Deseret Morning News, Tuesday, October 24, 2006
LDS officials distance church from Romney
By Stephen Speckman
Deseret Morning News
LDS Church officials this
week continued to distance the church from the potential presidential
candidacy of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his supporters.
Then-Gov. Mike Leavitt, IOC official Jean-Claude Killy, Kem Gardner and Mitt Romney attend a press conference in 1999. Gardner has reportedly taken blame for the current Romney political controversy.
Chuck Wing, Deseret Morning News
The developments are a Salt
Lake Tribune story Monday that said prominent developer Kem Gardner, a
friend and financial backer of Romney, takes the blame for "this whole
mess." In that story, however, Gardner appears also to cast some blame
on an overzealous political consultant.
Gardner did not return calls Monday from the Deseret Morning News.
"The mess" refers to Gardner
arranging a meeting between Romney supporters and an LDS Church
apostle. The meeting and what was purportedly said there ended up
linking political support for Romney with the top ranks of The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Proof of blatant support of any
candidate puts the church at risk of losing its tax-exempt status with
the Internal Revenue Service and could damage Romney's prospects of
getting the GOP nomination.
The Boston Globe over the past
week has reported that an e-mail by Don Stirling, a Utah-based
political consultant for Romney, said that LDS leaders, including
church President Gordon B. Hinckley, knew about meetings between Elder
Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Romney supporters,
And a Globe editorial Monday accused Romney of appearing to be "all too willing to entangle religion and politics."
"Voters who practice a
different faith, or none at all, deserve assurances that he can
separate the demands of public life from the urgings of Salt Lake
City," the editorial concluded.
"I can state unequivocally
that Elder Holland has never discussed with the (LDS) First Presidency
the matters asserted in the Don Stirling e-mail," Bills said.
Earlier church statements said Elder Holland told the Romney supporters of the church's political neutrality policy.
Gardner told the Tribune that
Stirling got carried away with his descriptions of a September meeting.
"We know Mitt can't use the church," Gardner told the Tribune.
The church-owned Deseret Book
Co. is also involved in the controversy because the Stirling e-mail was
directed to its CEO, Sheri Dew. According to the Globe, the e-mail
talked about a meeting last month between Gardner and Romney's son,
Josh, adding that Gardner had also previously met with Holland.
Bills forwarded a statement
Dew issued Sunday that said Deseret Book has done nothing to support
fund-raising efforts for Romney and that it will maintain that approach.
Some Utahns, including
Gardner, who was an LDS Church mission president in Massachusetts, have
been longtime supporters of Romney.
The Massachusetts News
reported in 2002 that when Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts,
"influential" Utahns donated more than $41,000 to his campaign and more
than $130,000 to the Massachusetts Republican Party. According to the
report, Gardner and his wife each donated $500 to the campaign, with
Gardner family members contributing $15,000 to the Massachusetts GOP.
As of Monday, Romney's
Commonwealth PAC, which raises money for Republican candidates around
the country, was sticking to a statement it issued over the weekend,
saying it recognizes the political neutrality of the LDS Church.
"Don Stirling is an old and
dear friend of Governor Romney," wrote Jared Young, PAC communications
director. "He got over-enthusiastic and overstepped his bounds. The
Commonwealth PAC has taken appropriate action to make sure it doesn't
At one point, two business
school deans at church-owned Brigham Young University, also a
tax-exempt entity, sent an e-mail on a school computer, soliciting BYU
alumni to support Romney.
BYU officials condemned the solicitation, saying it violated the school's position of political neutrality.
Gardner told the Tribune that sending the e-mail on a school computer was not planned.
In response to Globe stories
appearing Oct. 19 and 22, the LDS Church on its Web site stated, "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."
Church members across the
country were also reminded Sunday, as is the case in every election
year, to vote for candidates that support their views of good
government, but that the church itself is neutral in politics.
In another statement by the
LDS Church, director of media relations Michael Otterson responded over
the weekend to the Globe's request for an interview about the Stirling
e-mail to Dew.
"What you have sent me is an e-mail between two parties, quoting a third party, none of which are church representatives," Otterson wrote. "We have no responsibility for what others may write and what they may think."
© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company