Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who's sending cash through MO to Utah?

I don't know what to make of this story from California this week, except that it tells Utah voters that one more wealthy ideologue from someplace far from Utah knows best what to do about education in Utah.

The story was in the Los Angeles Times. Someone tried to get a referendum on the ballot to split up California's presidential electoral votes. Apparently they couldn't find a lot of people to donate money to pay for the cause. Only one donor gave any money, but he or she gave $175,000 at once.

And guess how the mystery donor gave the money: Through a mysterious company called "TIA Take Initiative America," created just one day before the donation was received and funneled to the California campaign.

The whole story from Friday's paper is here (,1,5758379.story?coll=la-news-politics-national&ctrack=3&cset=true) but here are the two things I got from it.

One, the man who invented the overnight money-funneling company plans to send more of the money to Utah. He said so through his spokesman, a political consultant.

And two, this money-funneling (is that related money-laundering, or have I been watching too many crime dramas?) from unknown wealthy donors through corporations to the House Bill 148 voucher campaign is the same process that has already brought $358,000 to it. As Bob Bernick said in the DesNews, we know that teachers from Utah and across the country are funding the anti-voucher campaign, but we don't know who's pouring the money into the pro-voucher side.

What's funny about this California story is that the man running it, a lawyer named Thomas Hiltachk, wanted TIA Take Initiative America to publicly disclose who had sent the money to his campaign in California. But TIA TIA's founder, Charles Hurth III, wouldn't do it. So Hiltachk quit the whole effort altogether.

The campaign received only one sizable donation -- $175,000. That is less than one-tenth of the $2 million typically needed to gather sufficient signatures to qualify a measure for the California ballot.

The donation arrived on Sept. 11, one day after Missouri attorney Charles A. Hurth III created a company called TIA Take Initiative America that served as the vehicle for the donation. But the individual donors to the organization were not known.

Hiltachk said he had demanded that "Take Initiative America fully disclose the source of its funds," and said he was assured it would make such a disclosure soon.

"Nonetheless," Hiltachk said, "I am deeply troubled by their failure to disclose prior to my demand and by their failure to disclose to me or to our committee that Take Initiative America had been formed just one day prior to making the contribution. . . .

"I am not willing to proceed under such circumstances," Hiltachk said. "Therefore, I am resigning my role in this campaign."

Eckery added: "There's no reason to be cute on campaign contributions. We had nothing to hide, and the public has every right to know."

Eckery said the campaign would keep the money; it has been used to pay signature gatherers and other costs.

If he hasn't already funneled money into Utah, Charles Hurth III plans to do it through his new company, he says:

Hurth did not return repeated calls seeking comment. His spokesman, Republican consultant Jonathan Wilcox, would not say who provided the $175,000. Wilcox said the group was planning to donate to other conservative causes around the country, including one in Utah to create school vouchers.

Donors commonly establish entities such as nonprofit corporations to raise money for political campaigns. In at least some instances, donors to such organizations are able to hide their identities.

"I'm not authorized by my clients to speak with the media just yet," Cleta Mitchell, a Washington attorney representing the group, said in an e-mail.

So Hurth is a lawyer from Missouri. Who would use a Missouri lawyer to send $175,000 anonymously to a ballot initiative campaign in California? Rex Sinquefield? I just wondered two weeks ago whether Mr. Sinquefield was behind part or all of the $358,000 that has come into Utah to push vouchers. So, does Mr. Sinquefield and his Show-Me Institute have a connection to Mr. Hurth? Or is Mr. Hurth representing someone else?