SALT LAKE CITY — With five days to go, Utah's Fourth Congressional District race is growing more negative, and now lawyers for Republican incumbent Mia Love say Democratic Political Action Committees have gone too far and their ads have to be taken off the air.
The ads in question come from the "Patriot Majority" PAC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and each ad says that Love "admitted" to raising illegal campaign contributions.
Matthew Sanderson of Caplin and Drysdale sent a letter to Utah television stations demanding the ads cease airing, because Love did not admit to raising illegal funds and because the Federal Elections Commission had already informed Love that her campaign had not broken election law.
Jason Perry, Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics said while District Four has always had tough campaigns, this year went negative faster.
"What we're seeing in this race is really just attack after attack, and when you're explaining, you're not campaigning," Perry said.
While Love demands a cease to the ads that claim "illegal" fundraising, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah released an email suggesting there are still unsettled complaints against Love.
The questions are about campaign contributions earmarked for a primary. Federal contribution limits pertain to each cycle in a candidate's run for office. In Utah, unlike other states, there can be three cycles to an election: the party convention, the primary and the general election.
Love raised money anticipating the possibility of a primary, but no fellow Republican ever declared a run against the incumbent.
McAdams and the Alliance for a Better Utah have said that none of the fundraising for a primary was legitimate because there was never a reasonable expectation Love would face a primary.
Love's supporters say a primary was always a possibility until the day of the state GOP convention in April. Love's lawyers cite a case in which the FEC sided with Senator Mike Lee when he raised money for a possible primary he ultimately never faced.
The nuances of the argument are far too much to explain in a political advertisement, and each campaign tends to give the most negative possible interpretation of the other's motives. For McAdams and the outside groups running the ads, that means saying that every dollar raised and deposited in a primary account is fraudulent and needs to be returned. For Love, it means calling the funds "illegal" is an outright lie not open to interpretation.
The question: What does it mean to the voter?
While the new email from the FEC to the Alliance for a Better Utah does say their complaint has yet to be decided, the email received by the Love campaign does suggest the FEC finds a major portion of her argument accurate, namely that Love could raise money for a potential primary before the convention.
What is not settled in the email to the Love Campaign is the issue of money raised for a primary after the party convention, when it was certain Love would not face a primary. The email from the FEC to the Love Campaign is specific about funds raised prior to April 21, the date of the convention. The precedent set by the Lee campaign did not involve raising primary money after the convention, and Love's campaign raised about $370,000 for a primary after April 21.
Lawyers for Love interpret further wording in their email to be more categorical in saying Love did nothing wrong, and they say the Alliance for a Better Utah complaint shouldn't hold much weight because they believe the group favors McAdams.
The Alliance for Better Utah says along with what they consider illegal fundraising, Love's campaign also failed to meet a sixty day deadline for redirecting funds from the primary to the general election account.
We've attached the letters and emails in question from the Love campaign and from the Alliance for a Better Utah.