Entrata CEO Dave Bateman says he has extinguished the Utah GOP’s debt. Now he urges defeat of legislators running for party office in upcoming convention

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) The Utah Republican Nominating Convention Saturday, April 21, 2018, at the Maverik Center.

After pulling the Utah Republican Party back from the brink of bankruptcy by acquiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding legal debts, Entrata CEO Dave Bateman says he will not attempt to recoup any of the money from the party.

“The debt is extinguished,” Bateman wrote Friday on an unofficial Utah GOP Facebook page.

But Bateman now is engaged in what he sees as a new effort to rescue the party — this time from what he calls an effort to “ransack” the Utah GOP’s State Central Committee (SCC), by installing members who are current Utah lawmakers or individuals who have never held a position in the party organization.

He said the party should promote candidates who represent the GOP platform. Too many candidates deny party ideals, he said, but get a pass.

“Delegates — don’t vote for any current legislator to sit on the SCC,” Bateman urged followers on Facebook. “Its [sic] antithetical to our purpose as a Party.”

Several high-ranking Republican leaders earn an automatic seat on the central committee, such as the governor, treasurer, auditor and attorney general, House speaker and Senate president. But other elected members of state government are also able to run for a seat on the central committee, which Bateman told The Tribune on Monday is “the quintessential fox guarding the hen house.”

“If legislators control the party, the party become an instrument to protect incumbents,” Bateman said, “rather than an organization that creates accountability and good governance. That’s why I fought against SB54.”

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, is among the candidates for State Central Committee. He said it’s important to look at the qualifications of candidates running for office at all levels.

“I have been active in the Utah Republican Party ever since I could vote,” he said. “I’ve served as a county delegate, a state delegate, at the precinct level, and now as a state legislator. I want to help the Republican Party focus on bringing in more people, identifying future leaders, and giving them the resources to succeed.”

And Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he has encouraged people to run for State Central Committee. The ideal committee, he said, would include a blend of elected and nonelected officials.

“As we go through this central committee process, there’s a lot of people and room for everyone at the table,” Adams said. “I think we ought to have as diverse and as representative a group as we can find."

Bateman has become a key figure in Republican party politics since 2018, when he acquired the party’s outstanding legal debts stemming from several legal challenges — most of which were unsuccessful — against the state. Those lawsuit sought to overturn SB54, a 2014 law allowing partisan candidates to qualify for a primary election either by obtaining signatures or by winning the support of party delegates at convention.

Bateman wrote in his Facebook post that “under no circumstance” would he have ever attempted to collect the debt, although under the agreement he had the right to demand repayment if the party dropped its lawsuit against SB54. He said his purchase of the party’s attorney fees was a donation intended to help the Utah Republican Party escape bankruptcy and survive the chairmanship of Rob Anderson.

“We survived!” Bateman wrote.

Anderson has declined to run for a second term leading the party after two years of division and controversy stemming from SB54, allowing candidates to qualify for a primary election either by collecting signatures or by earning the support of party delegates at convention.

In March, Bateman told The Tribune he was waiting for formal confirmation from the party that its legal challenges against SB54 had ceased before excusing the debt. Those comments followed the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the party’s appeal over the state’s dual-path election law.

On Monday, Bateman told The Tribune that he had received that confirmation.

“Members of the SCC tasked to oversee the lawsuits notified me [that] the litigation I committed to fund had run its course,” he said.

But the fight over SB54 is not necessarily over, as hard-line members of the party’s governing State Central Committee have shown interest in other methods of challenging the law beyond the courts.

In 2016, the committee passed a new bylaw to strip some candidates of their party membership if they chose to collect signatures. Anderson ignored that bylaw, arguing that it was improperly adopted under party rules, which led to his censure last month by the State Central Committee.

Adams said he respects Bateman’s comments — adding that he is a “great asset” to the party — and that he plans to reach out and discuss the upcoming elections with him.

“I think it’s really important, not only for the Republican Party but also for the state of Utah, to try to find common ground,” he said.