LDS Church officials said Tuesday that they contacted lawmakers during the recent legislative session to clarify their long-standing position on liquor legislation that was being considered.
The church response came after a limousine service operator said he's going to sue the church or its employees because the church's involvement with the bill to allow drinking by limousine passengers has hurt his business.And Rusty Andersen, president of Image Limousine, said the contact by two church representatives may constitute illegal lobbying because the two representatives were not registered.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said they broke no law when they contacted lawmakers on the last night of the recent legislative session.
Church Media Relations Director Jerry P. Cahill said two church employees, Richard P. Lindsay and William S. Evans, who are not the church's registered lobbyists, called senators to suggest that HB132 needed further study. But Cahill said: "We believe we operated within the spirit and the letter of the law."
In a statement issued Tuesday, Lindsay, managing director of public communications/special affairs for the church, said, "We communicated with the Legislature on the last day because the position of our church was being misrepresented by others, and we called to clarify what we had clearly stated earlier and to reaffirm that this was still our position."
Lindsay noted that the Legislature last year had set up a liquor law review task force. When the bill to allow the serving of liquor in chartered limousines and "fun buses" was introduced in this session, "church representatives suggested that this matter be carefully considered by the legislatively established task force," the statement said.
"The church has a long held and consistent concern regarding laws regulating alcohol consumption. The basic premise of Utah's alcohol law over the years has been that the state control distribution and not promote consumption of alcoholic beverages, and that profits from the sale of liquor accrue to the state to offset the additional social costs of crime, welfare, spouse and child abuse, illness and mortality associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Another premise is that there be consistent enforcement of the state's liquor laws."
But Andersen said his business is down about 20 percent since HB132 died following the phone calls by Lindsay and Evans.
The limo company operator said he's already received calls from about a half dozen people offering to contribute money for his suit.
One of Andersen's attorneys, Joseph Nemelka, said the suit will probably be filed later this week in 3rd District Court, but first he must complete some legal research.
Nemelka said the action will allege interference with Andersen's prospective economic relations. To prove that, he'll have to show the use of improper means for an improper purpose.
The improper means he hopes to show are that Lindsay and Evans illegally lobbied for the church.
While it's legal for any citizen to try to persuade lawmakers for or against a bill, state law says they must register as lobbyists if they are paid to do the persuading or if they spend money in doing it.
Nemelka said he hopes to show that Evans and Lindsay were not acting as average citizens but as paid lobbyists. The attorney said the legal issues in the case are not clear-cut, however.