Gutless Political Ads

A surprising political ad appeared in the October 18 edition of The Crossroads Journal, a small, bi-weekly community paper that's mailed to the residents of Eagle Mountain and other rapidly growing communities of northwest Utah County. Well, it's not too astonishing if you know what politics are like in the small, bedroom community I've called home for the last three years. Politics in Eagle Mountain can get downright nasty.

Since moving to Eagle Mountain, anonymous "informational" pamphlets have been left on my door by political groups targeting candidates and encouraging me to find out the "truth" about individuals or issues being discussed by the city council. Candidates for mayor and city council have refused to attend "meet the candidates" nights because they feared bias from the group sponsoring the event and decided to hold their own events on the same night. Recently, a member of the city council was charged with accepting $10,000 from a developer to finish her basement. The complaint against the councilwoman was initiated by a member of the city council who has acknowledged double-dipping into city funds in 2005 by using a city credit card to buy a hard drive for his laptop [and] then asking for city reimbursement. The money was paid back and charges were never filed.The advertisement that appeared in the local newspaper was a perfect example of the toxic political atmosphere that exists in what is otherwise a pleasant city. Under the headline "Know Before You Vote" the ad listed the tally of public records found for the last 15 years on the two mayoral candidates and six people running for city council. It also gave a website where these records could be viewed.

And what did those public records reveal?While one candidate for city council had a bankruptcy in his background, another had a divorce and two others each had a pair of traffic tickets. One of the mayoral candidates had three bankruptcies, two divorces, a disbarment from the Utah State Bar, a reinstatement to the Bar, a slew of small claim collections and lawsuits and four traffic tickets. (The same day the ad ran in The Crossroads Journal, the Provo Daily-Herald ran a story on this mayoral candidate stating that his real estate license had been revoked by the state's Real Estate Commission on Wednesday over loan fraud.)

Compiling public records on those who seek public office and putting them on display for all to see is a good idea. Public records can be informative as to the integrity and honesty of those seeking office. Someone with a personal life so out of control that he has had multiple bankruptcies, divorces and other problems should make voters wonder how effectively this person can run a city.

But public records are not the final indication of whether or not someone is going to act with integrity while in public office. It's doubtful that a public records search would have indicated that a previous mayor of Eagle Mountain, Kevin Bailey, would have lied about being abducted or another mayor, a former Utah highway patrol officer, Brain Olsen, would have been charged with seven third-degree felonies for misusing public funds.

Results of the public records search aside, what was truly bothersome about the ad is that those who paid for it remain anonymous. A visit to the website reveals that it was funded by concerned builders, developers and entrepreneurs --some of whom claim to live in Eagle Mountain --but no names, businesses or organizations are listed.

In short, it's politics as usual. Eagle Mountain style.

It's easy to disseminate politically damaging information -- even if the information is true --so long as it's done behind a cloak of anonymity. That way you don't have to justify why you ran it or what you were really hoping to accomplish with the ad.

Those who ran the ad claim "this public information is presented for the sole purpose of informing the electorate and is not a statement for or against any political candidate or issue."

If that's true, then why not put your name on it?

If you're going to list the public records of candidates for mayor and city council don't hide behind an anonymous website. Instead, have the courage to declare the names, organizations, businesses and individuals who sponsored the ad and/or paid the private investigator for his work in compiling the records.

The voters of Eagle Mountain should know who's paying for the advertisement containing a public records search so they can see what candidates these people have supported in the past. This gives the voters the chance to learn what political motivations, if any, were really behind the ad. It's not secret that developers have funneled large amounts of cash into Eagle Mountain's political campaigns. What if those who bought the ad turned out to be supporters of the candidates with big zeros next to their name in the public records search? Is it not reasonable to ask if the ad would have run if their candidate of choice would have had multiple bankruptcies and divorces?

While it may be legal for someone to run an anonymous advertisement, the ad itself is reminiscent of anonymous hit-and-run political tactics that are so often used to silence those who find themselves on the wrong side of a political issue. Those who profess so much concern for Eagle Mountain should be able to rise above the anonymous mud slinging and deal with the truth and facts.

If Eagle Mountain is going to stop being the political laughingstock of the state, it should not only demand more honesty and integrity from those who are running for office but also from those who use their resources to buy political ads in newspapers and otherwise work to influence the election.