clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Op-ed: Appearance of a poll tax can't be avoided

FILE - In this May 20, 2017 file photo, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz waves after addressing the Utah GOP Convention in Sandy, Utah. Chaffetz, a five-term Republican, says he doesn't feel compelled to talk about what he may do after leaving Congress next month
FILE - In this May 20, 2017 file photo, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz waves after addressing the Utah GOP Convention in Sandy, Utah. Chaffetz, a five-term Republican, says he doesn't feel compelled to talk about what he may do after leaving Congress next month. But he told The Associated Press on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, that the business "” Strawberry C"” may become a reincarnation of his former public relations and marketing firm. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Rick Bowmer, AP

It is a fundamental principle of the Republican Party to advocate for fiscal responsibility, not when it is convenient, but always. Thus, it is appropriate that the institutions that claim the banner of the Republican Party would lead by example, diligently monitoring the fiscal health of the organization and acting responsibly with the money that individuals provide. Those who donate to the party expect that the very basic tenet of the Republican Party would at least be observed among the leadership.

This week, as the chaotic and increasingly litigious special election draws near, the Republican Party of Utah has announced a “highly encouraged” donation from delegates in order to attend the convention. The Republican Party has sent a letter to delegates advertising the “highly encouraged” donation as a voluntary fee (if you register online, it is $20, if the day of the convention, $25). Conveniently, opting out of the “highly encouraged yet voluntary” donation is reportedly not an option for delegates online. In interviews, GOP leadership has claimed that this is in response to $30,000 in bounced checks from last month’s convention, adding to around $400,000 in existing debt.

What does this mean for the party of Calvin Coolidge? What does this mean for a party that supposedly advocates for the slashing of our national debt? Where are the candidates for District 3, outraged that the leadership is placing the burden of its irresponsible spending on the volunteer delegates who take the time to represent their neighbors? This is a reflection on the very character of our party, the essence of our beliefs, and the legacy of the intellectual conservatives who have fought the fight for fiscal restraint for decades.

Aside from the outrageous misuse of donations, the appearance of a poll tax can’t be avoided. Delegates, regular citizens of the third district, have volunteered their time to represent their neighbors in vetting and identifying the candidates who have the best interests of the district at heart. They aren’t paid, and the burden of this responsibility eats into their family time and their pockets. With the pressures of a condensed election, the obligations of these men and women are that much more difficult. To then ambush these folks with fees and debts is complete mismanagement and a betrayal of the principles of a party I have believed in my whole life.

The 2016 elections showed that there is a widespread frustration in the public with politicians and political elite who advocate for one thing then act for another. Anger at the business-as-usual attitude that has moved us from one debt ceiling to another with few in the public eye standing up for the principles that got them there in the first place. That is not what we need in Congress, and that is not what we need from party leadership.

To his credit, the Utah GOP chair has jumped in head first to solve a clear problem in the finances. I support him in the overall effort, but the solutions put forward to force these volunteer delegates to offset the cost is a nonstarter for fiscally responsible solutions. When spending is out of control, you cut the spending, you don’t attempt to increase revenue on someone else’s back.

When the national debt is out of control, it is not fiscally responsible to increase taxes to shoulder the burden of bad management. It is not fiscally responsible to pass the buck to those who had no role in the spending and check bouncing in the first place. Cut spending, sell assets, if Jason Chaffetz had truly altruistic reasons for leaving his seat and not driven by ambition, ask for a sizable donation to offset the debt, after all, what noncandidate needs a $400,000 war chest? Indeed, this is appropriate as the party is now incurring unexpected costs due entirely to Mr. Chaffetz and his lack of desire to honor his commitment and finish his current term (a discussion for another day).

To be clear, current party leadership is not to blame for the previous mismanagement of GOP finances. This is clearly a systemic and long-term problem that likely merits a serious look in to the spending habits of the party and the fundraising obstacles it faces. However, the solution put forward is not only a betrayal of principles, it is unfair to the delegates, unfair to the candidates, and most importantly, unfair to the voters of the third district. I would encourage the party to abandon this effort, allow full and unobstructed access to delegates and look internally to find solutions to this problem.

Damian W. Kidd is an attorney at the law office of Driggs, Bills & Day and a Republican candidate for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.