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Demos say GOP breaking law

They say joint efforts violate finance reforms

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The Utah Democratic Party is filing complaints with the Federal Election Commission over how the Utah Republican Party, a national GOP PAC and the John Swallow campaign are "coordinating" their efforts this year, Democratic state chairman Donald Dunn said Tuesday.

Standing in the gutter outside of his party headquarters, Dunn threw down pictures of Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Chris Cannon and GOP chairman Joe Cannon to illustrate in his words "how the 2nd District campaign has been thrown into the gutter" by Republicans who will do anything to unseat Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.

Dunn also had harsh words for Utah direct mail expert Peter Valcarce, whose Arena Communications has produced direct mail pieces for Swallow, the Utah GOP and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Dunn called Valcarce's operations "the king of sleaze and smear" pamphleteering.

Dunn called the press conference in response to a Tuesday morning Deseret Morning News article that detailed how the NRCC and Utah GOP acted together to send out an anti-Matheson brochure to 76,000 Salt Lake County residents in the 2nd District.

Swallow, a Republican, is challenging Matheson for the second time. Matheson barely held his seat against a Swallow challenge in 2002.

The mailer, written by Arena Communications with input from others, criticizes Matheson for supporting a bill in Congress — the Dream Act — that is actually sponsored by Hatch and Rep. Cannon, who is Joe Cannon's younger brother. The act would give in-state college tuition to dependents of illegal aliens.

Valcarce said Tuesday that his, the NRCC's and the Utah GOP's actions "are completely legal. The charge (by Dunn) is bogus." Valcarce said Arena is the third-largest GOP direct mail operation in the nation, this year handling 50 Republican clients in 35 states.

Asked if it is odd that the state and national GOP would criticize Matheson for supporting a bill sponsored by two leaders in the Utah Republican Party, Valcarce said that while Hatch and Rep. Cannon are "great legislators," the Dream Act "is not supported by a majority of Utah Republicans; not supported by a majority of Utahns at all."

Dunn also complained about another Utah GOP flier, one that criticizes Matheson for supporting a new drug benefit for Medicare recipients. That new law was passed by congressional Republicans and signed by President Bush. So, again, said Dunn, GOP leaders are "using sleaze" to accuse Matheson of supporting a Republican plan.

"These mailers are dishonest and ridiculous," said Dunn. "We are filing two FEC complaints" to hold Swallow, state and national Republicans accountable for their actions.

One will claim that the NRCC and the Utah Republican Party are illegally running a coordinated campaign.

The second will say that having Arena Communications handle direct mail for Swallow, the Utah GOP and the NRCC makes it impossible for the campaigns to operate independently, something required by the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, Dunn said.

"It's hard to believe" the three groups aren't working together on the fliers, he added.

It is not unusual for state parties and/or candidates to file FEC complaints toward the end of bitter campaigns. And Dunn admitted that he doubts the FEC will rule or even investigate the Utah Democratic Party's complaints before next Tuesday's elections.

"But the voters need to know what is going on," Dunn said. "Someone needs to take responsibility" for the fliers, adding that in the newspaper article Joe Cannon said the NRCC was responsible for the content of the anti-Matheson ads, while an NRCC spokesman said it was an all Utah-GOP operation.

Valcarce said he works in this area all the time, and nothing is being done illegally.

The law allows for the Utah GOP and Swallow to operate a "non-allocable" mail campaign, and that's what is being done, he said.

While it's true the NRCC is also paying Arena for direct mail services, "none of my NRCC work is being done in Utah," Valcarce said. He declined to say how much his clients are paying him, nor how many mailers he's sent out in Utah. He maintains the three groups are not working together.

At the very least, said Dunn, the new law is clear that whoever helps send out campaign material must be identified on the ad — and only the Utah Republican Party is listed on the anti-Matheson mailers — not Swallow, not the NRCC.

GOP executive director Spencer Jenkins explained what happened this way: The state GOP hired Valcarce. With input from the state party and the NRCC, Valcarce printed up various fliers (the state party has sent out 14 different pieces in the 2nd District race so far). The state party then uses volunteers (they can not be paid workers) to mail out the pieces.

Joe Cannon says the NRCC came up with the Dream Act content, while the NRCC denies that, saying the whole operation was Utah-based.

It may sound complicated, but it's legal, say Valcarce and Jenkins.

No way, says Dunn.

"The new law was written to shine the bright light of day on this kind of smear, so you know who did it," Dunn said.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com