Say leader aware of effort; church calls statements false
Despite repeated denials by the Mormon Church and Governor Mitt Romney’s advisers, e-mails from a key Romney consultant state that the leader of the worldwide church was consulted on an effort to build Mormon support for the governor’s potential presidential bid and that a key church leader has been involved in mapping out the plan. One e-mail also describes Romney’s personal involvement in the planning.
The Globe reported Thursday that Romney’s political team had quietly discussed the plan with officials from the church and church-run Brigham Young University and that Gordon B. Hinckley, president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was made aware of the effort and had no opposition.
A church spokesman said last week that it was nonsense to suggest church leaders were working in any way to aid Romney’s political campaign, adding that Hinckley did not know of the Romney initiative to build a nationwide network of Mormon supporters.
But a Sept. 8 e-mail from Romney’s Utah-based political consultant, Don Stirling, states that Hinckley and James E. Faust, the church’s third-highest ranking leader, knew about the effort from another church leader, Jeffrey R. Holland, who had been in close consultation with Romney operatives about it.
The e-mail, to Sheri L. Dew, chief executive officer of the Mormon Church-owned Deseret Book Co., recounted a meeting with Romney’s son Josh and Kem Gardner, a major backer of Romney’s. At that meeting, Stirling wrote, Gardner reported that he had met previously with Holland, one of 12 apostles who help run the Mormon Church, about the effort to help Romney.
“According to Kem, Elder Holland has been designated/assumed the role of coordinating these matters,” Stirling wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by the Globe. “Elder Holland surfaced the idea of using BYU Management Society and its locally based organizations as a starting point to rally and organize the troops on a grass-roots level. Elder Holland subsequently surfaced the idea with Presidents Hinckley and Faust, who voiced no objections.”
In the e-mail, Stirling also asks Dew to join a meeting at the church’s headquarters with Holland, Gardner, Josh Romney, and a representative of the BYU Management Society, an alumni organization of the business school
In a second e-mail to Dew on Sept. 17 about the initiative to help Romney — which his advisers dubbed “Mutual Values and Priorities,” or MVP — Stirling said that Romney had requested that Richard Eyre, a well-known author and speaker, join the discussions.
“Gov would like to have Rick Eyre join that meeting as a source of names throughout the country, which is probably a pretty good call,” Stirling wrote.
Asked yesterday about the e-mails from Stirling, the church’s director of media relations, Michael R. Otterson, issued a statement saying that either Stirling or Gardner had mischaracterized the involvement of church leaders. “We have no responsibility for what others may write, and what they may think,” Otterson said.
He said Stirling’s statements in the e-mails — both that Holland had been designated to oversee the effort to help Romney, and had discussed it with Hinckley and Faust — were completely false. Otterson also said Holland did not share Stirling’s understanding of why the Sept. 19 meeting was scheduled. He said Holland had not spoken with Stirling or Gardner since the meeting.
“I reiterate that the First Presidency of the church keeps a deliberate distance from party political matters for precisely these reasons, to avoid being pulled into issues in which they have no interest or responsibility,” Otterson said.
The Commonwealth PAC issued a statement late yesterday saying, “Don Stirling is an old and dear friend of Governor Romney. He got over enthusiastic and overstepped his bounds. The Commonwealth PAC has taken appropriate action to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Commonwealth PAC recognizes the political neutrality of the Mormon Church.”
Stirling and Gardner did not return calls seeking comment.
The Globe story Thursday described discussions over the past two months among Romney’s political operatives, church and Brigham Young University leaders about building the grass-roots political organization using the roughly 40 US alumni chapters of the university’s business school, the Marriott School of Management. The Globe also reported that representatives of Brigham Young and Romney’s political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, began soliciting help from other prominent Mormons to help build the program.
On Oct. 9, two deans of the Marriott School sent an e-mail to 150 supporters and alumni of the school asking for help in supporting Romney’s possible presidential campaign.
As tax-exempt nonprofits, the church and Brigham Young University are both prohibited from advocating for any political candidate or party, and some tax specialists have suggested the activity by church and university leaders could violate federal restrictions.
The Globe examined the two e-mails from Stirling prior to publishing the story last Thursday, but the source who provided them asked that they not be quoted from directly. On Friday, the source dropped that condition. The source requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
Asked directly last week whether he knew if Hinckley had been made aware of the MVP effort, Stirling said he no knowledge of that.
But in the Sept. 8 e-mail, Stirling states that Hinckley and Faust both knew of the initiative and had no objections. Stirling’s e-mails also contradict assertions by the church and Romney’s political team over the past week that Holland had only a minimal role in the discussions and that the MVP plan itself had been conceived but never implemented.
In the Sept. 8 e-mail, Stirling describes the excitement he and Gardner felt after Gardner’s conversation with Holland, in which Holland suggested tapping alumni of the Brigham Young University business school to build support for Romney. (Holland and Gardner are old friends.)
In that e-mail, Stirling describes Gardner calling Holland’s office to set up a meeting Sept. 19 with Holland “to discuss the use of BYUMS, the MVP program, and to discuss, generally, what might be appropriate to do within the LDS community.”
Last week, Otterson described that meeting as merely “a handshake and a chat, literally a courtesy call.”
“This was simply a response to an appointment requested by an old friend,” he said.
Romney, a prominent member of the Mormon Church, defended the program last week by saying he would be raising money from all kinds of people were he to run for president. Romney has not officially announced he will run, but he is expected to launch a bid in the coming months.
Since the Globe story Thursday, the Mormon Church has challenged the story vigorously, characterizing it as a “misrepresentation” on its website and issuing a statement reiterating its “position of neutrality” on political matters.
Representatives of the church and Romney’s PAC insisted that any discussions between the two camps were held solely to ensure that activity on behalf of Romney did not violate that principle.
A church spokeswoman, Kim Farah, told a Salt Lake City television reporter Thursday that there was no broad effort by the church to help Romney and said that the suggestion that Hinckley played any role is “ridiculous.’
But e-mails from Stirling show that another major institution run by the church, Deseret Book, was also exploring ways to help Romney politically.
“Would you feel comfortable in joining us for that meeting with Elder Holland?” Stirling wrote in the Sept 8 e-mail to Dew, formerly one of the top female officials in the church. “If you don’t, I would like to at least be able to reference that we have been also exploring ways that Deseret Book might be able to help (database/events/ ).”
In the Sept. 17 e-mail to Dew, Stirling wrote, “Boston remains thrilled and excited that you are on the team.”