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Controversial mailers traced to newly registered PAC

PROVO — The great Provo campaign mailer mystery is over.

A Brigham Young University political science student named Jacob Runyon came forward Friday and said he is part of a group behind Utahns for a Better Future, a political action committee that registered with the State Office of Elections earlier this week.

Utahns for a Better Future angered both candidates for the District 5 seat on the Provo City Council by sending two postcards to district residents attacking incumbent Cindy Richards. Challenger Adam Clark was mad because Richards supporters believed he was lying when he said he had nothing to do with the group, which was unknown to the candidates and city officials.

City recorder LaNice Groesbeck mailed a letter Thursday to Utahns for a Better Future, informing the group it might be acting illegally. Runyon had not received the letter Friday but learned of the questions about the group from a Deseret Morning News article. He said the group registered as a PAC with the state on Tuesday, which Tyler Allen of the Lt. Governor's Office confirmed Friday afternoon.

"We have tried to do everything in compliance with the laws of the state and city," Runyon said. "Under the Provo City Code, all we have to do is disclose our financing within 30 days after the election. We're not trying to cover up anything or hide."

Provo's campaign disclosure ordinance was rewritten after the 1997 election when an unknown group calling itself "Ethics 4 Provo" ran newspaper ads attacking several candidates. Outgoing Mayor George Stewart considered a lawsuit. The new ordinance was meant to unmask such political action committees and includes a section that states that a political committee must take responsibility for a direct mailing by including the names of political committee members responsible for its publication.

It was unclear Friday, when city offices are closed, how the city would interpret the code and the PAC's action. Provo spokeswoman Raylene Ireland said city attorneys couldn't comment until they review the situation further on Monday.

The two postcards, sent only to District 5, attack two-term incumbent Richards. One says, "Don't vote for Cindy Richards." But Runyon said the mailers aren't backing Clark, just advocating change.

"This has nothing to do with either of the candidates," he said. "I, along with a couple of other citizens and students, think this is a district that affects students the most."

Cindy Richards did not return a phone message Friday night, but her husband, LeGrand "Buddy" Richards, told BYU students in a campus appearance Thursday night that his wife was the best candidate for their interests and attacked the ads.

"I'm so appalled by how this kind of garbage can be perpetrated on the public," he said. "Beware scare tactics that come out the last week of a campaign from anonymous writers."

Runyon said a third mailer should arrive in District 5 mailboxes today or Monday.

Clark repeatedly denied any link to the ads. On Friday, he expressed relief when told Runyon had contacted the newspaper and also named John and Dana Wright as members of the PAC.

"I never heard of these people," Clark said. "This clears me. Oh, man, that makes me happy. Thank you. I'm just a guy running a campaign trying to give people a different option."

Runyon said Utahns for a Better Future is composed of fiscally conservative residents who believe the city needs a "fresh innovative approach to the issues facing" Provo.

He said the next mailer is about subsidized housing. Cindy Richards is a political force behind Provo's purchase-rehab program. The program uses federal tax dollars to purchase run-down homes and rehabilitate them. The city then sells the homes, usually for less than the costs of the purchase and rehab.

Another program provides subsidies to first-time homebuyers who purchase these and other central Provo homes. Richards, a majority of the council and city administrators say using federal tax dollars this way is worth it because the homes are sold to single families who stabilize Provo's downtown or "pioneer" neighborhoods.

Opponents have argued the private sector should handle the problem.

The PAC's call for change in the city's political makeup is in step with the challengers in Provo's races. Most of the hundreds of signs dotting the city are laid out in groups with incumbents Richards and Mayor Lewis Billings grouped with former Mayor George Stewart, who is seeking a citywide council seat. The signs of their respective challengers — Clark, Dave Bailey and Mark Sumsion — are usually clustered together, too, none more so than on the corner of 200 North and 200 West (Freedom Boulevard), where Clark, Bailey and Sumsion signs and banners plaster a building across the street from Billings campaign headquarters and its two Billings billboards.

Residents who want more information on the candidates can tune into Provo Cable Channel 17 or check the candidates' Web sites.