Gov. Norm Bangerter's re-election campaign bought $30,000 worth of ads from a local TV station last month, a deal the campaign really didn't want to make but did because the station threatened to sue for the money.
And some Republicans believe there are political overtones in the threat.They think the lawsuit threat was made so Bangerter would spend TV money at a time it would have less impact on voters. The attorney for KUTV, Pat Shea, denies politics had anything to do with the controversy. Shea is a former Democratic Party state chairman and chairman of the Utah Michael Dukakis campaign.
Those Republicans, who asked not to be identified, believe the TV station may have demanded the campaign spend the money on advertisements during the September Olympics knowing that Bangerter was short of cash and may not have enough money later to spend on TV advertising that might be more effective against Democrat Ted Wilson.
The Bangerter campaign got into an argument with KUTV and its general counsel, Shea, over whether the campaign would buy advertising time during the summer Olympics carried by NBC, the local station's network affiliate.
Dave Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager, said his media consultant, Evan Twede, suggested in August that Buhler buy some Olympic time in September.
"We knew that Ted Wilson (Bangerter's Democratic opponent) had bought some time during the Games," said Buhler. "So I asked Evan if we could reserve some time but get out of it before the Olympics if we decided not to spend the money then. Evan said we could get out of it."
So Twede, on Buhler's approval, told KUTV salesmen to reserve $50,000 worth of time. A contract was sent to Twede, but Twede didn't sign it, said Buhler.
A week before the Olympics, KUTV demanded payment. "We decided we didn't want to spend that kind of money on the Olympics. We said no. Then I hear from a prominent Republican attorney. He calls me up and says Shea just called him and asked him to represent Channel 2 (KUTV) in a lawsuit against us demanding payment for something we never agreed to," said Buhler.
Conversations between Shea and Buhler confirmed that KUTV would sue the Ban-gerter committee if Buhler didn't buy the time. "Pat told me this wasn't political but business. I don't know," said Buhler.
Not wanting to be sued - even though he believed he didn't have a contract with the station - Buhler agreed to buy $30,000 worth of time. He didn't have any advertisements ready to go, however, since he wasn't planning on buying any Olympic time. But Buhler did have some raw footage of Bangerter and put together "ads we were satisfied with" for the Olympic viewers.
Shea confirms that he did threaten to sue Bangerter and Buhler. "We considered it a valid, verbal contract. We couldn't have sold the time to anyone else at that late date. In fact, it's my understanding that we didn't sell all of the $20,000 (the difference between the original $50,000 reservation and Bangerter's $20,000 buy)," Shea said.
Shea said he also threatened Wilson's campaign managers with suit if they didn't pay up for their buy before the Olympics started. Rob Jolley, Wilson's campaign manager, said he did sign a contract with KUTV, but then decided he wanted to spend less money. "Pat said if we didn't pay the whole amount, he'd sue us, period," Jolley said. But Buhler argues he didn't sign any contract.
"Politics had nothing to do with it. It was totally business," Shea said.
Buhler isn't so sure. "I've talked with a number of media consultants across the nation since. None of them have ever heard of being sued by a TV station based on conversations about how much (time) you may or may not want to buy in the weeks ahead. Political advertising is treated differently than regular advertising. We always have to pay cash before our ads run, and we don't consider it a deal until we write the check. You can't say for sure how much money you'll have (for TV) until you get the contributions in.
"We were borderline on whether to buy that much time for the Olympics. We decided not to, to save our money for later in the campaign. Certainly, it didn't hurt us to be on (TV) during the Olympics. But we don't have that money to spend now, of course," Buhler said.