Leader of murky group attacking West Jordan mayor steps forward, says no need to register PAC

(Taylor Stevens | Tribune file photo) The West Jordan City Hall on May 19, 2018.

The murky group behind a nasty flyer that attacked West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding — which he blames for his second-place finish in this month’s primary election — is emerging a bit more from the shadows.

John Calveri, a five-year resident of Utah’s fourth-largest city, called The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday to say he is the leader of an anonymous group that calls itself the “West Jordan Citizens Alliance.” But he is hesitant to reveal others who are involved.

“We’re trying to be careful. We don’t really trust the city at this point. Some things have happened that people who have come out and said things have got backlashed,” he said.

Calveri contends his group is not required to register as a political action committee to reveal its donors and leaders and how much it is raising and spending. He says that’s because no donors gave more than $50, and it spent only $1,000 on that first flyer that he says was mostly hand-delivered in a few key areas.

But the lieutenant governor’s office disagrees.

“Nothing I’m hearing in that description makes me think they would not need to register,” said Justin Lee, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. He said if a group raises or spends $750 to support or fight a candidate, it must register and reveal its finances — although small-amount donors need not be revealed.

Calveri, an assistant manager at a heating and air conditioning firm, said the group will register — if required. He said it has no other leaders to reveal yet because it has not elected any. “They call me the president because I kind of oversee things.”

Riding complained that the flyer from the group contained false and distorted facts — including alleging that city money is missing — as it urged votes for his opponents. Riding complained that no one knew who was behind the attack because the group had not registered as a PAC as required.

A contest on freelancer.com chose this design for a mailer attacking West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding. West Jordan Chamber of Commerce President Aisza Wilde now acknowledges ordering the graphic.

As Riding said earlier, “Somebody I know very well received one of those flyers. He told me, ‘You know, if I didn’t know you, I probably wouldn’t have voted for you.”

An accidental disclosure last week revealed one person involved: West Jordan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Aisza Wilde. She had hired an artist to design the flyer on the website freelancer.org, then gave his work an online endorsement using her unusual first name. Residents noticed.

She told the Tribune she merely helped arrange design of the flyer and neither she nor her chamber paid for it. She declined to identify anyone else who was involved. Because of the news attention, Calveri said, “I figured I better call you guys.”

He estimated his group has 2,200 members that have given small donations — although doing the math on that works out to less than 50-cents apiece to generate the $1,000 Calveri said the group spent.

Most of those involved are upset about water rate hikes, he said.

“I am xeroscaping now. I had to rip out my lawn because I can’t afford to water it anymore,” Calveri said.

He said when he and other residents lined up at a City Council meeting to complain, the mayor asked how many wanted to comment on the topic. “We all raised our hand.” But Calveri said the mayor cut them off, and moved on to the next agenda item. “That’s what really sent me over the edge.”

Calveri said his group feels that “instead of the city serving us, it’s like they became a separate business entity that doesn’t have to tell us anything.”

He said the flyer was “pretty bitter because we are very bitter about things. I suppose we could be a little bit nicer,” adding that another flyer is planned soon.

Calveri says the group is not engaging in dirty politics.

“We are not bad people. We are ordinary people trying to make a difference for a bad thing that’s happening in our city,” he said.