[UPDATE: The List moderator has emailed me and clarified a few things. It appears that this is more a case of inept moderation than an agenda. David is an employee of Daniel Thompson, who Mr. Thompson assigned to handle the moderation of the group. They have still exhibited an resistance to transparency concerning political connections and bias. Apologies to Greg Soter who I suggested might be involved. I now have no reason to believe that such is the case. Part of the ineptitude of the moderation involved not reading any email sent in private to the moderator email address, and that is why I never received a response to my remonstration. The moderator accidentally deleted a handful of posts when he intended to approve them. A better solution is on its way. Stay tuned.]
Something fishy is going on.
On April 4th I posted about the email debate taking place between delegates in my inbox. On April 6th, a comment was posted on my blog by someone calling himself “David” introducing a new email group, hosted at Yahoo! Groups, for Republican Delegates in Utah County. I soon received an email invitation to join the group, as apparently did other county delegates.
Here is the text of the invitation:
We have created and online discussion group for you and other Utah County delegates to discuss issues and topics leading up to the Utah County Republican County Delegate Convention on April 29th.
We invite your [sic] to join this forum and discuss your thoughts, feelings and observations with the other 1,200 county delegates who will be choosing our republican candidates.
We hope discussions will be lively, yet respectful. This invitation is open to everyone, not just delegates.
Please bookmark the site and visit it frequently:
I was happy to see some effort to give delegates equal access to the virtual megaphone, but at the same time I wanted to know who was sponsoring the list. Who were these mysterious “Moderators” who had access to the delegate email list?
So I joined the group.
One thing that I immediately disliked about the group was that all posts have to be approved by the moderator before they go out to the whole group. While such moderation might be needed for a blog like mine where commenting is open to the public, in a “by-invitation” group like the yahoo group where membership is already moderated, it seemed unnecessary restrictive to moderate each and every post. It also seemed like a potential problem if the moderator abuse his power to censored posts by preventing them from going to the list. After all, the only participants on the list who would know that a post had been censored are the moderator and the person whose post was blocked.
I immediately posted a public message to the group asking if it was officially sponsored by the local GOP or if it was a private endeavor. The moderator responded that it was “mostly a private effort to adhere to the desires expressed by the Utah County GOP Legislative chairs and leaders in a recent meeting.”
Mostly private? What did that mean? And what was the group’s connection to the Utah County GOP Legislative chairs and leaders? The desires of which leaders specifically? The moderator also used ambiguous plural pronouns to apparently refer to multiple people who were involved in setting up the list. Who were the other hidden “moderators”?
So I posted another public message to the list. I expressed a desire for more transparency for the moderators. I mentioned that one thing that we have learned from Blogs vs. The Mainstream Media is that there is no such thing as pure objectivity, so it is better to be transparent with our bias so that people don’t feel that they are being deceived. I called for the moderator to be transparent about who specifically was involved in setting up the list, and any connections, present or in the past, they might have to this year’s candidates (familial, business, political, or other).
I waited for my post to go out to the list. And I waited. And waited. In the mean time a candidate from the Libertarian Party joined the group and began to post propaganda to the delegates. I thought this was a “GOP” delegates list. After all, didn’t they use the delegate email contact list to send out the invitations?
And I waited, and waited, and waited as other messages submitted after mine were approved and showed up in my inbox. Finally I received a private email from the list moderator, “David”
So I went to look at the FAQ. It has evolved a little since it was posted that day, but I don’t have a copy of the original. Here are the relevant selections about the origins of the group:
WHO STARTED THIS GROUP?
This discussion group was started by Daniel Thompson after a having a conversation with four Orem Delegates who wanted a forum in which they could share information with other delegates.
Daniel Thompson is the owner of several Clean Flicks video stores in Utah Valley. His corporate office is located at 900 South State in Orem. He is a dedicated republican who wanted to become a delegate, but wasn’t able to attend the convention. This forum was started as a way to help contribute to the democratic process even though he couldn’t be at the convention.
