State Rep. Brad Daw has found himself squarely in the crosshairs of a prominent Utah political consultant, who has orchestrated a half-dozen mailers attacking the Utah County legislator.
But where Jason Powers, one of the state’s leading political operatives, came up with the money remains a complete mystery. He’s funneled the cash through a non-profit he created, meaning he doesn’t have to disclose donors.
"If somebody wants to attack my record or come after me, that’s fine, but let’s be clear about who it is," said Daw, R-Orem. "The whole point about disclosure is to not have this shell game going on."
The ads hitting Daw are being sent out by the Proper Role of Government Defense Fund, a state political action committee Powers said he established to teach people about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
After the first ad hit Daw at the end of the legislative session, angry lawmakers changed the law, requiring PACs to disclose their donors every 30 days.
But according to the Proper Role of Government Defense Fund’s filing, all of the donations to the PAC, $11,500 in all, came from another organization — the Proper Role of Government Education Association, a 501(c)(4), a type of non-profit that Powers filed with the Internal Revenue Service. As a result, the donors to the group are not disclosed.
In the presidential campaign, Super PACs supporting the candidates often have an affiliated 501(c)(4) that channel contributions to the PAC because they don’t have the same reporting requirements.
But Daw’s race appears to be the first time that the non-profit entities have played a role in state-level races in Utah.
"It’s legal, but it’s very, very unethical," Daw said.
Powers says he’s not trying to conceal donors. "We share what is required by law," said Powers, who contends there’s no difference between his organization and corporations or other associations that don’t disclose donors and have given money to Daw.
Daw said Powers’ group has sent out six different mailers targeting him. Four have focused on a health care bill Daw introduced in 2007, comparing the bill to "Obamacare."
The bill, which didn’t survive its first House hearing, would have required Utahns to buy catastrophic health insurance, but Daw said it was a precaution because, at the time, Gov. Jon Huntsman was floating the idea of a state-level insurance mandate.
The other two mailers hit Daw for sponsoring a bill calling for a constitutional convention to try to get states to adopt a balanced budget amendment.
"It’s putting at risk some of the important elements of our current good government right now and putting the whole Constitution at risk," Powers said. "There’s a safe method to go about and get a national balanced budget amendment through the normal amendment process."
The group isn’t solely focused on Daw, Powers said. It organized meetings to train people how to get involved in the caucuses and in the coming months is trying to register people to vote by mail. It also has hired someone to give seminars around the state on how to monitor for voter fraud.
The Proper Role of Government Education Association has also made contributions to the Proper Role of Government Action Fund, a federal political action committee, which Powers said put out pro-Mitt Romney information and encouraged people to attend their caucuses.
Daw said he believes Powers is working for the payday lending industry because Daw sought to impose new reporting requirements on the industry last session. If voters knew that’s where the money was coming from, it would undermine their arguments.
Powers insists that is not the case.
"This is my organization. I make the decisions. Nobody else does, and I get donations from all over," Powers said. "This is an attempt by Brad Daw to take the focus off of his record of supporting government health care and risky constitutional amendments."
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