November 26, 2015

Five Signs Doug Owens Doesn’t Plan on Winning

Democrat Doug Owens says he's running for Congress, but it's hard to tell whether he's running to win or if he's just building name id for another race.

Democrat Doug Owens says he’s running for Congress, but it’s hard to tell whether he’s running to win or if he’s just building name id for another race.

Democrat Doug Owens is running for Congress in Utah’s Fourth Congressional District.

Or at least he is on paper.

In real life, it looks like another thing.  Whether he’s wowing us with his pie-making skills or telling us that the chaos in his campaign has been the plan all along, the Owens campaign seems doomed.

And that’s all without even mentioning his opponent (Mia Love), her party affiliation (Republican) in a Republican leaning district, or her monetary advantage (she’s raised more than any challenger or candidate for any open Congressional seat in this cycle and has $872,999 in cash on hand). 

Could he be running a shell campaign? Or maybe he’s not really running for Congress this time, but just to build his name ID for a run down the road? [Read more…]

Campaign Fundraising: Free Speech or Extortion?

money-and-justice-scalesUtah has learned a lot about the state of campaign fundraising in recent months. We have John Swallow and Jason Powers to thank for that.

With perhaps more creativity than we would like to give them credit for, Swallow and Powers found ways to duck, dodge, and hide from just about every Utah law designed to keep politics clean, transparent, and honest (I recommend reading Holly Richardson for some of the on point commentary on the scandal).

If only Swallow and Powers were the end of the problem. The fact of the matter is that wherever power exists, there is the tendency for corruption.

Almost as bad as the hidden money in politics, though, is the not-so-hidden money. Politicians at almost every level are limited on how much they can raise from donors, but  do these regulations prevent the corrupting influence caused by the combination of power and money?

Recently, CNN began a series of reports looking into what they call the “surge” of donations to politicians.

“Meh,” I said. “So what?” I’m a First Amendment enthusiast, and I believe that money is closely connected to speech.

Jim Matheson Utah RepresentativeAnd then I watched Utah Representative Jim Matheson, who has just recently announced his retirement from Congress, walk across the screen en route to a fundraiser. In typical Jim Matheson fashion, he ignores the reporter and refuses to answer any questions, which, predictably, only creates more questions.

Like, for example: why the heck is he raising money if he’s not running for reelection? And why would anyone possibly want to donate to a lame duck?

Here’s the video. Matheson appears at about the 2:15 mark.

The argument I’ve most often heard in favor of regulating campaign finance (or speech) is that it gives big donors access and control over politicians. Certainly that was the reason that Swallow cited in emails for wanting to avoid the appearance of being the “payday industry candidate” during the 2012 race for Attorney General.

But what if it is the other way around? What if it’s extortion?

“I feel extorted,” John Hofmeister (who ran Shell Oil from 2005 through 2008) told CNN’s Drew Griffin. “Every time I wrote a check I felt that it was a form of extortion, the price of entry, because of the reception that you got when you contributed versus the reception when you did not contribute.”

Hofmeister’s view on Washington is cynical, but perhaps not inaccurate.

“The political theater of the hearing matters to them. And that’s exactly the mindset which I used to go into the hearing,” Hofmeister said. To please the powerful politicians, he found himself asking himself questions like “What role shall I play?”

“If you’re testifying, you’re in the subordinate role because the members are always up in a dais looking down at you,” said Hofmeister. “So you know you are subordinate to them. This is their town, their home, you’re an invited guest. But when the hearing is over … the curtains close on the theater. It’s back to business. And business is raising money.”



If the Crime Doesn’t Fit, Perhaps the Cover Up Will


While Utah Attorney General John Swallow may get off for the questionable behavior that helped him win elections, a cover up may be more difficult to dodge. And the House subpoenas into a bevy of shadowy organizations and political operatives, such as Jason Powers, may be aimed at just that.

It wasn’t the Watergate break-in that took down President Richard Nixon.   It was the cover-up.

And it wasn’t Bill Clinton’s Oval Office promiscuity that got him in trouble, but that he lied under oath.  Whether in the case of the Teapot Dome Scandal, the more recent Fleet Street Phone Hacking, and or the hideous hiding of pedophile priests by the Catholic Church, it is the cover up that brought down powerful individuals who thought that they were above the law.

