I feel like a hypocrite.
If a story had broken last week about a Republican political operative who had been accused of stealing somewhere between $24,000 and $34,0000 from a campaign he was managing, I would have been all over that. Especially if said operative was also a state representative. And an admission on tape of said impropriety would be the icing on the cake. Throw in a counter-charge from said operative-turned-legislator of possible impropriety involving rental of office space by the person he allegedly stole the money from, and you have a genuine political scandal. No punches would be pulled.
Yet, this wasn’t Republicans involved in this scandal, it was Democrats. And not just Democrats, but people I considered to be friends. I first met Ben McAdams in 2008, and honestly can’t recall how long I’ve known Justin Miller. And, since I knew these two men well, and had known them since before they were elected officials, I pulled some punches. I joked privately with some friends about how we now knew the real reason Representative Miller was left off of the Utah Democratic Party’s web site, but I didn’t say anything publicly.
This week’s cover story at the Salt Lake City Weekly is the most in-depth look into the McAdams/Miller scandal we have to date. There are numerous angles to the story, and none of them look good.
First, there’s the issue of campaign space McAdams is renting from the Exoro group. As a county contractor, Exoro is very limited in what they can contribute to Mayor McAdams’ campaign. While it appears as though no laws were broken, it is the appearance of wrongdoing that concerns me. As we learned from the Nancy Workman scandal, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Concerns about the office rental are what Miller claims got him fired from his job with Salt Lake County.
Miller’s job with Salt Lake County looks every bit like a sweetheart deal. Created by McAdams for his former campaign manager, the job of associate deputy mayor was, as McAdams told City Weekly, was to oversee “community outreach and liaison to stakeholders throughout the community.” Miller also told City Weekly that his job responsibilities were “fluid.” In other words, Miller’s job was to make McAdams look good to
voters constituents. To the tune of $97,000 in Salt Lake County taxpayer money.
Miller was fired from his job in October, just weeks before his election to the Legislature, a move that McAdams had been pondering since the summer. McAdams knew about the missing money before election day. Yet, everything was kept quiet.
Yes, the missing money. I really want to give Miller the benefit of the doubt on the missing money. However, it’s hard to justify not saving receipts. The late Todd Taylor advised me, when I was working for the Utah Democratic Party, to make sure that I kept a receipt for every single campaign expense, no matter how small, especially if you were getting reimbursed. In fact, if you are getting reimbursed, make sure you keep some photocopies in your personal files just in case you are questioned about the extra payments.
Not only was Miller, at best, extremely sloppy with his accounting (seriously, how do you not keep a copy of receipts you want a $24,000 reimbursement for?), but there is a pattern to his behavior. Turns out that there was an unaccounted-for $3000 check to himself when he was Diane Turner’s campaign manager in 2010. There was a case from 2006 where Miller was at a Salt Lake Bees game, put on a Bees jersey, ripped off the price tag and paid for a $15 hat. When questioned by security, Miller claimed he had paid for it but could not find a receipt. (The chances of Miller owning the jersey before the April 21 game are slim, since it was only the seventh home game the team had played as the Bees.) Upon further questioning, he admitted that he “accidently” didn’t pay for the jersey.
This is a scandal that involves two of the brightest lights in the Utah Democratic Party. It has the potential to damage the Democratic Party for years to come. The biggest hook the Democratic Party has had in Utah is their relative stand on ethics for elected officials, especially compared to their Republican counterparts. That stand is quickly eroding with the deafening silence from Democratic leaders.
I have a feeling that as this story continues, we will see even more damaging stories in the coming days and weeks. The best the the Democratic Party can do is issue a statement asking for a full investigation, and reiterating that they have a strong stand on ethics. The worst thing they can do is stay silent, lest they be accused of hypocrisy.