Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office says Sen. Bob Bennett's campaign is burying it in public-records requests that seek dirt on Shurtleff — who is challenging Bennett for the GOP nomination for his Senate seat.
Meanwhile, Bennett says Shurtleff's office telling members of the media about the requests is an attempt to smear Bennett.
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said consultants to Bennett's campaign have made three requests for documents that are "bigger and broader than anything I have received before."
For example, "one of them asked for records for about 22 different individuals and businesses dating back to 2001 that requires us to ask all 430-plus attorney-general employees if they have any e-mails, documents or records that satisfy this request," he said.
"It takes a tremendous amount of time. It stops us from filing cases, and it stops us from doing the public's business," Murphy said.
Just one person out of the hundreds in the office who is about halfway through one request "has already found eight boxes of documents," Murphy said. Such work has "brought us to a standstill," he added, and all he did this week and will do next week is shepherd documents for the requests.
Meanwhile, Jim Bennett, the senator's son and his campaign spokesman, said, "If the attorney general's office can't handle three GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) requests and its regular business, that doesn't speak well for the attorney general's office."
Bennett added, "We're gathering information, as anybody challenging an incumbent within the party should expect a level of scrutiny."
He said, "Campaigns are filled with rumors. It's not appropriate to spread rumors. It's appropriate to find out what the truth is. And this is the mechanism by which the Legislature has enabled us to have open and transparent government."
Bennett said, "We haven't asked for any information that hasn't already been discussed extensively in the media … the Koerber case and all that kind of stuff."
He was referring to Rick Koerber who is accused of running a Ponzi scheme. Koerber was charged after the state Commerce Department was unable to convince Shurtleff's office to charge him and took the case instead to U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman.
Shurtleff, who met with Koerber in late 2007 at the urging of state Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, has said the Commerce Department did not provide enough evidence to support charges.
Bennett said the senator's campaign has contracted for $10,000 for Old Dominion Research Group of Virginia to conduct "opposition research," and he confirmed that individuals working for it filed the documents requests with Shurtleff's office.
"I think we're being singled out," Bennett complained about Shurtleff's complaints to the media, noting that the attorney general's office handles many such requests. "It's entirely appropriate for us or any citizen to ask questions about what's going on in their government."
Bennett added, "If he's (Shurtleff) got nothing to hide, he's got nothing to worry about. We're simply gathering information. … We haven't attacked him. The senator has a record, and the attorney general has a record. This is the way we can determine what the attorney general has been doing in office."
Murphy said, "We don't have anything to hide. I'm proud of what our office has done. … So I'm not worried about what's in the document requests. I'm more worried about the time it's taking us to respond."
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