SALT LAKE CITY — A group opposing the push for a medical marijuana ballot measure has filed a formal complaint against the Utah Patients Coalition initiative campaign, claiming it offered money in exchange for completed petition signature removal forms.
The political issues committee, called Drug Safe Utah, also said in its complaint filed with the lieutenant governor's office Tuesday that Alex Iorg, campaign manager for the Utah Patients Coalition, offered money to a field manager to "stop gathering more signatures on the removal form."
The complaint alleges Iorg talked Sunday evening with field manager Zach Romsa at Romsa's office, telling him he "was willing to purchase whatever signature removal forms ... his team had gathered."
The complaint claims Romsa replied that he and others working on behalf of Drug Safe Utah "had already turned in the forms" Iorg was interested in and that he "only had about five" still on hand.
Iorg walked outside and "came back about five minutes later and offered to purchase any data Zach had and offered Zach money to have Zach and the others stop gathering more signatures on the removal form," and Romsa "said he was not interested," the complaint says.
Michelle McComber, president of Drug Safe Utah, told the Deseret News that while offering to "buy off" a field manager is "underhanded," it's the offer to purchase completed signature removal forms that strikes her as unlawful.
"When you actually try to purchase signature forms that somebody had filled out, that is, I would think, illegal," said McComber, who is also CEO of the Utah Medical Association, which helped form Drug Safe Utah in April. "It is definitely interfering with ... what the (signee) has decided that they want to do."
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, denied that Iorg tried to purchase filled out signature removal forms, saying the campaign wanted to "buy a list" containing the names of those who had signed removal forms so they could contact anyone fraudulently persuaded.
"They have rogue agents ... not acting according to their script, and we wanted to help rectify the situation by getting the list of those that ... had been duped and fraudulently given information, so that we could go and correct the matter," Schanz told the Deseret News.
Schanz said in a statement that "the offer is still valid to get us the data so we can work more effectively to reach (people) and undo the damage the UMA has caused and cares little to fix."
Kirsten Rappleye, spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor's office, explained formal election-related complaints are forwarded to the Utah Attorney General's Office, which reviews them and determines a course of action.
Currently the initiative has secured enough signatures from enough state Senate districts for ballot eligibility, but state data doesn't factor in the number of removals.
Schanz said his organization is "building a case for fraudulent activity" against Drug Safety Utah's signature removal campaign.
Schanz claims one example fraudulent canvassing behavior stems from a videohis organization recently shared showing a woman at a person's doorstep in Washington County incorrectly claiming the Utah Medical Association had put together its own medical marijuana petition that was later distorted, and at one point saying she is representing the county clerk's office.
Mark Fotheringham, spokesman for the Utah Medical Association, has said of the woman that "we think she's rogue out there on her own" and that she doesn't have "anything to do with" Drug Safe Utah or the third parties it uses to hire canvassers.
Schanz said he would bet his own job on his conviction about the woman's association with the signature removal campaign, and challenged McComber to do the same.
"I'll step down if that person's not ... part of a third-party out gathering signatures — if she will (step down) if they are," Schanz said of McComber. "I'm willing to do that."
Responding to that challenge, McComber said "my message ... would be 'OK, bring (the dialogue) up a level. Be respectful.'"
McComber said Drug Safe Utah diligently searched for any connection between the organization and the woman, to no avail. She said she believes it's at least possible the video was staged.
"I feel like there's definitely a potential (of) that. Why would a video camera already be rolling" when the person answered their front door, she asked rhetorically. "Why would there be no face (shown)?"
Pro-legalization advocates say there is an ongoing effort to find out exactly who the woman is.
Schanz says there is more than a single video pointing to inaccuracies from signature removal canvassers. He recently shared a photo of a flyer instructing canvassers to incorrectly claim they "want to reform the petition so that it IS for medical marijuana."
Fotheringham has said the flyer in question contained several "incorrect statements" and was prepared by a single canvasser, who has been "disciplined and retrained."
Schanz also shared a separate video Wednesday purporting to show a different canvasser claiming "most of the medical marijuana signatures were forged."
McComber said, "If a canvasser is saying that, it is nothing we have told them to say."