Invited by Lt. Gov. Olene Walker to sue her, Utah Democrats will decide by the end of the week whether to ask a judge to throw GOP state Sen. Nathan Tanner off the Nov. 3 ballot.
"We can't let her (Walker's) decision stand," said state Democratic Party executive director Todd Taylor on Tuesday. "If it does, then any candidate could file zeros on their pre-election campaign financial disclosure statement, meet (Walker's) criteria and not have to file an amended and true filing until seven days after the final election. What good is that?"Monday afternoon, Attorney General Jan Graham's office gave Walker its opinion on what "good faith" means. Walker had asked if Tanner, R-South Ogden, who was out of the country at the time of the "drop-dead" Sept. 15 campaign financial filing deadline, had shown good faith in having a son-in-law file a campaign disclosure statement for him that had all zeros on it.
Tanner has since filed an amended disclosure that shows how much he's raised and spent this election year.
After reading Graham's opinion and rereading the election code, Walker said Tuesday morning, "I believe even more strongly today that I made the right decision" on Tanner. She said Tanner's filing met the letter of the law, filed on time and his name wouldn't be removed from the ballot.
Joe Hatch, an attorney and Salt Lake County Democratic chairman, said he's sending Walker a letter demanding she publicly give examples of Tanner's good-faith effort. He believes once the facts are known, Walker will conclude "Tanner should be thrown off the ballot."
Tanner is being challenged by Democrat Edgar Allen in Senate District 18. It's considered a swing district, a Democrat holding the seat before Tanner won it in 1994.
"I can fully understand Walker's decision (in letting Tanner stay on the ballot) and in the attorney general's opinion on `good faith,' " said Taylor.
Walker is an elected Republican official. Graham is an elected Democratic official, he noted.
"The fact is, neither Walker nor (Graham) should be put in the position of having to rule on these partisan matters. We should have an independent elections commission. And Walker should get off the dime and take a stand on setting up that commission," said Taylor.
A bill setting up such a commission failed in the 1998 Legislature. Walker declined to take a stand on the bill.
"We're going to push, again, in the 1999 Legislature for such a commission. It is the only way to decide these issues," said Taylor.
But Walker's ruling can't wait for any fix by legislators in six months, he said.
"It's ridiculous" that Tanner can remain on the ballot, said Taylor. "Filing a campaign report with only zeros doesn't meet the letter of the law or the intent."
Tanner was traveling with his wife in Switzerland in mid-September, a trip that had been canceled earlier in the year after the couple was in a serious automobile accident.
When reached at a hotel the day before the filing deadline by relatives, Tanner said that without records kept at home he couldn't accurately reconstruct his campaign contributions and expenses over the past 18 months since the last public filing. So on a recommendation from GOP officials in Salt Lake, he gave his son-in-law power of attorney to file and asked him to file all zeros. Tanner said it was a good-faith effort, considering the circumstances.
In his letter to Walker, Assistant Attorney General Brian Farr wrote that "good faith" is not defined in the election code. But a general definition in other legal works is defined as a state of mind "denoting honesty of purpose, freedom from intention to defraud and generally means being faithful to one's obligation."
While Tanner says he was trying to be faithful and forthright, and did file a complete disclosure upon his return, Democrats say his actions - and Walker's acceptance of them - are clearly contrary to the law.
"I invite anyone to challenge my decision in court," said Walker. "Then we would have a decision, case law, to help me and future (election officers) who have to make these decisions. I don't expect the Legislature to define good faith or help in this matter. In fact, my guess is if I had disqualified Sen. Tanner (from the ballot), I'm sure the (GOP-controlled) Legislature would make the filing law more lax. And I'm against that. We have to have this serious remedy (of being kicked off the ballot) in the code," said Walker.
But it doesn't do much good, added Taylor, if Walker's office won't enforce it. "We'll talk with our attorneys," he added, but thinks Democrats will want a court decision, not Walker's, on the Tanner case.