Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How important was the money in 2006?

After catching several discrepancies in the campaign finance reports between Parents for Choice in Education and a couple of the candidates it supported for state House last year, I went back to check a couple more and wound up killing several hours at the Utah Reporting System website. This sort of thing is hard on the eyes, but until someone offers a piece-by-piece explanation of House Bill 148, what else do I have to read on the issue?

I made some interesting observations and should go back to test these observations on the reports Rep. Carl Wimmer and Mark Jacobs (but I'll wait to do that after I get through this stack of notes).

I started with a simple question: How much money did PCE give to this candidate in 2006, and how -- as a direct contribution, as an in-kind contribution or as a loan? Once I got into the first few filings, though, I noticed PCE's founders' names showing up on the reports separately from PCE's name, so I expanded the question and included them. At the same time, I noticed another set of names -- and a set of business names -- that also cropped up consistently, so I included them too. And finally, I double-checked the PCE filing against each candidate's report, to catch anything that may have fallen through the cracks.

To make this simple, I'm going to take these candidates one at a time, and the first is an easy one: Rep. Jeff Alexander. On December 5, 2005, PCE reported giving a $1,000 campaign contribution to Mr. Alexander, and his campaign records the same contribution, received on the same date. On September 9, 2006, PCE reports making another $1,000 contribution to Mr. Alexander, and he reports receiving that amount on that date. So in Mr. Alexander's case, both sets of reports agree.

Things are similar in cases of PCE's reported contributions to Rep. Sylvia Andersen ($1,000 on Feb. 20, 2006) and Rep. Roger Barrus ($250 on September 9, 2006). Ms. Andersen reported receiving her contribution on April 3, and Mr. Barrus received his on September 12. Close enough, and the figures are the same.

Then we come to PCE's contributions to Rep. David Clark. Mr. Clark's race was slightly more important to PCE and its sponsors than the races of Rep. Alexander, Rep. Andersen and Rep. Barrus. PCE contributed $500 to Mr. Clark's campaign on September 9, 2006, and the campaign reported receiving it twenty days later.

But Mr. Clark's campaign also reports receiving $2,000 on October 2, 2006, but PCE's report doesn't mention it.

And Mr. Clark collected support from two other sources related to PCE: $500 on October 23 from Doug Holmes, PCE's co-founder, and $1,000 on November 3 from, the company owned by voucher promoter Patrick Byrne.

Rep. Stephen Clark received only $250 from PCE on September 9, which he reported receiving on the same date. And he collected $250 from on October 13.

It's when we get to the campaign of Jess Clifford, running to replace Rep. Jim Gowans, that we see how PCE and those closest to it invested their money to secure another pro-voucher vote in the state House. On March 3, PCE paid for a Clifford-campaign volunteer dinner at the Skybox Sports Grille, costing $782.70. On April 11, PCE gave a direct contribution of $2,000 to the Clifford campaign. On May 25, it paid Summit Consulting the princely sum of $25 to run a phone bank for Mr. Clifford, and it paid $1,203.51 to Northwest Lithographics for printing something for the Clifford campaign. On June 20, PCE sent another direct contribution of $2,000 to the campaign, and on September 12, it paid Northwest Lithographics another $697.16 for printing campaign t-shirts.

On Mr. Clifford's campaign reports, all of the direct contributions are appropriately noted, but the inkind contributions are attributed to Summit Consulting and Northwest Lithographics, as if these companies -- not PCE -- gave the funds. Perhaps this was an oversight by Mr. Clifford or his campaign.

But Mr. Clifford records receiving another set of contributions from PCE that PCE's own reports don't include. These include in-kind contributions of $200 on October 12, $228 on October 20, $642 on October 28, and $5,757 on November 27, well past Election Day. The final note is a direct contribution of $300 on December 8. PCE's own reports don't reflect any of these.

And it's in Mr. Clifford's reports that I first found a group of contributors that, after seeing them appear again and again in others' campaign reports, I have decided to call the "C-list" (with "C" representing "choice," the word preferred by prominent voucher supporters).

These include Chuck Warren (although many reports reflect the name of Kim Warren, of the same address as Mr. Warren); PCE co-founders Jordan Clements and Doug Holmes, and Lisa Wark of Las Vegas, Nevada, whose name didn't mean anything to me until PCE spokeswoman Elisa Clements Peterson told the Trib last month that PCE has hired Steve Wark, a Las Vegas-based campaign consultant, to run PCE's voucher referendum operation. I'll make the assumption that Ms. Wark and Mr. Wark are related.

The strangest members of the "C-list" are the operations run by Rick Koerber, who I've mentioned before here. While Mr. Koerber makes contributions in his own name, contributions are also made, usually on the same date, in the names of several companies he owns: Five Pillars LLC (and Five Pillars Investments LLC) Founders Capital LLC, Hill Erickson LLC, Franklin Squires Investments, McGuire Group LLC, and New Castle Holdings. All of these are listed at the same business address in Provo.

One other operation associated with Mr. Koerber is included here, one called "Utah's Working Moms and Dads." At least one internet source says UWMD is funded, in part, by Mr. Koerber and by Patrick Byrne, owner of, who also appears on the "C-list" sometimes under his own name and sometimes under the name of Overstock.

And finally, the "C-list" includes a new name: Tim Mooney of Arizona. When I google-searched Mr. Mooney's name, I discovered his close connection to Mr. Byrne of Overstock. Mr. Mooney is described as a political consultant and as spokesman for "First Class Education," an operation established and funded by Mr. Byrne.

In the case of Mr. Clifford's campaign in 2006, here are the contributions he reports collecting from the "C-list:"

Chuck Warren, $2,000 on 1-4-06
Utah Working Moms and Dads, $2,000 on 6-27-06
Chuck Warren, $250 on 8-14-06
Lisa Wark of Las Vegas, $100 8-14-06
Jordan Clements, $500 on 8-14-06
Doug Holmes, $300 on 8-14-06
Tim Mooney of Arizona, $200 on 8-14-06
Rick Koerber, $500 on 9-15-06
McGuire Group LLC (Mr. Koerber), $500 on 9-15-06
New Castle Holdings (Mr. Koerber), $500 on 9-15-06
Five Pillars LLC (Mr. Koerber), $500 on 9-15-06
Founders Capital LLC (Mr. Koerber), $500 on 9-15-05
Franklin Squires Investments (Mr. Koerber), $500 on 9-15-06
Hill Erickson LLC (Mr. Koerber), $500 on 9-15-06

In all, the C-list contributed $8,850 to Mr. Clifford's campaign. PCE's reported and unreported contributions (according to Mr. Clifford's reports) total $14,532.53, bringing the entire group's investment to $23,382.53, or almost 37 percent of Mr. Clifford's entire reported campaign treasury.

Of course, it is appropriate that Utah citizens give to the candidate(s) of their choice, if they choose to give in a political campaign. It is even legal for citizens outside Utah to support a candidate running for office in the state. I don't dispute or even question either of those facts. My purpose in documenting these notes is to organize, for myself as much as for anyone else's benefit, the information that tells us who has brought us the voucher plan on November's ballot. In the absence of a piece-by-piece explanation of the voucher plan that won by a one-vote margin in the state House last winter, this is all the information we have to consider.

There's more in my stack of notes from these finance reports, and I'll share more of it in the next post.

[P.S. To my correspondent, A, with notes on html and links: I appreciate the tip! I'm learning about this as I go, and I'm grateful for the advice. Thanks, and you do great work at your own blog, too.]