Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Shurtleff, GOP convention and a DNC convention preview

Happy Pioneer Day! There are many benefits to living in Utah — including an extra day off in July. Today and tomorrow we honor the courage and determination of our state’s founders. Many of their descendants ended up in politics and continue to provide delicious discussion topics at barbecues and fireworks parties.

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the bribery conviction of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. This decision was cited as one reason that Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings dropped charges against former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Will these results affect local politicians?

Pignanelli: “I never bought a man who wasn't for sale.” — William Andrews Clark, responding to condemnation of his bribing Montana legislators. Roughly99.9999 percent of Utah politicians are good individuals who were never tempted by, or even joked about, bribery … except me. Years ago, a reporter from this newspaper published my flippant comment that while I would never trade a vote for money, a nice pasta dinner accompanied by wine could prompt sympathetic legislative deliberations. (Good government advocacy groups, and my mother, were not amused.) Thus, few officials are exclaiming "whew" to recent developments.

But there will be a subtle impact. For some time, attorneys from across the country have been spooking lawmakers with opinions that accepting a contribution while discussing the most minor of details about the donor’s interests, without any specific request, would still attract an FBI SWAT Team. (I strenuously disagreed with such interpretation and the Supreme Court vindicated me, thank you very much). This strained analysis fostered ridiculous complications in legitimate ethical fundraising by politicians.

Now Utah candidates receiving a contribution may allow donors to discuss matters, beyond vague niceties and not accompanied by a specific ask. At the very least, it could prompt nice discussions between the two parties at a pasta dinner.

Webb: It would be a terrible mistake to interpret the McDonnell and Shurtleff cases as meaning it’s OK for politicians to accept favors and play footsie with shady characters. McDonnell and Shurtleff have both paid dearly. McDonnell was once a potential presidential candidate. Shurtleff was a prospective U.S. Senate or gubernatorial candidate.

But the cases do show that while it’s fairly easy to accuse a politician of conflicts of interest and illegally accepting favors, it’s a lot tougher to send someone to prison.

I’ve never thought Shurtleff was overtly corrupt or an evil person. But politicians must be wary of wealthy, well-connected people seeking favors. Such people are drawn to politics and the power it represents, and they love to endear themselves by making large campaign contributions and other gifts. Every top politician has to deal with devious hangers-on and sometimes has to tell them to get lost. Shurtleff got too cozy with some unscrupulous people. He won’t go to trial, but he won’t get off easy in the court of public opinion.

On many levels, the just-concluded GOP national convention was unprecedented. (Due to our deadline, this was written before the final night.) Upstart delegates, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, attempted a last-minute effort to free Donald Trump delegates. But a real effort was made to unify the party. Will the events of last week move Utahns to support Trump?


Many Republicans are upset with Lee, Sutherland Institute Director Boyd Matheson and other insurgents for their activities at the Convention. But they deserve accolades because although Trump is the nominee, he must reap what he has sown. Lee and Company also understand a political party cannot be built around one person and are keeping an actual philosophy alive. The Trump family speakers and the outreach to the LGBT community were positive elements at the Convention. But most Utahns reject the dark, foreboding anti-immigrant message the billionaire delivered Thursday evening.

Webb: Hillary Clinton will unify the Republican Party. The Trump convention — like his entire campaign — was tumultuous, spontaneous and unorchestrated. That made it rather fun. Mike Penceis a great VP selection, and the Trump children helped humanize their father. Donald Jr. had perhaps the best performance of the convention, both in style and substance. Ted Cruz was the big loser. When you get invited to a nice party, you don’t spit in the punch bowl.

The Democratic National Convention starts tomorrow. Will the activities in Philadelphia help or hurt Hillary Clinton's chances in Utah?

Pignanelli: As did the Trump campaign, the Clinton machine faces convention challenges. It will need to motivate supporters of Bernie Sanders, without too much left-wing rhetoric that will irritate independents and frustrated Republicans. This will be difficult, but if accomplished it promises to attract voters in Utah and other states.

Webb: Utahns will get bored watching a parade of leftist speakers extol big government, more regulation, more programs, more gun control, more consolidation of power at the federal level, higher taxes and more liberal Supreme Court justices. Trump will look great by comparison.