An American Party candidate for governor is complaining to the county, state and even the FBI that party leaders are forcing delegates to county and state conventions to pay illegal fees before they may cast ballots.
Lawrence Rey Topham said that is essentially a poll tax, which is prohibited by federal and state constitutions.He said that is especially hurting his campaign because many of his supporters refuse to pay the fee - which could give the party's nomination for governor to Topham's opponent, Arly Pedersen. He is also the party's national chairman and the man Topham blames most for what he says are the illegal fees.
"I love these people, but what they are doing is wrong," Topham said.
But Pedersen said, "There is nothing wrong with what we are doing. We have always had a delegate fee, at least since 1980. All the parties do."
Salt Lake County Clerk Dixon Hindley disagrees. "The other parties don't have delegate fees. It sounds like a poll tax to me, and I've asked my attorney to investigate it." He is unsure of what action the county may take if it is declared a poll tax by the county attorney's office.
Topham said the issue came to a boil last week at the party's Salt Lake County convention. Topham and his supporters were not allowed to vote at the convention - which was chaired by Pedersen - because they refused to pay a $5 delegate fee. That led to angry floor debates.
Even though Topham and his friends were not allowed to vote on the platform and other matters, the convention decided to declare them delegates to the state convention. But that doesn't please Topham much.
"We won't be allowed to vote there either unless we pay the delegate fee," he said. Pedersen confirmed that is probably true, but the party's credentials committee could change that.
Pedersen said Topham is especially upset about the fee because he refuses to pay paper money for anything, claiming federal laws recognize only silver and gold as legal tender.
Topham said what made him especially angry at last week's convention was that while many duly elected delegates were not allowed to vote because they wouldn't pay the fee, others who were not elected delegates but who showed up and paid the fee could vote.
"In other words, the only thing that mattered was whether they paid money. If they did, they could vote; if they didn't, they couldn't. That's not legal."
Topham quotes state laws that he feels say candidates who improperly charge or pay illegal political fees could be convicted of a misdemeanor, and could be prevented from taking office if they won an election.
Pedersen, however, said the laws Topham cites deal more with charging or paying bribes, and he said the fee charged is not a bribe.
Topham said that besides filing a complaint with Salt Lake County, he also filed one with the lieutenant governor's office - because similar problems have occurred in other counties - and with the FBI because the party is apparently charging similar fees nationwide.
The American Party is based in Salt Lake City. It was formed in 1972 from many of the conservative remnants of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's independent candidacy for U.S. president in 1968.
Pedersen said the party has members in 33 states, but only five states are currently paying dues and have active representation on the party's national committee.