The Utah State Republican Party's "I Can" public campaign has begun, a campaign that could end up costing $100,000 to make the case that Utah voters are well served by GOP officeholders.

"I Can" billboards have been put up in Utah County, only the first phase of the PR campaign that will intensify as Election Day nears. Radio and TV ads may follow. GOP state chairman Stan Lockhart sent out an e-mail Tuesday to identified Republicans that outlines the campaign, as well as imparting other GOP news.

However, Lockhart's e-mail may suffer from a bit of bad timing.

As Lockhart touts all the good things that Republican domination of state government has meant for Utahns — and how the Democrats and "a few Republicans" with the help of the media have tried to damage the GOP's ethical reputation — U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the longest serving GOP senator, was indicted Tuesday by federal prosecutors for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in undeclared gifts from an Alaskan businessman.

And Lockhart himself continues to be embroiled in an alleged ethical scandal over a supposed bribe offer made by former Sandy GOP House member Mark Walker to keep a GOP contender out of Walker's state treasurer's race.

You can read Lockhart's e-mail here. Lockhart is out of town and couldn't be reached for comment. GOP state vice-chairman Todd Weiler said the "I Can" campaign was conceived long before an ethics complaint was brought against Walker and is not aimed at improving the public ethical image of either the Utah or national Republican Party or its officeholders.

"Regardless of whether any (criminal) charges are filed" in the legislative matter, said Weiler, "I Can" is aimed at telling the fine record of GOP leadership in Utah over the last 20 years.

Weiler said he recognizes that headlines about the Walker incident have not been good for GOP candidates running this year, may demoralize some GOP voters.

Wayne Holland, Utah Democratic Party chairman, said the GOP leadership and their leaders in the Legislature "are clearly in trouble — everywhere I go I talk to Republicans who are fed up with their party."

And Holland doesn't think an expensive PR campaign will help them this election year. "They wouldn't be running this PR campaign if they didn't have a problem — a big problem." \GOP legislative leaders, especially, "are a victim of their own arrogance and belief of entitlement. Voters see the Republicans (in office) as too vested in their goal of public service for private gain."

With the campaign, "they are trying to change their brand," Holland said. "They realize they have failed."

Lockhart's e-mail lists a number of national awards and accolades praising Utah as a well-managed state. The state receives top marks in fiscal responsibility (like not running huge budget deficits as some other states), for its historic AAA bond rating, for record spending on public and higher education, for rebuilding freeways, for lower taxes and on and on. Republicans have run state government for more than 20 years.

Writes Lockhart: "Republicans are able to claim credit for this success with veto-proof majorities (in the Legislature), making it very difficult for Democrats to make a case for change ... Instead, they have tried to make the case that Republicans aren't living up to our high standards of integrity and decency by making gossip, rumor and innuendo the standard of news stories of the day."

The "hue and cry" that Utah Republicans are disreputable is "pure baloney," Lockhart wrote.

"Republicans stand for morality and integrity in government and the easiest way to undermine our candidates is by taking an isolated incident or two and smearing all elected officials," Lockhart added.

Lockhart, a lobbyist who has given around $60,000 in free Jazz tickets to lawmakers over the years, warns Utah Republicans that they can't take past victories for granted this year. He says that, with the help of the press, national Democrats fooled the American people about Republicans in Congress — leading to the GOP losing control of Congress in the 2006 election.

"Does this sound familiar? It's happening here (in Utah) right now," writes Lockhart. "We cannot let Democrats and even a few Republicans who have bought into this propaganda succeed with the same strategy in Utah."

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, is apparently accused of being one of those "few Republicans." She and another House Republican signed a letter in June, along with three House Democrats, demanding a formal ethics investigation of former state Rep. Walker, an alleged scandal that, ironically, Lockhart now finds himself in.

Allen said she and other concerned House members have not "bought into propaganda" — nor have they instigated any of it. "The Republican Party does not have a corner on integrity, nor do the Democrats or anyone else," said Allen in response to Lockhart's e-mail.

"We all need to be concerned about ethics and integrity. We need to take seriously allegations of unethical behavior" no matter where it may fall, she added.

Any hints that she or other House members who supported the Walker ethics investigation are somehow being used for political purposes or are "not loyal Republicans" is totally false, she added.

The complaint against Walker, or other questions of unethical behavior by other legislators, "has nothing to do with party political strategy — nothing whatsoever," Allen said.

The Legislature's ethical probe into Walker's actions ended in early July when Walker resigned from the House. A criminal investigation by two county attorneys continues.

Wednesday, long-time GOP operative Dave Hansen, who acted as a middle-man between Lockhart and Walker's GOP challenger, deputy chief treasurer Richard Ellis, confirmed to the newspaper that he was questioned by prosecutors Tuesday morning in the matter. Neither Hansen nor Lockhart are accused of any wrongdoing.

But the criminal investigation links Lockhart's name to a possible ethics scandal at the same time he's writing to Utah Republicans decrying political propaganda about GOP ethics.

Ellis, who won the GOP treasurer nomination in the June primary, accuses Walker of offering Ellis his current job in any Walker administration, with a $56,000 a year raise to boot. Ellis says Walker told him that Walker had spoken to legislators who could increase the treasurer's budget so that the pay raise "could happen." Ellis says Walker wanted him to drop out of the GOP treasurer's race in return for keeping his treasurer's office job and the pay raise. Most GOP legislative leaders and many Republican lawmakers endorsed Walker in the intra-party battle.

Walker denies any wrongdoing, saying he offered to keep all treasurer employees in their current jobs and did not offer Ellis a pay raise.

Hansen said at Lockhart's request, he spoke with Ellis shortly after the May state GOP convention (where Walker and Ellis both came out to the June primary) to see if Ellis had any interest in dropping out of the race. Hansen said Lockhart sought party unity before a primary. Hansen says he doesn't remember specifically what he said to Ellis, but he may have told Ellis something like "you will be taken care of" if Ellis were to drop out.

Offering a candidate or potential candidate something of value not to run is a Class B misdemeanor under Utah law.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com