Monday, October 23, 2006

Church faults Mitt story

Deseret Morning News, Friday, October 20, 2006

Church faults Mitt story

Article called inaccurate; church asserts neutrality

Deseret Morning News

The LDS Church is taking issue with a Boston Globe story on an attempt to organize some BYU alumni into a grass-roots program supporting Mitt Romney's anticipated presidential candidacy.

The church on Thursday posted a statement on its Web site, saying it "takes issue with The Boston Globe on their 19 October 2006 story suggesting the Church is institutionally supporting a political campaign."

"In light of articles appearing in the media, we reaffirm the position of neutrality taken by the Church, and affirm the long-standing policy that no member occupying an official position in any organization of the Church is authorized to speak in behalf of the Church concerning the Church's stand on political issues," the statement said.

Boston Globe deputy managing editor over local news, Carolyn Ryan, said Thursday night the newspaper stands by its story.

Romney, Republican governor of Massachusetts and former head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Games, has yet to formally announce a presidential bid. But he is widely known to be considering a run for the White House.

The Globe story Thursday was headlined, "Romney team consults with Mormon leaders" and reported on discussions by the Romney camp on forming a political organization using nationwide alumni chapters of Brigham Young University's business school.

Church spokesman Mike Otterson provided the Deseret Morning News with a transcript of his e-mail interview with the Globe, suggesting some of his responses were mischaracterized by the newspaper in its story.

The Globe story said documents show that President Gordon B. Hinckley "has been made aware of the effort and expressed no opposition" to the so-called Mutual Values and Priorities, or MVP program, to get support for Romney from prominent Mormons.

But Otterson's transcript states he told the Globe that President Hinckley was never made aware of a Sept. 19 visit by Josh Romney, one of Mitt Romney's sons; Don Stirling, a paid consultant for Romney's political action committee, Commonwealth PAC; and Salt Lake City developer Kem Gardner with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Council of the Twelve.

According to the transcript, the Globe asked, "In his communications with Presidents Hinckley and (President James E.) Faust prior to the Sept. 19 meeting ... how much detail did Elder Holland share with them about the effort, and did they voice any opposition?"

According to the transcript, Otterson responded: "There has been no communication whatever with Presidents Hinckley and Faust on this matter. They were unaware of the visit. Elder Holland's secretary simply responded to a request from Kem Gardner to come by his office, and she set up the appointment. Kem Gardner asked if he could bring Mitt's son Josh and Don Sterling, (sic) a Romney colleague dating back to Olympic days, for a handshake and a chat literally a courtesy call. This was simply a response to an appointment requested by an old friend."

Also, the Globe story reported that, "Holland, a former BYU president, suggested using the alumni organization of the university's business school, the BYU Management Society, to build a network for Romney, according to the documents."

But according to the transcript provided by Otterson, Elder Holland did not advise Romney's people to use the BYU Management Society.

"He told them what they already knew that neither the Church, nor BYU, nor any other direct arm of the Church would or could ever sponsor or publicly support a political candidate, and that our position of institutional neutrality was well-known and of long standing," according to the transcript.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, churches and other tax-exempt organizations "are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." Those organizations risk losing their tax-exempt status if they violate that rule.

Otterson's transcript also states that Elder Holland said any use of BYU alumni associations for Romney's campaign would have to be cleared through the university.

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