SALT LAKE CITY — Steven Maxfield stood before the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday an advocate for himself.
Wearing a red tie covered in rows of white sheep with a single black sheep in the center, he took on Gov. Gary Herbert, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and state laws on election and campaign contribution reporting in one fell swoop.
"We have to decide where the authority comes from to decide an election contest," Maxfield began, before reading the preamble of the Utah Constitution.
Maxfield's complaint against Herbert — and the reason he wants to see Herbert removed from office — focused on the use of political action committees and personal campaign accounts.
His issue is a line in Utah law that says candidates for state office and those who work on their behalf can only raise money and make expenditures for their elections through their campaign committees. However, state law also allows political action committees to raise and spend money for "political purposes," which is defined as the attempt to influence voters for or against candidates for public office.
Herbert uses a political action committee and a personal campaign account.
In Utah, it's not uncommon for political candidates and officeholders to use political action committees rather than traditional officeholder or campaign accounts. PACs have much less frequent reporting requirements than traditional campaign accounts.
Transferring money from a PAC to a personal campaign account also makes it much more difficult for the public to track who is donating to a campaign.
"Utah has very limited election laws," Maxfield said. "Take all the money you want, spend it however you want, but put it all in one pocket so I, the citizen, can see where it's going."
Maxfield believes the governor should be deemed ineligible to hold office because of the alleged reporting violations. The same goes for Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
Bell and Shurtleff's alleged failings are in not investigating Maxfield's claims.
But Dave Jordan, Herbert's attorney, told the justices that an investigation was conducted and "was found to have no merit." He was adamant that there is a system in place to monitor campaign finance reporting practices and that it works.
Jordan said Maxfield's legal action — which was dismissed by two different judges in two different districts in July 2011 — was just an attempt to take the finances monitoring responsibility upon himself.
"What we're really doing is deputizing Mr. Maxfield as attorney general of the world to police campaign disclosure laws," Jordan told the high court.
He also questioned Maxfield's motives, pointing out that a disqualification of Herbert and Corroon as gubernatorial candidates would make Maxfield the lieutenant governor because he received 2 percent of the vote in a bid with Farley Anderson in 2010.
"This is a case where Mr. Maxfield … thinks he found some kind of 'gotcha' in the statute (that can eliminate Maxfield's opponents) because he doesn't like their campaign disclosures," Jordan said after the hearing. "(Maxfield) said the governor's financial disclosures were not sufficiently detailed and that's not true. If they were not sufficiently detailed, you get notice and then cure it."
He said the case is fairly simple.
"The main legal issue the court is trying to decide is whether the fact that someone makes a claim that they don't like the disclosures means you are ineligible," Jordan said. "I think it's clear, but it's not clear to Mr. Maxfield."
But Maxfield seemed pretty confident in his position and said he merely wanted it confirmed by an independent judiciary acting as a check to the state's executive branch.
"Utah law is very clear that as elected officials you have a very acute responsibility," he said. "You're under a microscope. If he or anyone in his campaign office is found to be off by any dollar amount, they're out of office."
And as for his tie? Maxfield said it's either the people of Utah uniting against Herbert as the black sheep or himself, standing out as a lone voice.
The court has taken the case under advisement and will likely issue a written ruling in several months.