Gov. Gary Herbert has given an anti-Amendment C political issue committee $55,000 for a media campaign aimed at getting voters to reject the proposed constitutional amendment, UtahPolicy.com is told.
The gift and following expenditures by the newly-created Utahns for Balanced Government is legal, despite rumors of the contrary, says Justin Lee, director of the Utah Elections Office.
Marty Carpenter, previously Herbert’s spokesperson and chief of staff before leaving to start up his own government affairs/strategic communications consulting firm, set up the PIC UBG earlier this year.
Carpenter believes radio and social media ads asking voters to reject Amendment C have been effective. But the proof will be if citizens vote “no” on Nov. 6.
Amendment C is a constitutional change approved by two-thirds of the Utah Senate and House during the 2018 general session.
It would allow lawmakers to call themselves into special session on a restricted basis.
Since statehood in 1896, only the governor can call the state’s 104 part-time legislators into a special session; and only he sets the special session agenda.
GOP legislators were angry with Herbert in the late spring of 2017 when it became clear that U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz was going to resign his 3rd District seat – and Herbert decline to call a special session so GOP legislators could pass a new law detailing how a special U.S. House election in Utah would be conducted.
Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state’s official election officer, set up an SB54-type special election process – where 3rd District candidates could gather voter signatures and/or take the caucus/convention route to the party primary election.
Many GOP lawmakers wanted a special session so a special election nominee would be decided by delegates only.
Accordingly, in the 2018 Legislature GOP leaders introduced several bills dealing with their displeasure with Herbert’s actions on this matter – Amendment C being one.
So, Carpenter set up the PIC Utahns For Balanced Government to fundraise and buy radio and social media ads opposing the ballot amendment. Herbert’s PAC is the only funding source.
Carpenter began buying radio time – mainly on KSL Radio – and Facebook ads several weeks ago.
Herbert last Thursday, in answer to a UtahPolicy.com question at his monthly KUED press conference, said his PAC – Governor’s Leadership PAC – had given money to the PIC. Herbert said he didn’t remember how much.
Contacted Monday, Carpenter said it was $55,000, the check being deposited last Friday.
Interestingly enough, the new pre-general election PIC filing by Carpenter with the Utah Elections Office doesn’t show the $55,000 contribution, nor the various media buys. That’s because of delayed contribution/expenditure “windows,” explained Carpenter.
Lee said if the governor’s PAC and Carpenter’s PIC properly filed their updates online, the donation/contribution/expenditures would be online Tuesday – a week from Election Day.
Carpenter said he’s still waiting for some media buy invoices to show up at his office, but that he estimates he’s spent between $10,000 and $15,000 on radio buys, maybe a little more on Facebook and other social media.
What isn’t spent of the $55,000 Herbert gave him – the governor’s PAC has around $450,000 in it — will be returned to the governor’s political action committee, said Carpenter.
UtahPolicy.com was told that the Attorney General’s Office had opined that under Utah law, PACs couldn’t give to PICs, so Carpenter had pulled his advertising early.
Carpenter said on his own he asked the office earlier this year how to set up a PIC and fundraise – and was given the OK to accept PAC money.
Lee said there was “an old” AG memo from years ago that raised a question over whether a PAC could give to a PIC.
However, in discussions with a new assistant AG assigned to the office, Lee said the elections office was verbally given the OK by the AG earlier this year for PACs to give to PICs.
“We were given the OK from the office,” said Carpenter, so proceeded with getting the money from Herbert’s PAC and setting up the PIC’s campaigning.
Lee said his office, in discussions with various legislators, had suggested to lawmakers that they “fix” any uncertainty on the PAC/PIC issue through new law. “But no one has taken action on it,” Lee said.
It is true that Carpenter ended his radio and social media buys earlier than he originally intended. But that was because Herbert’s anti-amendment stance had gotten good coverage in regular newspaper/TV reporting, and Carpenter said he didn’t need media buys he’d previously reserved.
“From what we can tell, we’ve been effective” in opposing the ballot amendment, said Carpenter.
Herbert has said for months that the amendment is not needed; that it is wise policy for the governor – whomever that may be – still have a check on when the part-time Legislature can meet and conduct business outside of the regular 45-day general session.
Carpenter said he is unaware of any other organized group either supporting or opposing the passage of Amendment C.
GOP legislative leaders have advocated for passage of the amendment if asked, but have not attempted any kind of organized effort to convince voters to vote for it.
A poll by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month found Utahns are split over Amendment C – 42 percent against, 39 percent for, with 18 percent undecided.
The poll was conducted before Carpenter’s anti-Amendment C ads began running.