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Rolly: Utah political 'reporter' wears more than one hat

Published July 24, 2012 9:55 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Rep. Jim Matheson's press secretary received a call from a reporter asking about Matheson's votes on health care reform, she quickly sensed it wasn't the kind of interview she normally gets from the press.

"It became pretty evident the so-called reporter was looking for some kind of 'gotcha' quote," said press secretary Alyson Heyrend. "It was confrontational and it seemed the reporter had his own preconceived notion."

The reporter introduced himself as "Aaron from American VoterMagazine."

He didn't mention his last name, and he says she didn't ask. But Heyrend looked at the caller ID which revealed the caller was Aaron Browning. She also told the reporter she had never heard of American Voter Magazine. He said it was brand new and would be publishing its first edition in August.

After the call, Heyrend ran a Google search for Browning, whose name seemed vaguely familiar to her.

Aaron Browning was the campaign manager for Morgan Philpot's gubernatorial campaign this year. Philpot was defeated in the Republican State Convention in April and now, it turns out, is partners with Browning in the publication of the new magazine. Browning also worked on Philpot's 2010 congressional campaign against Matheson.

Browning, a political consultant based in Lehi, also began the unofficial Republican Party Facebook page after State GOP Chairman Thomas Wright took over control of the official party Facebook page, limiting it mostly to official announcements after complaints the comment board had become uncivil.

Browning told me part of the new magazine's mission is to hold officeholders accountable for their votes, adding, "we'll be pulling the curtain off the wizard."

He said he asked about inconsistencies in Matheson's voting record on health care, but Heyrend was more interested in the credibility of his magazine than answering the question.

Heyrend said the questions took on the tone of the partisan rhetoric Republicans have used against Matheson, which is why she became suspicious.

Deja vu all over again? Matheson has seen the political-consultant-playing-journalists game before.

In Matheson's first race for the congressional seat in 2000, his Republican opponent was Derek Smith.

About a month before the election, a south Salt Lake Valley community newspaper ran a "news" story that was unabashedly favorable to Smith, quoting supporters about how great he would be for the community with virtually no corresponding comments about Matheson.

The article was written by "JoAnna Groves," according to the byline. But it turns out that was a pseudonym. JoAnna Groves was really Laurie Sullivan Maddox, the paid full-time communications director for the Smith campaign.

Online popularity contest: Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor candidate Ben McAdams not only has his own Facebook page, he has a "Republicans for Ben" page.

And his campaign was more than happy to point out Monday that McAdams' "Republicans for Ben" page had 128 "likes," double the amount of likes on Republican opponent Mark Crockett's campaign Facebook page.

prolly@sltrib.com