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Mormon apostle violates church policy by donating to Utah school board candidate, acknowledges ‘oversight’

Elections • General authority acknowledges “oversight” after giving a relatively small sum to a school board candidate.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during the afternoon session of the 185th LDS General Conference Saturday April 4, 2015.

A high-ranking LDS Church leader has run afoul of his faith's policies on political neutrality by contributing to a candidate for state school board.

Campaign-disclosure records for candidate Richard Nelson show a $250 contribution on Oct. 17 from Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The relatively small donation does not violate any state election laws, and Christofferson is free as an individual to support and contribute to political campaigns.

But an internal church policy, updated in 2011, instructs full-time ecclesiastical leaders to avoid political involvement, including campaign donations.

"General authorities and general officers of the church and their spouses and other ecclesiastical leaders serving full-time should not personally participate in political campaigns," the policy states, "including promoting candidates, fundraising, speaking in behalf of or otherwise endorsing candidates, and making financial contributions."

In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, Christofferson acknowledged the violation of policy.

"In making this donation, my thought was to do something to applaud a friend's civic engagement," he said. "Perhaps because the school board race is nonpartisan, the direction regarding no personal political involvement by general authorities did not cross my mind, but in any case, it was my oversight."

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said he was not aware of any other policy violations since the neutrality language was updated in 2011.

The church reaffirmed the policy in 2012 after an email sent by a self-identified LDS public affairs specialist to local leaders in Nevada encouraged get-out-the-vote efforts for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, who became the first Mormon to head a major-party U.S. political ticket.

Nelson said he was unaware of the donation from Christofferson, but that the support is "much appreciated."

"I know him, I respect him," Nelson said. "I'm glad that I've got over 80 local donors."

In September, disclosure forms showed a $2,500 donation from Quentin L. Cook, son of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to school board candidate Erin Preston.

Cook's donation was the largest single campaign contribution of the summer fundraising period among the 16 candidates for state school board.

While the LDS Church policy on political neutrality extends to the spouses of full-time leaders, Hawkins said it does not include the children of apostles or general authorities.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

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