The top story today regards a state investigation into Ogden's most well-known campaign finance scandal. Here are extra tidbits I discovered but could not "fit" into the story that will be printed this week.
If you first need background on Envision Ogden and why it was under state investigation, read my story, Envision Ogden: State Investigating Campaign Finance Scandal, published online today.
First, let's start with Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey's response. Last week, I called his office saying I wanted to talk about Envision Ogden. On Nov. 4, his secretary requested that I e-mail questions. I agreed to send sample questions, writing that same day, "I just want to be clear that these questions will get the interview started, but I would like and intend to ask more than just the following." I never got that opportunity, although the mayor sent responses to my e-mailed questions this morning--two hours after the story was published online. Among his answers, he wrote, "I don’t remember who I solicited donations from for Envision Ogden, but I would guess that I raised the majority of what they raised." He also wrote that Envision Ogden leaders consulted him on which political races should receive donations. I'll reproduce the mayor's responses in full at the bottom of this post.
In the State Bureau of Investigations report mentioned in today's story, there's a very intriguing look at the donation from banking giant UBS--who has Securities and Exchange Commission duties to stay out of politics, at least according to their statement to state investigators. The UBS witness told investigators that rather than a cash donation to Envision Ogden, they would only pay for food and facilities for the group's first event, a $120-per-plate dinner to celebrate Amer Sports' relocation to Ogden in 2007. UBS paid $6,047 (In the report, by the way, it says UBS "would have immediately declined to contribute" had they known that Envision Ogden would later fund political organizations).
But here's the most "interesting notes," as the investigator wrote. UBS wrote a check to the Ben Lomond Hotel which "shows an address of PO Box 1751 in Ogden. This is the mailing address for Envision Ogden and according to United State Postal Inspector, Ben Lomond Hotel has not and does not receive mail at this box." That same check, had written on the back "pay to the order of Envision Ogden." The final note in this section of the report states that an e-mail shows UBS requesting invoices from the vendors who needed to be paid and Envision Ogden responding that they had already paid the vendors.
The investigator noted, "There seems to be some irregularities associated with this account and supporting documents."
I also spoke with a former volunteer from Envision Ogden who would only allow me to quote them if I did not use their name. That source was involved in the outdoor-sports Website for Envision Ogden, which lead her--like so many donors--to believe the group was non-political. That source--who volunteered from March to June 2007--says that at the founding of Envision Ogden, there were two sets of meetings: one that involved the Website team and another set of meetings my source was not invited to. In retrospect, my source believes those meetings--which the source says involved Godfrey--were to discuss the political operations, operations that would not be known by the public and donors until much later. "We were a fig leaf," the source says of the volunteers who helped create the Website. The same source, who is still involved in outdoor sports marketing in the Ogden/Weber community, verifies what is fairly obvious: that Envision Ogden's website has not been updated in years and they don't seem actively involved in promoting sports, except indirectly through donations, like the Oct. 1 donation of $3,452 to the Utah Republican Party.
Lastly, at least to my and my sources' knowledge, Envision Ogden never offered refunds to donors who said they would not have donated to Envision Ogden had they been aware of its political motives. Understand that the majority of money the group raised was banked in 2007 but complaints about the political use of its funds were not raised until 2009. At that time, Abraham Shreve, one of the few people known to be in leadership of Envision Ogden, wrote that the group was always intended as a political organization, even though some of the largest donors says they didn't know that when they signed their checks.
Finally, I'll return to the mayor's responses to my questions. Had I known that the mayor would decline an interview but would answer all my e-mailed questions, I would have asked many more.
CW: What is Mayor Godfrey's earliest memory of anything called "Envision Ogden"? How did he hear about it, from whom?Godfrey: I can’t give you a “first memory” of Envision Ogden with any detail. I just don’t remember things like [sic]. I would guess it was around five years ago, but I could be off by a year or so. The main person I talked to Envision Ogden about was Abe Shreve.
CW: When did the Mayor first meet Blain Johnson? Same question for Abraham Shreve.
Godfrey: I’ve known Blain Johnson and Abe Shreve for 7 to 10 years.
CW: From whom did Mayor Godfrey personally solicit donations for Envision Ogden?
Godfrey: I don’t remember who I solicited donations from for Envision Ogden, but I would guess that I raised the majority of what they raised.
CW: As a prominent supporter who approached donors on behalf of Envision Ogden, did anyone ever discuss with the Mayor donations made to Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate prior to those donations being made? Did anyone discuss with the mayor whether Envision Ogden itself should donate directly to political campaigns?
Godfrey: Abe would often ask my opinion on candidates for the funding. Their mission was to support our outdoor recreation movement, which obviously I was very focused on trying to make happen, so they wanted to make sure they were doing things that were helping that cause and not getting in out [sic] way. I was grateful for their efforts to consult me on those kinds of things.
CW: When was the first time Mayor Godfrey ever heard the name "Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate"?
Godfrey: I don’t have any idea when I first heard of “Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate”. There are many people that are very good at storing and reciting that kind of information. Unfortunately I’m not one of them.
Final note: Dan Schroeder, who initially obtained the SBI report through a GRAMA request served on the Department of Public Safety, plans to release the report publicly on Nov. 16.