Weber County.

The Utah County Republican Party sold "Don't Sign Their Petition" lawn signs at its Central Committee meeting Saturday. The sign advertises the neighborhoodelections.org website, which is the real anti-Count My Vote site.

The real Count My Vote website is "countmyvoteutah.org."

Jolley says his brainchild may have backfired, to some degree. About 20 posts on the site ask where to sign the petition.

The Count My Vote advocates have taken it all with good humor.

"The parody website clearly doesn't represent Count My Vote's broad, bipartisan nature, but it really is quite funny," said Rich McKeown, Count My Vote executive chair and a close confidant of Leavitt.

prolly@sltrib.com