Governor Mitt Romney's political team has quietly consulted with leaders of the Mormon Church to map out plans for a nationwide network of Mormon supporters to help Romney capture the presidency in 2008, according to interviews and written materials reflecting plans for the initiative.
Over the past two months, Romney's political operatives and church leaders have discussed building a grass-roots political organization using alumni chapters of Brigham Young University's business school around the country. More recently, representatives of BYU, which is run by the church, and Romney's political action committee have begun soliciting help from prominent Mormons, including a well-known author suggested by the governor, to build the program, which Romney advisers dubbed Mutual Values and Priorities, or MVP.
The president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, has been made aware of the effort and expressed no opposition, the documents show, and at least one other top church official has played a more active role.
Church officials and Romney advisers downplayed the discussions. Church officials say they have a position of strict neutrality on political matters and are not supporting Romney's candidacy.
But documents indicate that Jeffrey R. Holland, one of 12 apostles who help lead the church worldwide, has handled the initiative for the Mormons and that he hosted a Sept. 19 meeting about it in his church office in Salt Lake City with Josh Romney, one of the governor's sons; Don Stirling, a paid consultant for the Commonwealth PAC, Romney's political action committee; and Kem Gardner, a prominent Salt Lake City developer who is one of Romney's biggest donors. Globe reporters observed Romney's representatives enter and leave chuch headquarters for the meeting.
Prior to the Sept. 19 meeting, Gardner had already met with Holland at least once to discuss the initiative, documents show.
Holland, a former BYU president, suggested using the alumni organization of the university's business school, the BYU Management Society, to build a network for Romney, according to the documents. Such a plan would give Romney an established infrastructure the alumni group has 5,500 members in about 40 US chapters for raising money and generating support.
Eight days later, Stirling, Spencer Zwick, a top political aide to Romney, and the governor's brother, Scott Romney, held a dinner at a private Salt Lake City club for other prominent Mormons, where they discussed the effort further. Among those invited were Steve Albrecht, associate dean of the BYU business school, the Marriott School of Management.
On Oct. 9, Albrecht and Ned Hill, the business school dean, sent an e-mail to 50 Management Society members and 100 members of the school's National Advisory Council asking them to join them in supporting Romney's potential bid for the presidency. Hill and Albrecht signed the message with their official BYU titles, sent the e-mail from a BYU e-mail address, and began the message "Dear Marriott School Friend."
"We are writing to you as a friend to see if you have any interest in helping Governor Romney by volunteering to serve as a Community or Neighborhood Chair," Hill and Albrecht wrote in the e-mail, which was reviewed by the Globe. "Governor Romney's chances for success are significantly enhanced and energized by people, such as you, who are willing to help him at the grass-roots level throughout the United States."Anyone interested in helping Romney was asked to send a note to Albrecht at his BYU e-mail address.
Both the church and BYU, as tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations, are prohibited by federal law from advocating on behalf of a particular candidate or political party.
The church's director of media relations, Michael R. Otterson, called "nonsense" the suggestion that church leaders were working to promote Romney.
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