Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Mark Shurtleff

An opponent says it is inappropriate and maybe illegal. But a political action committee formed by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff raised and spent $250,000 this year on items often related to campaigns, but which it says actually were not part of his U.S. Senate campaign.

Shurtleff's "PAC for Utah's Future" must say that because disclosure forms show it raised money from sources and in amounts that are legal for state-level races but banned by federal law for federal races.

Still, expenses it reported went for such items as candy for parades, buying tables at local GOP conventions, travel and donations to GOP groups and candidates, which, at least, could raise name recognition and spread goodwill that could help his Senate race.

Not amused is Jim Bennett, campaign chairman for his father, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, whom Shurtleff is challenging.

"As the state's chief law enforcement officer, he (Shurtleff) should know that federal law expressly forbids co-mingling state and federal campaign funds. What he has done is clearly inappropriate and very possibly illegal," Jim Bennett said.

But Shurtleff's campaign manager, Jason Powers, says all of Shurtleff's PAC finances have been handled appropriately, and it even hired the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Scott Thomas, as an attorney to help ensure the PAC does not cross any inappropriate lines.

"So if we ever have any questions about what we are doing, I pick up the phone, I ask Scott if we are getting close to the line or not. We set up some internal procedures to make sure none of that (crossing the line) happens," he said.

The PAC must be careful because federal law bans donations from corporations for federal races, but many of the donations to Shurtleff's PAC, especially the largest ones, are from corporations.

Also, federal law caps individual donations to federal PACs at $5,000. Shurtleff's PAC lists six donations of $25,000 or more, for example. Utah has no donation limits for state-level races.

Powers explained how some expenditures that might appear as potentially for Shurtleff's Senate race are actually for his work as attorney general in the eyes of his PAC and campaign.

For example, why did the PAC transfer $145,000 this year to the "Shurtleff 2008" attorney general campaign fund, even though it earlier reported finishing the campaign last year with $72,000 left over? The transfer comes as Shurt?leff is running for the Senate now and can't run again for AG until 2012.

Powers said Shurtleff actually had campaign debts that had not appeared on disclosure forms (only paid expenses do), and much of the transfer was to pay them. "Sometimes debts come in after the fact, after the campaign," he said.

Also, some of the money was transferred to make it easier for Shurtleff to access it for attorney general-related work. "A lot of times, donations are moved from the PAC to that (2008 AG race) account just for ease and availability for the attorney general to then write a check or purchase travel for AG-related expenses," Powers said.

He adds, "It's just an easy, established way for him to get checks, and he has a debit card to that account," so he may "fill up the AG vehicle with gas or pay for a lunch."

Powers said the AG campaign account will file a disclosure form at the end of the year, as required by law. Until then, exactly how the $145,000 transferred to it is being spent is not disclosed.

Jim Bennett questioned the appropriateness of such expenditures. "Why does Mark Shurtleff need $145,000 in a campaign fund for an office he's publicly announced he's not running for again?"

The PAC also reported spending more than $13,000 on booths and supplies at political conventions this year. Powers said it also was for attorney general business.

For example he said that at the state Republican convention, the PAC bought a table just for AG-related information, and Shurtleff's Senate campaign bought a separate table for its own literature.

"At the AG table, paid for out of the leadership PAC, it had no campaign material. The volunteer who was there wasn't wearing any paraphernalia that said he (Shurtleff) was running for the Senate," he said.

Powers also explained how the Shurtleff campaign views the $9,200 the PAC reported spending on candy and other materials to pass out at parades also was not a direct expense for the Senate campaign.

"The parades don't allow Mark Shurtleff to attend as a candidate," he said. "But they say, OK, we'll let you in because you are an elected official," so sometimes candy is paid for out of his AG campaign account and sometimes out of the PAC.

Powers said Shurtleff's Senate campaign and his PAC have joint fundraising events but said that is allowed by federal law, and the groups have been careful to separate donations into appropriate accounts.

"We have an event coming up in a few weeks, the Shurt?leff annual shootout. It's a shotgun competition," Powers said. "It's a very popular event because those who contribute also receive back as a gift a shotgun. …

"It's been going on for six years. We have this traditional donor base that has been attending this event, and we want to make sure they are able to continue to attend and contribute," including corporations that could not legally give to a Senate campaign but can give to state campaigns and state PACs.

Of note because the Bennett campaign attacked Shurtleff's spending, Bennett once paid a $55,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission for what he said were unintentional violations during his first campaign in 1992.

Among violations were accepting $13,450 in donations beyond legal donation limits; failing to disclose promptly $600,000 worth of last-minute contributions Bennett made himself before elections; and failing to pay back an aide quickly enough for $22,206 in campaign purchases he made.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com