Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has talked for months of bringing an antitrust suit against the Bowl Championship Series, has made the controversial system for picking a national college football champion the theme of his main fundraising event of the year.
Some question the propriety and ethics of the April 28 event, featuring University of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, because Shurtleff has widely touted his plans to investigate the BCS.
"There're obviously concerns raised when a politician uses an investigation to raise campaign funds," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who also serves as a legal analyst for CBS and NBC.
"The fact that it's noncriminal gives him more room," Turley said. "But most prosecutors would view it as unwise -- it undermines the integrity of his office and the credibility of his planned lawsuit."
Shurtleff defends the $300 per person dinner's theme as wholly appropriate.
"This is a fun day," Shurtleff said of the event planned for the tower overlooking the U.'s Rice Eccles stadium.
"This BCS issue has legs -- we've heard from attorneys all over the country about the antitrust aspects," Shurtleff said. But he insisted his office does not have an "active investigation" against the BCS.
"Words are important. We have not yet launched an investigation. We are considering that. We're looking at antitrust law theory," he said.
ESPN.com in a March 31 article reported Shurtleff "is gathering contracts, statistics, economic data and experts, and expects to be able to file suit against the BCS in June."
The Deseret News , on March 4, reported that Shurtleff described his investigation as being in "the discovery stage."
He told the paper his requests for contracts were denied, so "now we're issuing subpoenas."
At the same time, he told The Salt Lake Tribune that he plans to press attorneys general in other states to join in an antitrust case at their June meeting in Denver, armed with a series of subpoenas his office is issuing.
Shurtleff's interest in fighting the BCS grew out of the University of Utah's undefeated 2008 season.
Because the U. is not a BCS school, it did not get as much consideration for the national championship game and it finished second behind Florida.
Posted on Shurtleff's personal Facebook page is this promotion of his April 28 Law Day fundraising dinner: "Mark Shurtleff with Speaker Kyle Whittingham to Let you know that we're not gonna take it!
"For all you BCS busting DIE-HARDS out there we're going to be holding a dinner to let you know what we are doing about the blatantly unfair college football championships."
Shurtleff campaign manager Jason Powers said he's confident they'll reach their six-figure goal.
Funds raised at the event will feed Shurtleff's recently formed Political Action Committee, P.A.C. for Utah's Future. "That money is there to further interest in other campaigns and special projects," Shurtleff campaign manager Powers said.
In his third term as Utah's top prosecutor, Shurtleff is considering a run for Sen. Bob Bennett's seat in 2010 or for Utah governor in 2012. He said he expects to announce his plan the first week of May.
Susan Carle, a law professor at the American University Washington College of Law who specializes in legal ethics, said Shurtleff's comments could prejudice any case in the works.
"It countervenes his role as a prosecutor," Carle said. "His duty is to do justice."
It could also be a breach of ethics to use a case he oversees for personal political gain, Carle added.
David Irvine, a Salt Lake City attorney, said Shurtleff's BCS battle comes off as a political stunt.
"It kind of makes everything sound more like a senatorial campaign event than a serious lawsuit," Irvine said.
Shurtleff dismissed Irvine's criticism, saying, "I don't expect much from Irvine, who has litigation against the state."
He also waved off other critics' remarks as coming from "ivory tower intellectuals who lack real world experience."
Shurtleff said his review of the BCS is a public service, not grandstanding.
"This is my duty -- it's the right thing to do," he said. "Let the cynics take their jabs."
Dan Levin, an associate political science professor at the University of Utah, voiced reservations about the Whittingham-Shurtleff alliance.
"This is a political event held at the University's football stadium, featuring the university's football coach and focusing on an issue that directly concerns the university's football program," Levin said.
"I fear that some may see this as an endorsement. And there are probably at least a few Ute fans who vote Democratic."
Whittingham said he knows the event is a fundraiser, "but I'm not a political guy. I have no affiliation either way."
The coach took no stand on Shurtleff's antitrust review of the BCS.
"I haven't had time to analyze the BCS issue. I'm just trying to get my team ready for next year," said Whittingham.
But, he added, "anything that could heighten awareness to revamp the system is a positive."
This is a corrected version. The original story incorrectly identified the university with which law professor Jonathan Turley is affiliated.
Mark Shurt leff's interest in fighting the BCS grew out of the U. of U.'s undefeated '08 season. Because the U. is not a BCS school, it may not have received fair consideration for the national championship.