IS THIS OFFICIALLY SPONSERED BY THE UTAH GOP PARTY?
No. This is mostly a private effort to adhere to the desires expressed by the Utah County GOP Legislative chairs and leaders in a recent meeting.
WHY DID YOU START THIS GROUP?
Most of the Legislative Chairs and Leaders agreed that that the use of electronic mail can be a cost effective and powerful communication tool, yet many expressed concerns about the potential abuse with mail, spam, etc.
Candidates who purchased the delegate mail list understood that the list was not to be sold or given to other parties, yet, delegates would like to have a forum in which they can communicate with each other.
This forum was created to satisfy the demands for a public forum, yet respect the privacy of each delegate and the keep candidate messages ‘untainted’. The technology is simple and easy to implement.
CAN ANYONE JOIN THIS GROUP?
Yes. It is primarily a resource for Delegates and Candidates, however anyone is welcome to participate.
IS THIS GROUP MODERATED?
Yes. We only remove offensive language and over-the-top personal attacks.
This forum is not moderated by delegates. Daniel feels that if this forum were moderated by a delegate or group of delegates, it would lose impartiality as they begin solidifying their voting preferences.
I was upset. My public call for transparency had been censored and even though the FAQ was a step in the right direction, it told me very little about who was actually involved in running the group. If the group was set up and moderated by “Daniel Thomson,” why is the moderator called “David” and why did the commentator on my blog called himself “David”? That doesn’t make any sense!
And if he wont reveal who specifically is involved and what their connections to the candidates are, then how is it more impartial than anyone else. As I said in my censored post, impartiality is an illusion. Just because he wasn’t selected as a delegate, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have “voting preferences” himself.
I was also upset at myself for having used the yahoo groups web form to submit the post that was censored. That is why I don’t have a copy of it to reproduce here.
In any case, I wrote the following private email to the moderator:
Thanks for the additional information. But I am displeased that my post asking for transparency and a complete explanation of who specifically had been involved in setting up this list (and for a disclosure of any past or present relationships to any of the candidates) was censored from the list. Unless I mistakenly sent the post just to you, (and I don’t think that I did), I thought that I had posted it to the whole list and I expected that my questions would be part of a public discussion. I feel censored, which is particularly frustrating when you let a libertarian post to a list that the email I received by way of invitation described as an “online discussion group for you and other Utah County delegates to discuss issues and topics leading up to the Utah County Republican County Delegate Convention on April 29th.”
The group is called “utahcountygop – Utah County Republican Delegate Group.” It says so right on the page. We were lead to believe that this group was for Utah County Republican Delegates only. You apparently used the republican party delegate email contact list to advertise the group. You have had 55 people join in less than 24 hours. Now the homepage has been modified and says that the group is open to “candidates, delegates, and the general public” and you have a libertarian candidate posting promotional material. That seems like misrepresentation to me (though I suppose it could have been unintentional), and I think that it might be an improper use of access to the delegate list. Would most of us have joined the list if it had been presented from the get-go as an open forum for the general public and candidates from any party to discuss the Republican Conversion on April 29th?
In your most recent post to the list you say “We felt that all candidates should be aware of this forum and discussion group and so we invited them.” As I asked in my censored post, I think you need to be open about who specifically the “we” you refer to are and what connections they have to any of the candidates, past and present. The concern expressed in my censored post remains: that you have disclosed very little but wield a lot of power in your ability to control who gets invited and the power to prevent posts from going to the entire list, as you apparently did to mine.
I suppose you can simply ban me from the list and continue on as if I hadn’t raised these issues. I hope that you will instead make my original post public and address my concerns publicly. I have BCCed this email to another member of the list.
I appreciate that you are trying to provide a forum. I’m sorry if I have misunderstood what is going on here (I’ve done a lot of that lately). If I have misjudged the situation please forgive me and explain to me why I am mistaken.
J. Max Wilson
To my dismay, I never even received a response. However, my original post asking whether the group was sponsored by the GOP or was a private effort suddenly disappeared from the group’s message archive.
