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PAC run by Utah governor’s former staff under investigation

June 15, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A political action committee run by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s former campaign manager is under investigation after raising $4.8 million but never donating to candidates or causes.

The PAC called “Americans for an Informed Electorate” that was co-founded by Joe Demma has used most of the money it’s raised since 2016 on nonscientific polls and employee salaries, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Utah Lt. Gov Spencer Cox said he requested a law enforcement investigation 18 months ago that is underway to probe if the PAC did anything illegal. He declined to say which agency is handling that. FBI spokeswoman Sandra Barker said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

“Clearly this is unusual, and that’s why it came to our attention,” Cox said. “Both the amount of money that is being raised and the fact that it’s not being spent on actual political campaigns is why we brought it to the attention of law enforcement.”

Demma said the PAC is “well-intended” and qualifies as a PAC because of the surveys it does and shares. That puts it in accordance with state law that requires PACS be formed for “political purposes,” he said.

Demma said he stepped away from daily operations of the PAC two years ago to focus on his full-time job as vice president of Mountainland Technical College, a state funded institute. But Demma and his wife are still listed as directors of a related corporation, which Demma said is a technical error.

Demma ran Herbert’s 2010 campaign and was his chief of staff before that when Hebert, a Republican, was lieutenant governor.

A statement from Herbert’s office said he had no knowledge of the PAC and pointed out that Demma left the lieutenant governor’s office 10 years ago.

“The governor is tremendously disappointed to learn of the unethical conduct carried out by this organization, and emphasizes the importance of ethical behavior in all campaign-related matters,” the statement said.

The $1.8 million raised in 2018 was more than any other PAC in Utah, the newspaper’s analysis found. The Utah Association of Realtors was second at $1.2 million. Herbert’s Governor’s Leadership PAC was No. 3 at $621,700.

Of the $4.8 million raised since 2016, about $800,000 went to salaries, consulting fees, health insurance, travel, entertainment, cellphones and car maintenance.

Demma was paid $77,500 in 2017 for “consulting fees.” That was in addition to the $75,000 in compensation (about $57,000 in salary and $18,000 in benefits) he earned as public relations director at Mountainland Technical College.

He might have received even more money but the PAC didn’t specify how much of the $206,000 listed only for general staff salaries went to Demma and others.

The rest of the money went to online surveys sent to members of Congress.

Wendell Keith, 69, of Winter Springs, Florida was among the donors who complained to a website called ScamFinance.com that publishes people’s reports of online scams. Keith said he agreed to one $60 donation and was charged twice.

Norma Dorfner, 83, of Columbus, Ohio, said she gave six donations totaling $385 because the group was pushing conservative Republican values she supported.

Asked if she knew the PAC never donated to candidates or causes, Dorfner said, “Absolutely not.”

PAC Co-founder Brett Payne rejected the “scam” label and said the compensation for employees is fair and in line with nonprofits.

Payne thinks the “scam” label is linked to the fact that the group waited too long to create a website after the PAC was created, leading people to have suspicions when they donated and couldn’t find a website.

Cox, the current lieutenant governor who is running for governor in next year’s election, said he’s concerned about the PAC’s actions.

“It’s not a great look and it does trouble me,” Cox said.

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