Ever wonder who is behind that clever campaign advertisement, or who helped this or that candidate get his name out?

Those would be campaign and government consultants.

And there's a new one on the block — Exoro.

And its partners make strange bedfellows. Ever think that former gubernatorial combatants Norm Bangerter and Ted Wilson would be on the same side? Well, they are now.

Along with LaVarr Webb, Bart Barker, Allyson Bell, Maura Carabello, Steve Handy, Carter Livingston, Hugh Matheson and a few others, the group will advise as people who have dealt with lobbying, public relations, marketing, fund raising, campaign strategy and government operations.

Bangerter, of course, is a two-term GOP governor (1985-1993). Wilson, a Democrat who is soon retiring as director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, is a former Salt Lake mayor who challenged Bangerter in 1988 and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982.

I won't go through what all the rest of these people have done, but they represent elected and appointed officials, have worked in the media and are political insiders one way or another.

And you couldn't find a wider range of political thought. One may think their meetings could end in fist-fights.

Carabello ran the anti-gun public-interest group, for example, while Hugh Matheson worked last year for Envirocare in beating back a citizen initiative petition and an election to raise hazardous-waste fees.

A number of them have connections with the Deseret Morning News. Wilson and Webb currently co-write a political column for the newspaper. Webb is a former managing editor and political editor here. Handy is the former marketing director for the newspaper. Long ago, Barker, a former Salt Lake County commissioner, worked here as well.

"We're a loose-knit group of people" who will consult on a number of media/political/government issues, said Webb, who is a former top aide to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a current lobbyist/consultant.

Exoro is a Latin phrase meaning "prevail through persuasion." That's better than strong-arming someone or threatening them, jokes Webb.

While the group brings some expertise and experience in Utah politics, it also brings a boatload of conflicts of interests from its members' previous work.

That's one reason, says Webb, that as a group they will not sign on to run any local campaigns. Since there are Republicans and Democrats in the group, it could end up representing campaigns one or more partners would hate, or even representing different candidates running for the same office.

However, as individual consultants they may well be paid to run specific campaigns. And they're free to volunteer on anyone's race, said Webb.

More likely, they will do broader work, like lobbying or developing public-relations campaigns for businesses or non-profit groups.

Bangerter and Wilson are listed as senior consultants to the group, and are on board because of their vast experience in practical politics, says Webb.

They certainly have that — something like a combined 80 years in politics. But if you remember that 1988 governor's race, you might raise your eyebrows in wondering.

Wilson started out 35 points up in the polls. Bangerter, who had pushed the largest tax increase in the state's history through the 1987 Legislature, was being pummeled by a vocal anti-tax protest movement and was opposed in his own party.

Bangerter plugged along, and in the end beat Wilson by a narrow 2 percentage points in the election, winning a second term. Still, in a three-way race with independent Merrill Cook, Bangerter got only 40 percent of the vote. I don't know if any one of those candidates can point to that race — or the tax hike that preceded it — as a textbook example of smart politics.

Exoro is also putting out an electronic e-mail newsletter and has a separate Web site, UtahPolicy.com, aimed at keeping "political insiders" and elected officials up to date with candidates' campaigns and political gossip, as well as monitoring local media coverage of politics.

Who knows if these guys are going to make any money at this.

Webb, in 1991, ran a subscriber-based political newsletter that, he says, made money. But he quit it after only nine months to become Leavitt's gubernatorial campaign manager.

While some other public relations agencies specialize in politics and government — like The Summit Group — it's a small field.

While running his family's insurance agency, Leavitt and former political consultant Bud Scruggs started a campaign consulting firm that managed the re-elections of U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn in the mid-1980s, as well as doing other political work. But that firm shut down after several years as Scruggs and Leavitt got tired of it and went on to other things.

Webb admits Exoro may be a tough go.

"Each of us kind of has to eat what we kill — we have to go out and get our own work and clients. But we can help each other out, as well," he says. "We think we'll have some fun with it."


Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected] desnews.com.