Despite my frustration, I remained a member of the group. I even contributed posts to discussions about education, immigration, and anonymity, all of which were approved by the moderator without problem.
Which brings us to this past weekend.
On Saturday April 22nd at 11:08, the following email was posted to the Utah GOP delegates group. It went out to the group, which means it was approved by the moderator.
Subject: Hellwell’s Opponents Have a History of Being Ambushed near the Finish Line
Hellwell’s Opponents Have a History of Being Ambushed near the Finish Line: DON’T Let Yourself Be Manipulated!
Dear Fellow Utah County Delegates who will vote in the Utah Senate District 15 Race (Margaret Dayton vs. Parley Hellewell):
A couple of days ago I opened my US Mail and I saw a letter with a computer generated label addressed to me. It had no return address and was not signed.
Yes, it was the scurrilous attack letter against Margaret Dayton that you too probably got about the same time.
First, a couple of observations about the letter itself: Whoever sent it had a database with access to the names of Utah County Delegates, Precinct Chairs, and Vice Chair and their mailing addresses. If Lynn Dayton’s ex-wife sent this out, she had some help from a Republican insider. Clearly this was in inside job!
Second, this letter was sent just before the County Convention when you and I will cast votes in this race. The timing of this smear letter was clearly done in an attempt to change the election results and defeat Margaret Dayton.
This kind of smear tactic is unfortunately not new or unusual in Utah politics.
Nor is an anonymous smear tactic right at the end of this race new to this race.
Eight years ago when Parley Hellewell first ran against Greg Soter in this same race, a couple of days before the primary election, an ad ran in the newspaper by a “Citizens for Utah’s Values in Education” (a totally anonymous group) who accused Greg Soter of absolutely false accusations.
Here is what Greg Soter told me and what he wants you to know about this incident in his former race against Parley:
I’m sharing the following in hopes of preventing any of our Utah County candidates from having the same very unfortunate experience I had a few years ago.
In 1998, Parley Hellewell and I were opposing one another for the State Senate seat that was about to be vacated. Two days prior to the primary election a newspaper ad ran that absolutely astonished and devastated me emotionally. The ad essentially accused me of supporting:
1. Abortion without parental consent or notification.
2. Teaching children to accept homosexuality as normal.
3. Condom distribution in the schools.
And nine other absolute, blatant lies about me.
Anyone who knows me—even slightly—knew the malicious, untrue nature of the ad’s implication against me. Unfortunately, few voters know candidates personally. In short, it was a smear. Timed such—two days before the election—that I had no opportunity to respond with the truth about myself.
Who ran the ad? I never could find out. They covered their tracks well. Did the false claims do damage? Yes, not just in the election two days later, but certainly to my personal reputation as well. Did that ad “buy” the election for Parley? You tell me. I lost by 104 out of approximately 7,000 total votes in our race.
A conversation I had with a voter I had met during the campaign said it all. She phoned me on election day and said, “Greg, I just wanted to tell you how terribly disappointed I am in you. I read the ad that ran, and it’s obvious that you have completely misrepresented yourself in our conversations.”
I knew the moment I heard her comment that the ad was not only false, but its damage mortal. I explained to her that my personal—and political—positions were completely opposite of the ad’s slimy implications. Her timid, and obviously embarrassed response, was, “Greg, I am so sorry. I just went out and voted against you.”
Did 104 or more people similarly vote for Parley because of that ad? Again, what do you think?
Do I think Parley personally ran the ad? I still don’t know. Obviously, someone in his camp did, and I think a leader ought to have better control over his organization than that.
I do know this: Dirty politics have no place in our political system—particularly in Utah Valley.
I share this story as a heads up and warning to two groups of people:
1. To anyone who might be entertaining the thought of last-minute, cheap defamation tactics. Don’t do it. It is terribly damaging to the targeted individual, emotionally, financially and politically. Eventually—by one means or another—your dishonesty will come back to haunt you.
