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Unhappy with the response from the state elections office, the campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson is calling for a broad and intensive probe of its allegations of fraud and misrepresentation by signature gatherers working on behalf of the campaigns of Gov. Gary Herbert and others.
"I suggest a prudent course is to broadly interpret investigative powers and bring to bear on this matter all the investigative focus the office can muster," Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Johnson and a former Utah Republican chairman, said in a letter to the lieutenant governor's office that the campaign released to the media on Monday.
"If the lieutenant governor narrowly interprets investigative powers, getting it wrong, by even a small degree, [it] sets a precedent that over time signals tolerance and disinterest more than vigilance, and if these things are treated lightly and not scoured down to their source and rooted out, then more like-kind tactics will be employed in the future."
The Johnson campaign had earlier filed a complaint alleging wrongdoing by one of the signature-gathering companies, including one case in which a person alleged a petition passer urged a voter to sign for a spouse.
Spencer Stokes, a former director of the Utah Republican Party and owner of the signature-gathering company Gather, immediately denied the allegations.
He called the complaint "a campaign stunt," and said he intended to respond with legal action for wrongly "besmirching the company's good name."
Monday, Stokes said he has "sent the campaign a formal legal request but that's probably all I should say."
Mark Thomas, state elections director, said his office is charged with reviewing and verifying each signature turned in and, if it finds someone who has submitted fraudulent signatures, referring that person to the attorney general and county attorney.
"Over the past few months, our office has submitted information to the attorney general and relevant county attorney on individuals we believe should be investigated. It is our understanding investigations have already commenced on the information we have submitted," Thomas wrote to the Johnson campaign.
Noting that the lieutenant governor's office has no authority to conduct a criminal investigation, and also pointing out that the Johnson campaign filed its previous complaint with the attorney general, Thomas wrote that the A.G.'s office "has all of the information you provided … and has the authority to investigate, if warranted."
Hansen, on behalf of the Johnson campaign, requested the lieutenant governor's office provide, under state-open records laws, the referrals to the A.G.'s office that were made in recent months.