University of Utah tries to smooth things over with conservative donor

Published: Friday, Oct. 21 2011 5:22 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah officials say they are standing behind the actions of its director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, who was accused by a national Republican direct-mailing businessman of mishandling part of his $200,000 donation.

In an effort to put this political controversy to bed, Fred Esplin, vice president of institutional advancement at the U., sent Peter Valcarce a letter on Thursday, assuring him that his donation has not been mishandled.

"Having now learned of your concerns our goal is to quickly reallocate these funds in accordance with your wishes," Esplin wrote.

Valcarce expressed disappointment on Friday, blasting the university for not adequately investigating what he continues to call theft.

"Only now, after public attention has been brought to this matter, is the university going to completely pay back the Rob Bishop scholarship on Jowers's behalf," Valcarce said. "The university refuses to give this matter the review it merits. It's clear the university is taking care of its own."

He added it should not have taken three years to resolve this issue.

In a letter sent earlier this month to not only the University of Utah, but majority/minority legislative leaders, the U. Board of Trustees and the Utah Board of Regents, Valcarce expressed frustration that about $75,000 of his $200,000 anonymous donation was moved into the scholarship fund in the name of Hinckley Institute director Kirk Jowers. In a letter of his own, sent to the same parties, Valcarce accused Jowers of co-opting his money and using it for his own political aims.

Valcarce said he was furious when Jowers went on KSL's "Doug Wright Show" to offer a $25,000 matching donation from the Kirk and Kristen Jowers Global Scholarship fund to raise funds for a memorial scholarship for Wright's son, Eric Wright, who died while serving a Washington, D.C., internship for the Hinckley Institute. At one point, Valcarce accused Jowers of "theft," adding that Jowers was using the money to further his own career.

Jowers has since denied any inappropriate use of the donation, adding that when Valcarce made the anonymous donation, he left no specific instructions on how it should be used. Later, Valcarce asked Jowers and the U. to move the $75,000 into a fund in the name of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. Jowers said $40,000 of the money was moved immediately into the Bishop fund, but that the remaining $35,000 would have to be moved slowly as it was locked up in an endowment account.

As for the Eric Wright scholarship fund, Jowers said none of Valcarce's money was used for that purpose. In this week's letter, Esplin affirmed that "none of your monies in the Jowers Scholarship Fun has been expended nor used to establish the Eric Wright Scholarship Fund."

Esplin says after careful review, the university stands by Jowers and has "complete support and trust" in him. "His leadership of the Hinckley Institute is a great service to the university, its students and faculty, and to the people of Utah and we have no doubt that he has the best interests of the Hinckley Institute at heart." He also confirms that the remaining money will be moved into the Bishop fund, but also offered to move the money into an international internship fund. Esplin asked Valcarce to confirm his wishes in writing.

Political insiders say this spat was about a much larger political conflict between Jowers and tea party Republicans, who sought to make an example of Jowers after he and other moderate Republicans announced their plan to make the party's caucus process more open to allow more participation in nominating candidates.

The donation came from Valcarce's nonprofit charitable foundation, with assets around $621,596 and generating revenue around $31,000. According to IRS information, Valcarce was given notice that the foundation was in trouble because it had not made any charitable contributions. Insiders say Valcarce was motivated to make the U. donation, and a similar one to his alma mater, Brigham Young University, in order to avoid IRS action.

Valcarce denies this and says his donation was motivated by wanting to help political science students. Valcarce has made a name for himself in the national Republican scene by owning Arena Communication, which provides direct mailer service to Republican candidates and organizations across the country. The company, valued in the tens of millions of dollars, boasts that 70 percent of its clients won their races.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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