2. To those who vote—either as delegates in a convention or as citizens in an election—let me urge you to carefully question
information disseminated at the last minute, that “doesn’t seem
right,” or which questions character and morals.
In short, no more funny business, please. It’s far from funny. See you at the convention on April 29th.”
But I can’t help wondering if what we are dealing with here with Parley is what Richard Nixon called “plausible deniability” in the Watergate Scandal.
This campaign SHOULD be about the issues. It SHOULD be about Hellwell’s accomplishments as Senator in the 15th District (or as I see it the LACK thereof).
I personally know Cindy Dayton (Margaret’s sister) and Cindy’s children (I have taught most of them in Sunday School). I live on the same street with that family. I knew Margaret’s deceased mother—who was also a first rate, conservative lady. Every one in the extended Dayton family whom I know is a first class person. Margaret is a fine lady. Margaret told me that she and her husband plan on going on an LDS mission after he retires from his medical practice.
Margaret has worked hard to have as much personal contact with each of you as you want during this campaign. Given your personal experience with Margaret, what is your internal sense about her? I think most of you can tell that she is not the kind of person this anonymous liar has portrayed her to be.
If you are still making a decision about this matter, there is still time for you to perform your “due diligence” on this race. Call Margaret (I can get you her phone number if you need it). Or go to the last pre- convention debate between Parley and Margaret at Lakeridge Junior High in Orem next Tuesday night (April 25). Or talk to people who know both candidates like Senator Curt Bramble or Senator Valentine—both of whom have endorsed HER for this race—and NOT Hellewell (I think that fact should tell you something). Or, arrange to meet with Margaret personally.
Margaret’s public record as our Utah State House Representative is centered on family values and conservative proactive ACTION.
I strongly believe that Margaret Dayton is clearly a better choice than Parley Hellewell for this position.
Who wrote this attack letter against Margaret Dayton that is full of lies and venom? Like those who attacked Greg Soter in Parley’s first race, we will probably never know.
One thing is for sure. Someone within the Republican Party is trying to manipulate you and your vote in this race. They must not be allowed to have their way this time again in this race.
Provo 31st Precinct Chair
That evening at 11:18pm, I posted the following response to Mr. Barrus:
Jonathan Max Wilson, County Delegate, OR30
While your warning against final minute mudslinging is noble and something we should all take into consideration, it is ironic to me that other portions of this post of your’s represents the exact kind of final-week smear that it seems to denounce. Perhaps Mr. Hellewell should have denounced the anonymous ad in 1998. What is in the past is in the past. Now, in 2006, if the anonymous letter writer did have access to the delegate lists, he or she neglected to send a copy to me. However, I did receive an impressive email from Mr. Hellewell denouncing the anonymous smear-lette—a fact that you conveniently neglect to mention.
Here is the text of the email I received from him:
Today, I became aware of an anonymous letter attacking one of my opponents, Margaret Dayton, in the race for State Senate District 15.
I abhor such negative campaigning—and I would encourage you to reject this recent attack on a fine, reputable, capable candidate.
My personal association with Margaret and her husband, Lynn, has been positive, and I want our race to reflect that relationship.
This is an issues-based campaign. I therefore hope you will ignore anything that detracts from fair-minded, responsible discussion of the issues.
With sincere personal regards,
Senator Parley Hellewell
Utah State Senate District 15
I am still undecided in this race. But I can say that I, as a county delegate, have heard a great deal of mudslinging and accusations from Dayton supporters, and very little from Hellewell supporters. So far, all of the Hellewell supporters who have contacted me have spoken only about Hellewell and the issues and said nothing negative or accusatory about Dayton. The one mudslinging Hellewell supporter I am aware of, whose letter I never personally received, has been denounced by Hellewell himself.
On the other hand, many of the Dayton supporters that have contacted me have spent as much time attacking Hellewell—implying that he is lazy, incompetent, (and now, with your email, insinuating that he or his supporters may be dishonest has well) than praising Dayton.