And yet, cover ups tend to fail. Eventually the prosecutor–and the law–catches up to the malefactor, and not in spite of the cover up, but often because of it.

With evidence emerging last week that entire years of Utah Attorney General John Swallow’s emails are gone, his calendar scrubbed of events, and his personal hard drive mysteriously dead–all covering same time period–a cover up could be the knot in the rope that finally hangs Swallow.

It has all added up for Swallow to, as Holly Richardson astutely called it, a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.” Perhaps the worst since he took office.

Swallow campaignThen, on Friday night, as columnists, bloggers, and Utah’s political beat reporters prepared to pontificate on Swallow’s continuing woes, the House Special Investigation Committee fired off nine more subpoenas, delving into Swallow’s  closest political operatives and operations.

Jason Powers

Most notably, the subpoenas look into Jason Powers, whose rise as a prominent political consultant has largely followed Swallow’s political career.

Few people know  Swallow’s political history as well as Powers. Working with Swallow since his first campaign for Congress, Powers has come to be known for his ability to use data to help his clients determine exactly where, and upon what issues, they should campaign.  Approaching campaigns with a deep level of data analysis, Powers sends out targeted mailers in his clients’ districts, smearing their opponents with half-truths and inflammatory rhetoric and images.

Just ask Brad Daw, a conservative former legislator from Utah County.

Daw was, strangely, accused of supporting Obamacare in a mailer that cut and paste Daw’s face to stand alongside President Obama’s.    The mailer was also sent to every member of the legislature, where it was condemned by Speaker Becky Lockhart as “very negative” and was viewed by several lawmakers as a threat to not oppose the payday industry. It was seen as retaliation by payday lenders for consumer friendly regulations Daw had supported and was so egregious that the legislature passed a law tightening reporting requirements on organizations like Powers’.


In other words, Powers is not a guy who has a problem threatening lawmakers, or taking them down.

It isn’t very different from mailers that Powers sent on behalf of  Swallow’s campaigns against his Republican opponents over the last decade, when Swallow accused them of supporting abortion, obtaining support from Democrats, and intentionally flaunting campaign laws. If anything, the highly suspect nature of Powers produced mailers for Swallow is at the root of the divide in the Utah Republican Party that allowed Democrat Jim Matheson to win a decade of campaigns to represent Utah in Congress.

Powers has always been most effective against Republicans, not Democrats, using his skills to smear Swallow’s Republican Party opponents to win Primary vote nominations.

And now the House is digging into how Powers has used his skills, perhaps illegally, in support of the questionable activities that Swallow has been accused of.

With any luck, the information found by the subpoenas–assuming it hasn’t been “accidentally” deleted–will tell House Special Investigator Steven Reich a useful story that can bring Utah to an end of this depressing chapter.

Instead of distorting the truth about Swallow’s political opponents, as Powers and the various organizations have done over the years, perhaps it will show us why Swallow’s electronic data has so mysteriously disappeared, been “lost in transition,” or accidentally deleted.

In the end, whatever the subpoenas uncover, it is the cover up that could be the most damaging to Swallow, as well as anyone who has assisted him.  Destruction of evidence during an investigation violates not only the spirit, but the letter of the law, and is a violation of the oath that Swallow took upon taking office.  If evidence of malfeasance has been destroyed, the destruction could end up being the very thing that brings down Utah’s scandal plagued attorney general.

List and links to the subpoenas issued by the Utah House Special Investigation Committee:

  1. Guidant Strategies (Nov. 8, 2013)
  2. Office of the Attorney General (Nov. 8, 2013)
  3. Jason Powers (Nov. 8, 2013)
  4. Proper Role of Government Action Fund (Nov. 8, 2013)
  5. Proper Role of Government Defense Fund (Nov. 8, 2013)
  6. Proper Role of Government Education Association (Nov. 8, 2013)
  7. Protect Utah PAC (Nov. 8, 2013)
  8. State Travel Office (Nov. 8, 2013)
  9. Utahs Prosperity Foundation (Nov. 8, 2013)


Matheson, the man afraid of his constituents?

