Rolly: Utah GOP insiders call a rushed meeting to consider a $400K bailout, but party boss says it’s not legit

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Paul Rolly.

Havoc within the Utah Republican Party seems to be the new normal with the latest dust-up centered on whether a small group of insiders is attempting a coup against the GOP chairman or instead has found a knight to save the party from itself.

A special Central Committee meeting has been scheduled for Saturday at the offices of Entrata in Lehi, where that company’s CEO, David Bateman, will propose to pay off the party’s $400,000 debt, mostly incurred because of the GOP’s lawsuit against the state’s new hybrid party nominating system.

Party Chairman Rob Anderson and Vice Chairwoman Joni Crane were not consulted about the special meeting and will not be able to attend because of out-of-town commitments.

Anderson, in consultation with party attorneys, posted on social media his view that the special meeting is not legitimate and violates party bylaws.

Those who called the meeting, in return, have told the chairman, in so many words, to go pound sand.

Earlier, Central Committee members were notified through emails from the party’s secretary, Lisa Shepherd, who certified that 51 of them had voted for the special meeting, which is more than the 25 percent of the 180-strong body required for such a move.

Normally, party officials say, once a quarter of the committee approves a special meeting, the chairman is notified. That leader then officially calls the meeting.

Skeptics on Republican social media sites have questioned the motives behind Saturday’s gathering and have asked why any business planned for it couldn’t be done at the regularly scheduled meeting in January, when attendance would likely be much higher.

The controversy was seeded during November’s meeting, when members were poised to censure Anderson for determining at an earlier executive committee meeting that the lawsuit would be terminated because the party couldn’t continue piling up debt.

Instead, a motion was approved to appoint a five-member committee to oversee the financing for the lawsuit, which is awaiting an appeals court decision, and free Anderson to focus on other duties, such as fundraising, candidate recruitment and party organization.

That group met with Bateman, who agreed to a contractual arrangement in which he would pay off the GOP’s debts.

But that has raised questions about the legality of one donor contributing that much money to a political party.

The controversy, as always, has on one side the party purists who have passionately tried to preserve the traditional nominating system of delegates chosen from their neighborhood caucuses voting for the party nominees at the GOP convention. If candidates earn 60 percent of the delegate tally, they automatically become the nominees.

On the other side are many Republican elected officials and establishment figures who — in the wake of the Count My Vote initiative — approved SB54 in 2014 to allow multiple paths to the primary ballot: the caucus-convention system, signature gathering or both methods.

After Anderson and Bateman communicated about terms of a pact in which Bateman would pay off the debt, Anderson balked at a section in which the business executive would have control over decisions made about the lawsuit.

Anderson crossed out the part that said “neither the GOP nor any of its officers, committees or employees shall, except upon the written approval of Dave Bateman, move to dismiss any part of the litigation or act in any way to delay or impede, circumvent or limit the litigation or other efforts to repeal and/or overturn SB54.”

Anderson replaced that language with the following: “The Utah GOP will continue to pursue the litigation in a reasonable manner and consult with Mr. Bateman throughout the litigation.”

That language proved unacceptable to Bateman, and he fired back on his Facebook page with skepticism about Anderson’s legitimacy as party boss.

“When I read that GOP Chairman Rob Anderson was planning to drop the SB54 lawsuit due to funding problems, I stepped forward and offered to pay all the ongoing legal expenses,” Bateman wrote. “ … I subsequently learned the party was drowning in $400,000 of debt, so I offered to eliminate it. I heard the party was struggling to find donors, so I offered to personally help Rob Anderson fundraise; I have found several significant donors who said they would step forward.

“The only significant items I asked in return was for Chairman Anderson to simply honor the directive already largely provided by the [state Central Committee]: (1) don’t drop the lawsuit if it’s funded externally, and (2) empower (don’t impede or overrule) the committee tasked to oversee the lawsuit. At the last minute, to my complete surprise, Rob Anderson has rejected my offer. In fact, he proposed that after I write this huge check and pledge to cover future expenses, he can unilaterally drop the lawsuit, and then sue me personally for any errors made by party counsel throughout the SB54 litigation,” Bateman continued.

“I took Chairman Anderson at his word that rescission of the SB54 lawsuit was truly caused by funding problems. I spent countless hours acting in good faith with the [state Central Committee’s] honorable, legal-defense committee to work out a no-brainer solution, but I was deceived by the chairman. I now know that Rob Anderson’s desire to drop the lawsuit has nothing to do with the GOP’s burgeoning debt. Rather, his actions lend immense credibility to those who suspect he’s colluding with Count My Vote to bankrupt the party, undermine the caucus system, and silence the [state Central Committee].”

Despite Anderson’s charge that Saturday’s meeting is not legitimate, Bateman and Shepherd both said the gathering will go ahead, and the businessman still will make his offer to pay off the GOP’s debt, with or without the party chairman’s consent.

For his part, Anderson reiterated that the proposed meeting is invalid. “The only people who can enter into a contract is the chair or vice chair,” he said. “Whatever they do going forward is pointless.”

One big happy family, the Utah GOP ain’t.