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During the 1990 campaign, Rep. Bill Orton tried to stay out of the mudslinging that characterized Utah's 3rd District congressional race that year.

On Wednesday, the dirty campaigning by someone else came back to haunt Orton when the Federal Elections Commission filed a federal lawsuit against him, his campaign committee and Utahns for Ethical Government, a political committee organized to smear Republican opponent Karl Snow.The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating federal elections laws by exceeding campaign contribution limits and failing to properly report certain expenditures to the commission.

Orton said Thursday the charges against him are "ridiculous" and he's confident the court will throw them out.

Most of the allegations center around Utahns For Ethical Government, or UEG, a political committee organized by several "per-sonal acquaintances" of Orton to publicize Snow's bad business dealings, according to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court.

On Oct. 24, 1990, UEG held a press conference in Salt Lake City, in which three investors recounted their losses in a stock transaction involving Snow.

Between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, the group ran four anti-Snow advertisements in the Provo Daily Herald and on KSL Radio. One of the ads urged voters to "Stop the Republican Snow job" and to "vote against Karl Snow tomorrow and return ethics to government," according to the FEC complaint

The group spent $11,453 on its anti-Snow campaign.

Orton went on to upset Snow, a Republican, with 58 percent of the vote. Orton is currently serving his third term in Washington.

UEG's actions violated FEC laws, which allow political committees to donate no more than $1,000 to any single candidate unless the donations are "independent expenditures," of which there is no limit.

But the $11,453 do not amount to "independent expenditures," as alleged by UEG because they were made "in cooperation, consultation . . . or at the request or suggestion of" Orton and his campaign committee, Orton For Congress.

An indignant Orton says the FEC's logic is baffling.

"I never coordinated with (UEG). I didn't ask them to do it. I didn't encourage them to do it. In fact, I asked them not to do it."

Orton said he did meet with three members of UEG, who were basically disgruntled Republicans who had supported candidate John Harmer, who lost a bitterly contested primary to Snow.

The Harmer supporters asked Orton to make a campaign issue out of Snow's stock investment dealings, but Orton refused.

That refusal apparently amounts to complicity on Orton's part, according to the FEC complaint.

"They (the FEC) say that because I didn't do it and the other people did do it, I broke a federal law - and that is absurd," Orton said.

Orton said the FEC, facing a statute of limitations deadline this year, tried to get him to settle out of court in September, but he refused, saying he did no wrong.

The congressman said UEG's anti-Snow campaign was independent and, therefore, did not require Orton to report it on his financial disclosure reports.

Besides Orton, defendants named in the lawsuit include Jennifer Wilson, treasurer of Orton For Congress, and Scott Lee Norton, treasurer for UEG.