After a three-year Federal Election Commission investigation, the Utah Republican Party has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for breaking numerous election laws during the 1986 congressional races.
Democrat Gunn McKay, who lost by just 3 percentage points that year to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said the money Republicans spent illegally probably cost him the election. "We figured if we had another $10,000 to counter some of the stuff they put out at the end, we would have won."According to FEC documents released Wednesday, the party admitted it exceeded election donation limits by $52,000 and violated disclosure laws in action it took to benefit Hansen, Sen. Jake Garn and Salt Lake County Commissioner M. Tom Shimizu.
Shimizu, who ran unsuccessfully that year for Congress against Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens, also had his campaign fined $175 separately for failing initially to report a $10,000 donation, then reporting it incorrectly later.
Shimizu said the problem was an oversight and was not intentional. "The people working with me apparently didn't know how to fill out the forms correctly . . . there was a lot going on at the time," Shimizu said.
State Party Executive Director Greg Hopkins said the violation of law was unintentional. Also, the people responsible no longer work for the party. The party has already paid the fine, and it has taken steps to ensure such problems do not recur.
Shimizu and spokesmen for Hansen and Garn said their campaigns were unaware that money coming from the state party exceeded its legal limits or had not been reported properly to the FEC.
The FEC began its investigation three years ago after a complaint by M. Kay Christensen, the 1986 campaign manager for Owens.
Owens' press secretary, Art Kingdom, said Owens' campaign had been monitoring spending by Shimizu and suspected several donations and expenditures on his behalf had not been reported.
The FEC agreement with the state party said the party felt the person responsible for the problems was its former executive director, Gregg McDonough, and "that the actions . . . were a result of negligence and that there was no knowing and willful violation."
Kingdom said Owens' office was a bit distressed about the length of time the investigation took. "It is obvious that the Republicans took every opportunity they had to drag things out."
McKay was more upset that the illegal expenditures that sent a mailing attacking him late in the campaign may have cost him his close race with Hansen because McKay had no money with which to respond.
"You can ask `what if' all you want, but he (Hansen) is sitting in the House and I'm sitting out," he said.
Hopkins denied that it cost McKay the race. "The mailing would still have gone out from another fund," he said.
McKay said he also feels the $10,000 fine is too little to discourage such actions in the future. "Republicans are able to overcome a $10,000 deficit fairly easily. I'm not sure it's very detrimental to them. Their attitude is they want to win, they don't care how."