Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert won't challenge a court ruling against his office that found a national advocacy group's advertising during last year's private school voucher battle wasn't subject to campaign reporting laws.
"We're not going to fight it," said Joe Demma, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff. "It's gone on way too long. It's not necessarily a good use of taxpayer dollars to keep this in the courts for the next few years."
Instead, Demma said, the lieutenant governor is working on a proposal for the 2009 Legislature to clarify the campaign reporting laws dealing with groups that get involved in political issue campaigns.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled in favor of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which had sued the state after being told by Herbert's office that it had to file as a political issues committee and fill out financial disclosure forms.
Patrick Semmens, the Virginia-based foundation's legal information director, said the lieutenant governor's decision not to appeal the ruling "says pretty clearly that they don't think they have a case, that the their law violates the First Amendment."
Semmens said any changes proposed by the lieutenant governor to the state's campaign reporting laws should not "trip up groups like us who are just trying to make sure rights are respected."
The foundation had broadcast radio and television commercials telling teachers they had a right not to participate in the Utah Education Association's ultimately successful effort to repeal the voucher law through the initiative process.
Voters rejected vouchers, which would have given parents up to $3,000 for private school tuition.
The lieutenant governor's office had contacted the foundation and said it was subject to the requirements of a political issues committee, defined by state law as a person or group that spends money to influence the outcome of a statewide ballot proposition.
But the foundation contended it was not trying to affect the election. The purpose of the advertisements, according to the foundation, "was to offer legal aid to teachers and school employees who might be suffering from union coercion or intimidation."
The court agreed that the ads were not "the functional equivalent of express advocacy," even though they seemed to support vouchers, and warned the law defining a political issues committee "runs the risk of regulating far too much ordinary political speech."Demma said the decision, while disappointing, hasn't affected any other groups. "We deal very infrequently with political-issues committees," he said. "Clearly there's an issue that needs to be resolved, not in the courts, but in the Legislature."