Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why keep the contributors a secret?

I still haven't found the contributions to Parents for Choice in Education listed online. In fact, the Utah Reporting System's page seemed to be down for part of this morning. (Maybe so many people are asking the same questions that it froze up!) But a great reader shared with me a photocopy of some documents filed on Monday, so at least I have those to mention. The strange thing is that they don't show who the contributors are. So they don't answer any questions, they just lead to more questions.

Like this: Did you know there's a Parents for Choice in Education, Incorporated? And there's a Parents for Choice in Education Foundation? That's in addition to the Parents for Choice in Education political action committee and the Parents for Choice in Education political issues committee. Why does one organization have so many different legal entities? I think I know the answer, but I'll save it for the end.

So PCE Incorporated, in its filing, shows only four expenditures made during 2007, two of them to PCE's PAC and two to PCE's PIC. The two fund transfers to the PAC came on January 22 ($15,000) and May 30 ($2,500), for a total of $17,500. The transfers to the PIC came on July 27 ($200,000) and September 12 ($30,000), for a total of $230,000. The financial officer listed for PCE Incorporated is Elisa Clements. I wonder if this is the same Elisa Clements who is the director of Parents for Choice in Education, the daughter of PCE's co-founder Jordan Clements?

PCE Foundation also shows only four expenditures this year, and all of them go to Parr Waddoups for "legal fees." The fund transfers were on May 31 ($23,982.55), June 30 ($12,814.02), July 27 ($55,789.99) and August 22 ($35,214.88), for a total of $127,801.44. That's a lot of legal fees for only four months' work. I noticed that something is missing, and maybe it will show up in the PCE PAC's online filing: the fees paid to Crapo Wood, the law firm that sent letters to district administrators last month warning them not to allow conversation about vouchers on their campuses without telling PCE first. If they were paid to do that, their payment wasn't reported here.

Oddly, the financial officer for the PCE Foundation is also Elisa Clements. And I noticed that the address for PCE, PCE Inc., and PCE Foundation is the same street address, even the same office number. If the same Elisa Clements is the director of PCE, and the financial officer for PCE Incorporated and PCE Foundation, does that mean all three PCE legal entities share the same desk and chair? If they only need one desk and chair, then why do they need so many legal entities.

I think this is the answer: If contributors give directly to PCE's PAC, it looks like the contributors would have to be identified by name. But if contributors give to PCE Inc., or the PCE Foundation, and those funds are then moved into the PCE PAC (and PCE PIC), then the contributors' names don't have to be reported to the public. So they're kept hidden. This answers my question from yesterday: Are there loopholes in the state campaign finance laws? It seems to be so: If people are able to funnel big sums of money through a corporation or foundation to the PAC (or PIC) to hide their activities, that's a pretty big loophole.

But it leads to one more question: If a person is willing to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the voucher cause in Utah, why hide that fact? If I had that kind of money and felt that passionate about giving it to support a political issue, I certainly wouldn't be afraid for people to know it. It leads me to one conclusion. It is possible that the identities of the contributors would cause embarrassment or political damage to to cause? For example, would it look bad if the major (or only) contributors to PCE's PAC were from, for example, Michigan?

We know where the bulk of the anti-voucher money is coming from: Thousands of educators in Utah and their supporters. That's public information. But based on these finance reports, we have no better sense today of where the pro-voucher money is coming from than we had last week. It's still a secret. And no one knows why.

There's one Utahn who gives large sums to support vouchers and doesn't hide it (at least, doesn't hide all of it). I also got a look at the filing by "Informed Voter Project," the operation mentioned in yesterday's Trib article. Sure enough, it's only contributor is Patrick Byrne, who gave $200,000 to IVP on August 7.

Paul Rolly tells us in this morning's Trib that one filing he was waiting to read wasn't filed at all. He writes here (

Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero might have you believe Brigham Young was a voucher supporter, but the apparently secret group touting Mormon scriptures in pro-voucher radio ads could soon be facing criminal charges. The Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office is requesting the attorney general investigate who is behind the series of ads urging Utahns to uphold the state's voucher law, with one of the ads reciting parts of the Book of Mormon to make its point.

But the actions of the anonymous group qualify it as a Political Issues Committee subject to finance reporting laws, says Joe Demma of the Lieutenant Governor's Office. That means the group was required to file a report by Monday, which it didn't do. The ads were placed on various radio stations by Crowell Advertising. But the agency has refused to identify the client.

Uh-oh. More secrecy.