Park City lawyer: Shurtleff mixes hard money with soft
November 10, 2009
An attorney in Park City claims that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has violated federal campaign finance laws by using "soft money" raised under state financing rules to help bankroll his federal campaign for a U.S. Senate seat.
Attorney Joe Tesch requested in a nine-page complaint Oct. 16 that the Federal Election Commission investigate Shurtleff.
Shurtleff said he withdrew from the Senate race last week to spend more time with his teenage daughter who is suffering from depression. According to the Associated Press, a recent Federal Election Commission report shows Shurtleff had raised about $209,000 and had $146,000 in the bank in his bid to unseat U.S. Senator Bob Bennett.
Tesch said he didn’t know whether his complaint influenced Shurtleff to withdraw from the race.
"I would suspect that it was a whole pile of things and whether or not my request for an investigation played into that, who knows?" Tesch said in a telephone interview.
"Hard money" refers to contributions candidates receive individually within the limits of federal election law. Candidates receive so-called "soft-money" donations in ways that avoid federal regulations.
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While campaigning this year, Shurtleff "unlawfully tapped ‘soft money’ raised under the very lenient Utah campaign-finance laws, to support his campaign for federal office," Tesch’s complaint states.
For state elective offices there are often fewer restrictions on campaign contributions than federal law imposes, according to Tesch.
"Unlike federal law, Utah imposes no limitation on the amount of contributions from either individuals and/or corporations," Tesch’s complaint states.
Shurtleff apparently violated federal election guidelines when he used soft money to prepare for his U.S. Senate bid and formed a joint committee that unlawfully subsidized his federal candidacy with soft money, according to Tesch.
Federal bans on transferring and using state-raised funds in federal campaigns apply to candidates who are just "testing the waters," Tesch said.
Polling Shurtleff conducted that solely concerned federal issues should have been paid for entirely with funds obtained under federal election guidelines, Tesch said.
Shurtleff also traveled to Washington, D.C., last spring partly to solicit advice from political consultants about a U.S. Senate run, according to Tesch.
"Thus, Mr. Shurtleff should have paid for at least part of his Washington, D.C. trip with federal campaign dollars, but his Senate campaign’s first disclosure report showed no such payment," the FEC complaint states.
A joint committee Shurtleff formed for his Senate campaign has also violated federal election law by supporting the candidacy with soft money, Tesch claimed.
Shurtleff appeared poised to use funds from a political action committee in Utah to support his federal campaign, Tesch said.
The first disclosure report Shurtleff filed with the Federal Election Commission was "suspiciously bare," Tesch’s complaint states.
The Shurtleff campaign claimed to have spent only about $862 on "office supplies" and "booth rental" between May 12 and June 30, according to Tesch.
"The campaign’s two itemized expenditures and low spending only raise suspicion because the campaign boasts a fully functioning website, occupies office space, holds public events, gives away merchandise, mobilizes volunteers, and distributes campaign materials," Tesch’s complaint states. "The absence of web development, rent, office equipment, office utility, venue rental, catering, and merchandise payments raises questions about how Mr. Shurtleff’s campaign is paying for its activities."
Tesch said he acted on his own behalf in asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate Shurtleff.
"All of the facts that I present really are out of [Shurtleff’s] own campaign literature, and then I apply them to the campaign laws," Tesch said.
Meanwhile, Shurtleff campaign adviser Jason Powers questioned Tesch’s motives in a telephone interview Monday.
News reporters received copies of the complaint before the Shurtleff campaign, Powers said.
"What normally happens is citizens file a complaint and then the FEC goes through their process of submitting the complaint to our treasurer," Powers said. "I’ve never been involved in one of these situations when the complaint was first delivered to the media."
Shurtleff was notified of the FEC complaint last week, he said.
"We have had our counsel review it and they are preparing an initial response to go back to the Federal Election Commission," Powers said. "At this point, it is simply a complaint and its validity hasn’t been looked into."
Tesch’s complaint did not influence Shurtleff’s decision to suspend his Senate campaign, Powers said.
"It wasn’t a consideration," Powers said.