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SALT LAKE CITY — A watchdog group has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against a GOP congressional candidate for allegedly accepting an in-kind contribution by coordinating with a nonprofit organization to attack Utah Rep. Chris Stewart.
The complaint the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust lodged against Mary Burkett comes as the Utah Republican Party holds its state convention online this week because of the coronavirus pandemic. Remote voting started Thursday.
Burkett, of St. George, is among three Republicans running against Stewart in the 2nd Congressional District. The others are Sanpete County sheep rancher Carson Jorgensen and Richfield resident Ty Jenson, who works in marketing and customer relations.
On the Democratic side, three candidates will face off for a chance to challenge Stewart: Kael Weston, a former State Department worker in Iraq and Afghanistan; Larry Livingston, who has worked in accounting and education, and Randy Hopkins, former executive of the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Stewart, an author and retired Air Force pilot, is seeking his fifth term in Congress.
According to the FEC complaint, the nonprofit Stronger America Fund Inc., based in Washington, D.C., sent out a mass text message this month attacking Stewart.
The Stronger America Fund lists Patrick Krason as “incorporator” and “governor.” Krason also has been identified as Burkett campaign manager and spokesman in press releases. After the text message was sent, Krason was listed as the campaign’s treasurer in FEC filings, according to the complaint.
The text message meets all three criteria for illegal coordination in that it was paid for by an outside group, benefitted the campaign and the campaign and an outside group shared a common vendor, independent contractor, or employee — in this case, Krason, said Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.
“As such, we request that the FEC investigate immediately and impose any necessary penalties,” she said.
Burkett said she has no connection to the Stronger America Fund. She said she doesn’t believe in negative campaigning and sent an email to the group to stop sending messages.
Krason, she said, is not a paid employee but a volunteer since last November. Prior to that he was a consultant and he did some of the tasks of a campaign manager, she said.
The group filing the complaint must have gotten its information from the Stewart campaign, she said.
“This is just a diversion Chris is coming up with. Everybody knows it,” Burkett said.
Stewart campaign spokesman Jordan Giles disavowed any knowledge of the FEC complaint.
“The Stewart campaign is not involved in this complaint and we were unaware that such a complaint was being filed,” he said.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust describes itself as a bipartisan organization dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas. It has filed complaints against Republicans and Democrats.