In the same vein as a tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears, does a politician’s in-kind donation exist if it’s never reported? With Utah’s infamously loose campaign laws, it’s no surprise that confusion arises around what constitutes a donation. Local blog Utah Education Issues (UtahEdu.blogspot.com) was the first to ask why Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, didn’t report a potential in-kind contribution from Utah County "Free Capitalist" Rick Koerber.
Koerber, who has been the subject of a Utah Division of Securities investigation for fraud as well as an IRS audit, recently told a KUTV 2 news reporter he was also facing federal charges and that his company at one time held liabilities that exceeded $100 million.
Wimmer, a former student of Koerber’s investment school, told City Weekly in July his relationship with Koerber was as a friend and acquaintance only, when City Weekly reported Wimmer´s co-sponsorship of an audit of the Utah Division of Securities.
The March 2008 audit faulted the division for its heavy-handed investigation tactics. Wimmer pushed for the audit of the division on behalf of Koerber, one of the agency’s most vocal critics.
“I’ve never received any contribution from Rick,” Wimmer says, when asked about a possible donation. “That was his own thing he organized with his people.”
Koerber’s contribution involved spearheading an event that took place on Nov. 1, 2008, when Koerber used his Free Capitalist e-mail list to encourage volunteers to walk Wimmer’s district and pass out fliers for the candidate. For their support, Koerber promised in the e-mail that volunteers would receive a free lunch at his Iceberg Drive Inn restaurant.
“In fact, any time I’ve ever taken Rick around to meet other representatives or anyone, in all situations, I always would make sure to pay for my meals,” Wimmer says, “because I want to make sure everything is aboveboard.”
Koerber describes, at length, his support of Wimmer in his Oct. 31 e-mail sent to Free Capitalists. He wrote about Wimmer’s discovery of state fraud allegations against Koerber’s companies: “When Carl first heard of this, he asked me point blank, ‘Rick do you believe you’ve done anything wrong?’ I answered him candidly and directly. I spent several hours taking him through some of the most egregious actions taken by the State. This was several years ago. From that evening, after being on my radio show, Carl has been an example of what all free citizens could hope for in an elected Representative.”
When asked about it, Koerber says he had no obligation to report anything to the lieutenant governor’s office from the event.
While the lunches were provided by a company Koerber has professional interests in, he says they were on his personal dime. “I paid cash for the meals out of my pocket,” Koerber says. “It didn’t have anything to do with Iceberg.”
Joe Demma, chief of staff for the lieutenant governor’s office, agrees that individual citizens are not required to file campaign finance reports. However, that doesn’t mean a political candidate isn’t required to list the donation. But since no official complaint has been filed, Demma couldn’t speak to the issue. In filing a report, Demma says, there are a number of factors to consider, such as whether or not the candidate was aware that another party was making a contribution.
While Koerber used his mailing list to orchestrate the event, the e-mail also noted volunteers would be meeting with “Carl’s supporters.” The e-mail requested that those planning to attend RSVP on Wimmer’s Facebook page. And on Koerber’s Facebook event page advertising the “Walk with Wimmer” event, two days prior to the event, 23 individuals were confirmed for the walk. Several users even commented on the walk, including Wimmer himself.
Demma says the clear majority of unfiled reports aren’t sinister cover-ups but, rather, honest mistakes. “In all the cases I’ve been involved with,” Demma says, “if we notify a candidate, PAC, PIC or a corporation that they may need to comply with the law—they always do. That’s assuming they needed to do it in the first place.”
At press time, Wimmer contacted City Weekly saying he planned to amend his report. “Even though everyone I have checked with said they don’t think it qualifies as [an in-kind contribution], I insist on everything I do being aboveboard.”