Alone among the Utah congressional delegation, Congressman Jim Matheson stopped holding town halls in 2007, over five years  ago. What is he afraid of?


As children head back to school and leaves begin to change, Members of Congress are coming to the end of the August recess and preparing to return to Washington, D.C. They’ve spent the last month visiting with family, reconnecting with life outside the Beltway, explaining their votes to constituents, and listening as constituents talk.

Except for Congressman Jim Matheson.  Congressman Stewart hosted a hefty seven town hall meetings and Congressman Chaffetz meets with constituents in Holladay and Castle Dale. Even Senator Lee has held five town halls, and Congressman Rob Bishop’s town halls are some of the most entertaining to attend, not to mention regularly well attended. And though Senator Orrin Hatch didn’t have any town halls scheduled this year, he spent an enormous amount of time meeting with constituents all through 2012 as he fought to earn reelection.

Meanwhile, Matheson stopped holding town halls in 2007, over five years and two and a half terms ago. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Matheson didn’t think it was worth his time:

Democrat Matheson stopped holding regular town hall meetings in 2007, saying too few attended and that alternative telephone town halls reach more people more effectively.

Effective, and cheaper, according to the Deseret News:

Matheson stopped holding traditional town hall meetings [in 2007], saying it was expensive to send postcards to homes to advertise them and only a handful of people usually would attend. He has been holding telephone town hall meetings instead.

Never mind that Congressional franking privileges allow Matheson to send regular correspondence to his constituents at tax payer expense. He’s just using that expense to talk at constituents, not meet with and listen to them in town halls.  Instead, he conducts what amounts to a massive phone call, a “tele-town hall.”

Telephone town halls reach 40,000 people, his spokesman said.

A member of the “People’s House,” Matheson doesn’t spend a ton of time meeting with constituents, except in controlled environments. His site shows pictures of him on the Trax “inspecting” it,” visiting with American servicemen, reading to elementary school children, volunteering with “Meals on Wheels,” and visiting the Utah Department of Health Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Never with groups larger than six or seven people.

It’s more reminiscent of Kim Jong Il’s “Looking at things” than a man of the people listening to constituents.

Contrast that with Senator Lee, who has arguably had a controversial first three years of a six-year term, and faced over three hundred constituents in a town hall shortly after he was accused of trying to shut down the federal government over Obamacare. You don’t have to agree with Lee’s positions to agree that he’s willing to face constituents and answer their questions, even when he doesn’t control the environment.

Matheson is a nice guy and fortunately he has little in common with the former North Korean dictator. But one thing he does not have in common with the other members of Utah’s congressional delegation is a willingness to face his constituents and answer for his votes.  He owes it to those who have selected him as a representative from Utah for a decade to meet with them in public and answer their questions. At a time when Congress faces the lowest approval in three decades, it’s the very least he could do to show Utahns that their government cares about what they think.


Love rakes in numerous small donations, while Matheson milks PACs for money

121002_matheson_love_ap_605After falling just short (a mere 800 votes short) of unseating the unflappable Jim Matheson as Utah’s lone Democrat in Congress in 2012, Mia Love is well on her way to raising the money necessary to finish the job in 2014.

Filings with the Federal Elections Commission show that Love has been raising money at a faster rate than Matheson, pulling in $476,000 since April to Matheson’s $257,000. What’s most interesting, though, is the large number of small donors to the Love campaign. A look at the filing (embedded below) shows that Love has been able to capitalize on nationwide publicity and raise money  nationwide with $323,000 of her total coming from small donors.

Love’s success can be attributed to a number of things, but notable to me are two: hiring veteran political strategist Dave Hansen earlier this year to steer her campaign and capitalizing on national attention for the potential to be the first black Republican woman to join Congress.

In contrast the large number of small donations gravitating to Love’s campaign coffers, Matheson’s fundraising sources are primarily special interest sources with 89 percent of the money he raised came from PACs, according to an analysis by the Salt Lake Tribune.

So much for being a man of the people.

FRIENDS OF MIA LOVE Receipts and Disbursements 4-1-2013 to 6-30-2013

How does Matheson survive? He doesn’t.