If I were to vote based only upon my interactions with supporters, I would probably vote for Hellewell because of the negativity and accusatory focus I have perceived from so many of the Dayton supporters. Fortunately, I have met Mrs. Dayton personally and did not observe any of that same repulsive attitude: She was polite, issues focused, and spent no time discussing the failings of her opponent. If only her supporters would follow her example!
As far as I am concerned, emails like your’s insinuating that Mr. Hellewell himself might have been behind a last-minute smear campaign in 1998, hurt Mrs. Dayton’s campaign more that they help it.
As an undecided delegate, I was impressed with Mr. Hellewell’s email praising his opponent and denouncing her anonymous accuser. I am emailing a copy of this email to Mrs. Dayton with the hope that she will be equally magnanimous and take the opportunity to denounce the disgusting bit of mudslinging by you, Mr. Barrus, as well as any of her other supporters.
My undecided status may hang in the balance.
Jonathan Max Wilson
It is now nearly 5:00pm on Monday. About 60 posts have been approved by the moderator and sent out to the list since the time I sent mine in Saturday night. My response to Mr. Barrus has been censored by the moderator. Neither have I received a response from the Dayton campaign.
I have been participating in electronic and online communities for at least 15 years and I have never, in my recollection, been censored.
Something is wrong here. In less that a month, I have twice been censored by the moderator of this group. Invitations to the group were apparently sent out by someone with access to the delegates contact info (I know because I gave out a different email address to the GOP when I gave them my contact info as a delegate than I have used for the rest of my interactions as a delegate).
Mr. Daniel Thompson refers to the desires of Legislative Chairs and Leaders, yet will not be open about who specifically they are. He has said that he is not a delegate. Is “David” his middle name? If not, why did he introduce the list as David but write in the FAQ that the list is moderated by Daniel?
Why did he censor my call for transparency if the others he has referred to but refused to identify are “impartial.” If he has no agenda, why did he censor my response to Dan Barrus?
Perhaps it is just circumstances, but this smells like something fishy to me.
Does the Utah County GOP email group have a hidden agenda?
I don’t know for sure.
I publicly call upon all those involved in setting up the group to openly reveal their connections to candidates, past or present, business, familial, or other and to reveal their personal bias.
I hope anyone in the community who might be able to shed some light on those involved in founding the Utah County GOP email group and what agenda they might have to send me an email at jmaxwilson at sixteensmallstones dot org, or to leave a comment here on my blog.
Curiouser and curiouser…
According to this article in the Daily Herald, Daniel Thompson is the head of the group that is offering a reward to people with information about who wrote the anonymous letter smearing Mrs. Dayton. Yet he is the moderator that approved the email from Dan Barrus implying that Senator Hellewell might be behind that letter. Here is the irony: The group is called “Republicans for Ethical Conduct” and apparently was formed with Thompson by several community leaders—who are unnamed in the article. Could they be the same individuals behind the email group? Are they Margaret Dayton supporters? His involvement with the group offering a reward would seem to indicate that they are.
If you remember from my post about the delegate debate in my inbox, one participant in that exchange was the same Greg Soter who is cited in the smear email from Dan Barrus. According to this post at http://utahconservative.blogspot.com, Greg worked on the public relations for all five of Margaret Dayton’s campaigns. According to one commentator on my former post, he is also Mrs. Dayton’s cousin. In Dan Barrus’s email he is quoted as saying “Do I think Parley personally ran the ad? I still don’t know.” Yet my response to the email was censored.
In a separate post on http://utahconservative.blogspot.com, a letter from Margaret Dayton is quoted saying she has never “initiated” negative campaigning (I never received this letter). Yet the first email I received from a Dayton supporter attacking Mr. Hellewell as incompetent, quoted in my other post, came from Greg Soter. If it comes from a cousin that works on your Public Relations team, how is that not initiating?
Was Greg Soter involved in setting up the Utah County GOP delegates email group with Dan Thompson? Is it just a brilliant public relations move? Inquiring minds would like to know.