Utah Republican Party vice chairman Todd Weiler says he did not "cross the line" of party neutrality and endorse a personal friend who was running for the state Senate, even though he gave the man $500.
An e-mail writer complained to the Deseret News that Weiler's donation to Kent Parry in the Senate District 23 race violated the state GOP's rules against party officers taking sides in intra-party contests. It is likely that no disciplinary action will be taken against Weiler.
That complaint comes as Republican Party insiders are being lambasted for various actions this spring, at both the county and state party levels. Some disgruntled rank-and-file Republicans say the party insiders are trying to hamper challenges to Republican incumbents this year.
Parry lost in the Davis County convention two weeks ago. Eight Republicans filed for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful. Convention District 23 delegates picked Dan Liljenquist and Ronald Mortensen to face each other in a late June closed GOP primary.
A GOP bylaw says that no party officer "shall publicly endorse or oppose any Republican candidate for partisan office in Utah while the candidate is opposed by another Republican candidate for the same office."
"I know that bylaw well. I helped write it," Weiler said. But the neutrality language "is open for interpretation" as to whether a donation of cash is a public endorsement or not. Weiler believes he's on sound ground that a donation is not in fact a public endorsement.
He said Parry is his best friend and next-door neighbor for 11 years, and that he, Weiler, believed Parry would be a wonderful state senator.
In any case, said Weiler, he was upfront with his donation. "I could have had the donation come under my wife's name. But I didn't. Neither my name nor my picture was used in (Parry's) campaign material. And I don't believe I endorsed him in any way, shape or form."
In addition, Weiler said, his donation became public, as part of Parry's campaign finance report, after the convention (even though Parry did file the report, as is required, with the state elections office before the April 12 convention.)
Weiler said he and other party leaders tried to carefully draft neutrality language in the bylaws so that "as a citizen (party officeholders) did not give up their First Amendment right of free speech," especially political free speech.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that making political cash donations is one form of political free speech, protected by the Constitution.
"We don't give up those rights when we become party officers," said Weiler.
He added the neutrality bylaw was changed after former party vice chairwoman Enid Greene took a leave of absence from her vice chair post to join Nolan Karras' gubernatorial campaign in 2004 as Karras' lieutenant governor running mate. Clearly, Greene joining the ticket was a public endorsement of Karras and public opposition to the GOP campaign of now-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who beat Karras in the GOP primary that year.
When Weiler, a former Davis County GOP chairman, ran for state party vice chair a year ago (he was appointed to the post in February 2007), he wrote in his campaign materials: "The party process must be squeaky clean. When I read media accounts of Republicans (locally and nationally) involved in ethical violations or scandals, I am disappointed and embarrassed."
He did not see his donation, however, as any sort of a violation of party by-laws."I understand where someone could lodge criticism against me" for making the $500 contribution to Parry before the county GOP convention, said Weiler. "I don't consider that donation a public endorsement; others might. If some want to take shots at me, OK. I don't believe I did anything wrong."