Democratic congressional candidate Bill Orton says he believes the Utah State Tax Commission is being used as a political tool to sabotage his candidacy a week before the election.
Orton said disclosure earlier this week of a year-old tax commission ruling that he "fraudulently evaded" paying Utah taxes on an automobile purchased in Oregon is deliberately timed to hurt his campaign.Orton and Republican Karl Snow are locked in a bitter campaign to replace retiring five-term Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, in the 3rd District.
Particularly, Orton was disturbed by a letter sent to him last April by a a former assistant Utah attorney general who threatened to "seek public disclosure" of his tax problems if he didn't disclose them himself.
He said he was suspicious of the timing and the way the information was revealed. The tax commission decided just last week that it would release the information if it was requested, and a Deseret News reporter said he received an anonymous call Monday telling him the information was available.
"It appears to me a deliberate attempt by an agency of the state government to effect the outcome of a federal election," Orton said. "If that doesn't scare the people of Utah to death, then it ought to."
At issue is a 1987 finding by the tax commission that Orton tried to evade paying taxes on a Mercedes Benz he bought in Oregon in 1982 and brought to Utah two years later.
Tax commission records show Orton has paid the $1,200 tax but still owes $1,349.78 in penalties and interest.
Orton says he's paid the full amount.
He said the matter is being appealed and should not be made public during the appeal process. The tax commission decided, however, that the information is public record.
The candidate finds the release of the information an "interesting coincidence" given a letter he recieved last April from attorney Maxwell A. Miller, a former assistant attorney general who handled tax commission matters for Republican Attorney General David Wilkinson.
The letter was marked "personal and confidential" and bore the telephone number and address of the firm for which Miller now works, Parsons Behle & Latimer.
It refers to Orton's campaign announcement and notes that the candidate told reporters he had been, "except for a couple of years in Oregon," a Utah resident since 1972.
"Of course, you strenuously argued in hearings before the tax commission when I was an assistant attorney general that you had never been a Utah resident," the letter said.
"I believe, Mr. Orton, that you should make public disclosure as to the unpaid civil tax fraud penalties against you," Miller wrote. "If you do not, I will seek public disclosure of those facts which the tax commission may release pursuant to law."
Miller did not return three messages left Wednesday.
Officials in both the tax commission and the Utah attorney general's office believe the letter was inappropriate.
"Let me just say that we were very concerned," said Tax Commissioner G. Blaine Davis. "I certainly don't think it should have been written."
Attorney General Paul Van Dam said he found the letter "strange."
Orton referred the letter to Van Dam's office after he received it. Van Dam said one of his assistants looked into the matter and determined that the tax records probably were public record and could be released.