In a letter sent by overnight mail Tuesday, Salt Lake City attorney Thomas Thompson requested the IRS undertake a formal investigation of Boys Ranch, a private, nonprofit school for troubled youth in West Jordan.
Thompson's client, a 54-year-old gay man opposed to a constitutional amendment toughening Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, requested anonymity, saying he feared retribution. Buttars, a Republican, sponsored the amendment in the Legislature and is a leader of the campaign to pass it in the Nov. 2 election.
A sworn statement included with the complaint claims boxes of Buttars' Senate campaign brochures were "maintained" in his Boys Ranch office. It also alleges the school's telephones were used for "campaign purposes."
Buttars, who will retire Thursday after 15 years as Boys Ranch director, acknowledged having campaign materials delivered to the school and talking to constituents and campaign supporters on office phones.
"Yeah, guilty," Buttars said in a telephone interview Friday.
"I didn't know that was against the law. If it is, they're going to have to tell me because I'm not aware of it," said Buttars. "I thought what was wrong was to use Boys Ranch to promote a candidacy of some type. I don't do that."
The senator suggested he is the target of a smear campaign.
"If that's the best shot that my enemies can get at me, I guess I'm pretty good," said Buttars.
While the senator acknowledged having campaign literature shipped to Boys Ranch, he said he took it home the same day.
A shipping document obtained by the IRS complainant said Midway Printing sent 10,000 Buttars brochures to Boys Ranch events and to promotion director John Stohlton at the West Jordan campus in March.
Stohlton "works for me and he has a friend at Midway Printing, and I've used him to print," said Buttars. "That's nothing to do with the Boys Ranch. I pay for those brochures."
Buttars' campaign finance report indicates he paid $2,115 for the brochures March 22. But the affidavit included with the complaint said the unnamed eyewitness saw the boxes of campaign brochures in Buttars' office Sept. 16. Photos purporting to document the campaign materials in the office were attached to the IRS complaint.
"I think I'll file against him for trespassing," said Buttars, after being told the affidavit details how the witness used a pretext of enrolling a boy in the school to inspect the campus for evidence of campaign activities.
IRS spokesman David Stell said it is illegal to confirm an investigation or even whether a formal complaint has been received.
"Any time that anyone provides information about noncompliance with the tax law, every one of those is evaluated. Whether or not it goes forward depends on the facts and circumstances," said Stell.
Stell referred The Tribune to IRS advisories, which say charitable, tax-exempt groups "cannot endorse any candidates, make donations to their campaigns, engage in fund raising, distribute statements or become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate."
Diane Hartz Warsoff, executive director of the Utah Non-profits Association, said nonprofit groups can campaign or lobby on behalf of legislative or ballot issues, including constitutional amendments. But they may not promote candidates.
"If it's issue based, it's OK," said Warsoff. "Candidates are a different thing."
"Making phone calls on company time - that's a hard one. I wouldn't have an answer. That's one that would probably have to be decided in court."
Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom this week declined to prosecute Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson for illegally using city e-mail and telephones for political campaign purposes. The state law prohibiting such materials contains no penalties, Yocom said.
The IRS tax laws are a different creature, subjecting a violator to possible loss of its tax exemption. In cases of "flagrant" violation, the IRS may immediately levy taxes and seek an injunction against further political activities.