SALT LAKE CITY — A woman describing herself as a 79-year-old named Alice says in a new radio ad for GOP 2nd District Congressional candidate Morgan Philpot that she, not the candidate, paid for the spots.
The Deseret News learned Wednesday that the voice in the ads belongs to Challenger School founder Barbara Baker. Baker declined to speak to reporters who attempted to talk to her at the chain of private schools' corporate office in Sandy.
Philpot, who is running against Utah's only Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, said Baker is "a very kind old woman" he met on the campaign trail who surprised him by running the ads.
"I think she feels like most people feel right now. They're a little bit ticked off at Washington, D.C., and they want to make a difference," Philpot said. "I think more Americans ought to step up all across the United States and do what she's doing."
Baker is airing the minutelong commercial on a number of radio stations and has spent more than $26,000 just buying time on KSL Newsradio and two sister FM radio stations. She is also said to be paying extra to "bump" existing ads on the stations to different time slots.
"The time has come for random acts of personal patriotism. America is worth it," she explains in the commercial after warning listeners that "our freedom is under attack once again," just as it was in the Revolutionary War.
Matheson, she says, votes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other national Democratic leaders. "Washington is working against America. Our nation needs her patriots back."
She states Philpot "didn't know about this ad and he didn't pay for it. I did. My name is Alice and I'm 79 years old." An announcer clarifies it was paid for by "B. Alice Baker" and not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.
Matheson said he didn't think the ad would have much impact.
"Most people in Utah know I'm an independent voice, not a rubber stamp for any political party," he said. "This is nothing new. Utahns have heard it before and they've rejected it before."
Even though Matheson leads in the polls in his bid for a sixth term, he recently started running negative campaign ads about Philpot, including his voting record as a state legislator.
What's different about the new radio ad for Philpot that criticize Matheson, however, is that it comes from an individual rather than the candidate or a political organization. Such independent expenditures by individuals have been legal under federal campaign law for many years. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision now permits corporations and unions to do the same.
"Usually individuals don't want to stick their neck out," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Individuals paying for ads like this are quite rare in Utah."
Jowers said he believes the ad could have an impact.
"I thought it was a very effective ad. It had the feeling that someone was speaking from their heart and willing to put her own money up to get the message out," he said.
Baker is not a newcomer to GOP politics. She has contributed thousands of dollars to other Republican candidates over the years as well as the maximum $4,800 allowed under federal law directly to Philpot's campaign. Buying radio time herself doesn't count toward that limit.
Both the Challenger School in Salt Lake City and the corporate headquarters in Sandy have Philpot signs out front. Behind the headquarters' reception desk was a stack of Philpot yard signs, along with some for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mike Lee.
"The fact that she's been an active contributor and participates in the electoral system leading up to this probably makes it even more believable," Jowers said. "She understands the system and how she can impact the system."
None of her political experience is mentioned in the radio ad. Philpot said the real story in the 2nd District race should be the amount of special interest money given to Matheson's campaign.
"Yet a story comes out about a little old woman who wants to get her country back," Philpot said. "It's a shame. It's an absolute shame."