Group fighting against ballot measure to boost Legislature’s power is funded almost entirely by Gov. Gary Herbert’s PAC

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Gary Herbert addresses the House of Representatives at the conclusion of the legislative session on Thursday night, March 9, 2017.

The relatively short life of Utahns for Balanced Government has come to its effective end after the group put out a series of radio and social media advertisements in opposition to Constitutional Amendment C — which would allow Utah’s Legislature to call itself into special session.

The political issues committee, or PIC, was formed by Marty Carpenter, former campaign manager for Gov. Gary Herbert. And disclosure forms filed with the state elections office show its operations were funded by a single contribution of $55,000 from Herbert’s political action committee, or PAC, and a $50 donation from Carpenter.

Carpenter said the PIC may continue to exist in a technical sense, as the political organizations require little effort to maintain once launched. He said Utahns for Balanced Government was fairly effective during its brief campaign in getting the issues surrounding Constitutional Amendment C out to voters.

“No decision has been made, at this point, as to whether we’re going to keep it open on paper or shut it down,” Carpenter said. “I don’t anticipate having another policy agenda in the foreseeable future.”

He also said he anticipates refunding about half the money donated to the governor’s PAC.

Utah’s Constitution currently allows for the Legislature to convene outside its annual 45-day regular session only when called by the state’s governor. If approved by voters, Amendment C would empower lawmakers to convene themselves with a two-thirds majority vote of the state House and Senate.

Recent polling by The Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics showed Utahns divided on the issue, with 39 percent of respondents indicating support for Amendment C compared with 42 percent opposed and 18 percent who were unsure.

Staff for Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox had previously confirmed that Utah’s executives were “involved” in the creation of Utahns for Balanced Government, while deferring questions to Carpenter.

But the group’s finances, and Carpenter’s history with the governor, make clear the close relationship between the PIC and Herbert’s PAC.

Carpenter said the decision to create a PIC, rather than directly fund anti-Amendment C ads through Herbert’s PAC, was based in a desire to avoid any legal discrepancies regarding campaigns for candidates and campaigns for ballot questions and other noncandidate political issues.

“I feel like I’m an emeritus member of the [governor’s] team,” Carpenter said. “I’m always happy to help in whatever it is they may be working on.”

Justin Lee, the state’s elections director, said there is no explicit prohibition in law against a PAC campaigning for or against a ballot question. But he added that a PIC is the legal entity best suited for that purpose.

“From a transparency perspective,” Lee said, “registering as a PIC makes sense.”

Lee also said that previous guidance from the elections office discouraged the contribution of money from a PAC to a PIC, like the $55,000 donation to Utahns for Balanced Government. But that guidance has since been revised to reflect ambiguity in the state’s election laws, Lee said.

“If a PAC gives money to a PIC, we are not going to bat an eye when we see it on the report,” Lee said.