Words are flying back and forth today over the latest claims and counter-claims in the contentious race between 4th District Congresswoman Mia Love and her challenger, Mayor Ben McAdams.
Love, according to a campaign ad paid for by the McAdams campaign, is under investigation by the Federal Election Commission for raising “a million dollars in illegal contributions.”
But investigative work by KSL was uncovered that the group that filed the FEC complaint against Love has ties to McAdams.
The FEC investigation
McAdams’s campaign has described the FEC’s investigation into Love as a criminal investigation.
In a campaign ad, they accuse her of having raised “a million dollars in illegal contributions.” And in a message to KSL, the McAdams campaign claimed that the FEC is “looking into criminal wrongdoing [by] Love for willfully violating the federal campaign finance laws.”
Those ads, however, do not make a distinction between two separate investigations into Rep. Mia Love’s fundraising: one initiated by the FEC itself and another initiated through a complaint by a group called Alliance for a Better Utah.
The investigation initiated by the FEC has not once used the words “criminal” or “illegal”. Instead, the FEC simply sent a letter to Love’s campaign asking for “additional information” about the funds she raised during the 2018 Primary election:
The letter does warn her campaign that they could face an audit if they fail to respond in time. However, Love’s attorneys replied promptly with a letter that offered to “refund, or process re-designations for, all contributions designated for the primary election that were received after April 21, 2018.”
After Love’s correspondences the FEC went into the public record, however, the Alliance for Better Utah filed a complaint demanding a second investigation.
On Sept. 18, Better Utah sent a letter to FEC accusing Love of “illegal campaign contributions.” Love, they said, should be “subject to criminal penalties.”
The FEC followed up on Better Utah’s complaint, which they do with every complaint they receive. In fact, their policies guarantee that “the Commission reviews every complaint filed.”
But only that second investigation, made in response to Better Utah’s complaint, uses language like “criminal penalties”, and the only documents we’ve been able to find that refer to Love’s investigation as “criminal” have been written by Better Utah and not the FEC themselves.
A inconveniently timed complaint
The timing of that complaint has been very unfortunate for Love. FEC’s investigation into complaints like theirs normally take about two years to complete, meaning that it will likely continue until well after the election is over.
Better Utah has made it clear that know exactly how long these investigations take.
When Love, during the debate on Monday, said that she had received a phone call from the FEC clearing her, Better Utah’s Chase Thomas refuted her claim, telling Deseret News that FEC complaints normally take “years to resolve.”
While those years pass, the FEC complaint filed by Better Utah has the potential of seriously affecting Love’s campaign. Editorials about the controversy with titles like “This Is Something That Love And Her Campaign Thought They Could Get Away With” have filled headlines.
“I’ve had to keep my kids away from the TV,” she told KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic. “This is something that’s really affected me.”
Better Utah’s ties to McAdams
This week, an investigative report by producers of the Dave & Dujanovic show found that the Alliance for a Better Utah’s founder, Josh Kanter, has ties to Ben McAdams.
The founder, Board President, and Chair of the group that filed that complaint is a man named Josh Kanter. Kanter and his wife, Christine, donated more than $10,000 to McAdams’ 2012 campaign in the Salt Lake County Mayoral campaign and have regularly sent him donations since then.
He has also praised McAdams in interviews with the press, last year telling KCPW that McAdams is “amazing” and “a guy who’s willing to take on the big issues.”
For his part, McAdams, had done a great deal to support Kanter’s wife Catherine. In 2015, he appointed her to the Salt Lake County Mountainous Planning Commission, a post that she still holds today. Then, in 2017, he formally supported her in a bid for a seat on the Salt Lake County Council.
In the past, Josh Kanter has come under fire for failing to give McAdams the same scrutiny he gives other politicians. In 2015, Kanter was accused of “entering into questionable contracts with a public affairs firm that also had ties to McAdams’ campaign.”
At the time, Kanter’s organization had recently filed complaints again Attorney General John Swallow and Senator Mike Lee for similar charges. However, Better Utah declined to file any complaints against McAdams.
Reporters at FOX 13 directly asked Kanter why he was filing complaints against Swallow but not McAdams. Kanter, in response, said that any criticism of McAdams would “depend on the outcome of both the investigation and what other things come to light about who knew what.”
To date, the Alliance for a Better Utah has never filed a complaint against McAdams.
Ben McAdams responds to KSL’s investigation
KSL Newsradio’s Debbie Dujanovic contacted McAdams to ask him for a comment on his connections to the Alliance for a Better Utah. McAdams did not deny his connection to the Kanter family, but he he argued that it was inconsequential.
“Look, Utah is a small state,” McAdams said. “The Alliance for a Better Utah is a very active good government organization. I’ve participated in forums that they’ve put together and panels that they’ve done. That just happens when a good government organization that’s involved in promoting honesty and integrity and government – sure, I’ve been on their panels.”
When asked to comment on appointing Mrs. Kanter to the Salt Lake County Mountainous Planning Commission, McAdams replied, “I appoint hundreds of people to boards. … That has nothing to do with Love breaking the law and the FEC informing her that she’s broken the law and needs to return her dollars.”
Hours later, however, Love told KSL that she had been cleared by the FEC in an e-mail that she shared with our station:
“We concluded that the substantive facts at issue were indistinguishable from those presented in the Friends of Mike Lee Request,” the letter, written by FEC attorney Danita Alberico, says. “Friends of Mia Love is not required to take any corrective action.”
The letter echoes a line that Love’s campaign has repeated throughout the allegations. Love has repeatedly compared her fundraising to a similar controversy Senator Mike Lee became embroiled in in 2016.
McAdams, however, continues to insist that Love has not been exonerated. In a letter to KSL, his campaign claimed that “the email released by Love is not a decision by the FEC and does not exonerate her.”
The complaint, McAdam’s communications director claims, is still an open matter. His camp says Love is “being deceptive” about the e-mail.
Love, today, expressed disappointment with both McAdams and the Alliance for a Better Utah.
“It’s absolutely sad for the state of Utah. First that you’ve got a group that’s supposed to be a watchdog, but it turns out that they’re really a pit bull for the Liberal Democrats,” she said.
Love, who previously demanded an apology from McAdams for what she calls an attempt to smear her campaign and destroy her character, no longer thinks an apology will be enough.
“If Ben McAdams is willing to do this kind of thing to win a seat in Congress, imagine what he will do when he is elected,” Love told KSL. “I honestly believe that McAdams should pull out of this race.”
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