A pro-voucher group offered to pay "motivated" individuals to go out and secure votes in favor of the program. However, a retraction and apology were later sent.

The Free Capitalist Project sent out e-mails earlier this week looking for "advocates" who could earn $250 for securing 25 names of voters who committed to vote for Referendum 1. They could earn $10 for every additional name after that.

The group also claimed they were working on behalf of Parents for Choice in Education, something PCE said Thursday was false.

"We are looking for staffing in the next month to help us out in the community, but it is not what was stated in that e-mail," said Leah Barker, spokeswoman for PCE. "Some groups, they just want to help, but this was really misrepresenting what we are looking for."

The retraction stated that the e-mail "was simply incorrect and misrepresents the Free Capitalist Project's grass-roots efforts. Neither Parents for Choice in Education nor the Free Capitalist Project will ever provide incentives that appear to pay people to vote."

Rick Koerber, CEO of Free Capitalist Project, said the e-mail was sent by a volunteer who got a little "over-anxious."

"One volunteer secured permission from me to use our e-mail list but did not secure permission to use that message, and it went out without anyone's approval," Koerber said.

Moreover, the message went out on the wrong e-mail list. Koerber said it was supposed to go to only Free Capitalist supporters but instead went to a broader list.

"We had to retract it because it gave an impression that wasn't consistent to what we are trying to accomplish and had some inaccuracies," he said.

The retraction indicated that the Free Capitalist Project and Parents for Choice in Education did not approve of the e-mail in advance and issued an apology for the miscommunication.

"The earlier e-mail was sent by determined and sincere individuals who are working diligently," the retraction stated.

The voucher program, which was approved by the Legislature this past spring, would provide Utah families with a private-school tuition voucher ranging from $500 to $3,000 per student, based on parents' income.

It also would appropriate $9.2 million for mitigation money to hold schools harmless for five years after a student leaves and goes to a private school.

The anti-voucher group Utahns for Public Schools sought a referendum last March that would allow the public to decide if it wants a voucher program in the state. The vote is slated for Nov. 6.

But Joe Demma, spokesman for the Lieutenant Governor's Office, said even if the group had not issued the retraction, they still would have been within the law.

"It sounds to me like a normal voter ID effort that occurs in many campaigns," said Demma. "If people are in fact paying people to vote a certain way or paying people to induce someone to vote a certain way, then we get into serious problems. But if you are just paying someone to go out and identify voters, then I see no problem with that and neither does the law."

But voucher opponents say it's a shame that voucher supporters felt they needed to pay for secured votes.

"This is the latest in a long line of examples of deceptive tactics on the pro-voucher side ... and another distraction from the real issue," said Lisa Johnson, spokeswoman for the anti-voucher Utahns for Public Schools.


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com