Today, in Salt Lake Magazine, Rebecca Walsh writes what is probably best described as “free advertising”.  With almost no news worthy event to write about, Walsh goes after the obvious topic of concern to Salt Lake: how Jim Matheson wins reelection.

And his opponent this year is an unusual (but compelling) novelty in Utah politics: African-American Mormon Mia Love. It’s not inconceivable that the moderate Utah Republicans who vote for Matheson will want to rebut the idea that race has anything to do with their opposition to Obama by voting for Love. Scott Matheson’s son is a canny politician. In office since 2001, he’s held off six conservative challengers—in redder-than-red Utah. Whatever he’s doing is working.

You may not know what he stands for, but Jim Matheson knows how to survive.

Really. With with a Republican Primary nearly upon us–which means a race for Attorney General, Auditor, US Senator, and a County Mayor (PS vote Mark Crockett), at least–Walsh opts to cover the race that is all but on the back-burner until after June 26th.

My problem with the piece is that it is obviously a fluff piece for Jim Matheson that his campaign should probably have paid for the advertising.  After running through a series of issues on which Matheson voted with the rest of the Utah delegation on (War in Iraq, Bush tax cuts), and conceding that Matheson did support Obamacare (there’s just no way getting around that one, even if Walsh calls it “splitting the difference), Walsh essentially calls Matheson a DINO. That is, a Democrat in Name Only.

But for all intents and purposes, Matheson is a moderate Republican. In any other state, he’d be a good conservative.

Then why isn’t he? Truth to tell, this is part of the narrative that Democrats want Republicans to believe so that they will vote for the six term Democrat.  Matheson is no more a moderate Republican than California is culturally Utahn. At best, Matheson is conservative Democrat who picks and chooses his battles to put up enough votes to tout on literature and the phone town halls he does (I’ve never been able to find a Matheson showing up at a real town hall. I suspect they’re too unpredictable for him.

But back to the question: “How Matheson Survives.” After all, that is the headline.

Unfortunately, Walsh never answers, likely because she doesn’t have an answer. Other than recapping Matheson’s past elections (a dismissing his opponents’ differences as little more than preference over who they would vote for as Speaker of the House), Walsh’s whole argument seems to be that Matheson will survive because Matheson wants to extend the Bush tax cuts. If that’s it, let’s put the shoe on the other foot: so does the Republican challenger, Mia Love.

Except that Mia Love will vote to extend the tax cuts, too, and even maybe make them permanent, as part of a Republican majority, allowing her more influence in proposing legislation, speaking out for Utah, and fighting wasteful government spending. Further, Love can do something Matheson can never do: take on Democrats for their big spending policies. Even if he wanted to, assuming for a moment that  he is little more than a moderate Republican, Matheson could never take on Democrats for their spending and taxing. He never has and he’s not given any indication that he will now. That’s just not how he rolls.

How he rolls is to keep his head low, talk a good game, and avoid hot button issues.

Meanwhile, there is a plan to beat him, and while Walsh would prefer to post a headline suggesting Matheson can win again because he has won in the past, consider a few salient points:

  1. Matheson has never been on the ballot in his new district. After jumping ship on his District 2, Matheson now faces an electorate in District 4 that has never voted for him. He has some incumbency advantage due to name ID, but due more to his family than to himself.
  2. The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved  almost a million dollars in television advertising in Salt Lake’s media market to support Mia Love’s election. Most years, the Republican nominee against Matheson is lucky if he can get the attention of the national Republicans any time before September, let alone in June. Not only is the NRCC jumping in, but Rep. Paul Ryan, budget hawk superstar, is coming to Salt Lake to fund-raise for Mia later this month.
  3. The excitement factor surrounding Mia Love is palpable, and it’s an advantage the Jim just can’t create. No other candidate against Matheson has ever excited this kind of interest, and that excitement is likely to carry on through November.

So how does Matheson survive? Really, I can see just one way: run television ads from now until election day and hope that no one makes an effort to point out his weaknesses as a Democrat during a Republican majority Congress.

1st Black Republican Woman in Congress? Mia Puts Utah on Drudge.