It seems that the Utah GOP just doesn’t know how to play by the rules.
For the past few years, Utahns have been subjected to a never-ending news cycle about the Utah Republican Party and its refusal to accept the S.B. 54 compromise, which gave candidates for office a way to circumvent the ultra-conservative convention nomination process. Not only are they expected to soon appeal their string of defeats to the U.S. Supreme Court, but there have been times when the party has come perilously close to being kicked off the ballot entirely.
At the same time, however, Utah GOP officials were quietly dealing with another instance of rule-breaking, this time with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
In 2016, the Federal Election Commission notified the Utah Republican Party that it was taking enforcement action against the party for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, the principle law governing campaign finance in federal elections. Specifically, the FEC was taking action against the Utah GOP related to the 2014 election cycle “for reporting errors including excessive, prohibited, and other impermissible contributions or transfers, mathematical discrepancies, failure to provide support schedules, failure to properly itemize contributions from individuals, and allocated federal and non-federal activity.”
In 2017, the Federal Election Commission sent an additional notification charging the Utah GOP with further election law violations related to the 2012 election cycle. As laid out in the FEC’s legal analysis, the violations included: “1) receipt of prohibited contributions; 2) receipt of excessive contributions; 3) misstatement of financial activity; 4) recordkeeping for employees; and 5) reporting of debts and obligations.”
Additionally, we were able to find that over the last year, the Utah GOP was involved in Alternative Dispute Resolution proceedings with the FEC related to the 2016 election cycle. These reporting errors included “excessive, prohibited and other impermissible contributions and transfers; mathematical discrepancies; failure to provide supporting schedules; and allocated federal and non-federal activity.”
Unlike state-level elections in Utah which don’t have any campaign finance contribution limits, there are strict limits on how much money can be donated directly to candidates or parties during federal election periods. In violation of these laws and regulations, the Utah GOP was being accused of receiving $66,525 in contributions that it “ultimately transferred to a non-federal account” (meaning that these contributions would have been acceptable if they were put into accounts for state races or other purposes).
In addition to violating contribution limits, the FEC accused the Utah GOP of failing to maintain logs for how it was paying its employees, a system meant to track how many hours were being compensated in helping out on federal races. The underlying value of these employee wages was $270,738. Additionally, the Utah GOP had failed to disclose debts and obligations it owed to five vendors and one staff member, debts worth $205,323.
Additionally, an audit had “identified two prohibited corporate contributions totaling $6,000” and “two excessive contributions of $ 15,000 and $11,000, the first of which was reduced by $5,000 due to a same-day transfer to a non-federal account.”
In response to the audit and the related findings that stemmed from that audit, the Utah GOP said “that its poor financial position and high personnel turnover rate ‘have led to previous challenges with its report preparation and other tasks'” but that it “does not contest the merits of the alleged violations.” Admittedly, the Utah GOP worked with the auditing analyst to correct many of these violations after the fact; however, as noted by the FEC, they were not there to judge the merits of the violations, but simply to enforce the laws and regulations in existence.
Now that we’ve given you the background facts, which admittedly included a lot of numbers and jargon, let’s break down what happened in the end:
2012 Election Cycle: The Utah GOP reached a conciliation agreement on December 7, 2017 in which it admitted to having violated contribution acceptance limits and reporting requirements. The party agreed to pay a fine of $17,500 to the FEC, in addition to amending the erroneous reports.
2014 Election Cycle: Because the Utah GOP had worked with the auditing analyst, the FEC declined to pursue the case further.
2016 Election Cycle: Following alternative dispute resolution proceedings, the Utah GOP reached a settlement agreement on May 22, 2018 with the FEC. During the proceedings, the Utah GOP said “there were personnel and resource challenges during the 2016 election cycle that may have affected the Committee’s reporting.” After committing to timely and accurately report from that point forward, the Utah GOP agreed to pay a fine of $7,800, in addition to correcting the erroneous reports and attending an FEC training.
It has been a crazy two years for the Utah Republican Party. New Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson seems to have inherited quite the mess from the former chairman, James Evans, who not only led the party into huge amounts of debt and an intra-party civil war over S.B. 54, but was also manning the helm during all these election cycles that ended up before the FEC. Whether it was negligence on the part of Mr. Evans, the Utah GOP treasurer at the time, or the party in general, these election law violations resulted in over $25,000 in FEC fines at a time when the party is already struggling with finances.
Is all of this a broader message about the dysfunctional state of Utah’s majority party? Or is it simply the lingering reverberations of a dysfunctional leader and the Utah GOP is now moving on to brighter days?