Selling access?  For , Utah Parents United promised the chance to meet the “key players” in the state government

Selling access? For $25, Utah Parents United promised the chance to meet the “key players” in the state government

The Conservative Father’s Right Group sells tickets to meet with some of Utah’s political leaders on Monday night at the Utah State Capitol.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

On the evening of Monday, January 10, about 100 supporters of the conservative Utah group Barents United will gather at the Utah State Capitol. Attendees were promised a tour, a T-shirt, and some time with some of Utah’s top legislators and officials from the offices of Governor Spencer Cox and Attorney General Sean Reyes.

All for $25.

A right-wing parenting rights group helped lead an attack on how race and fairness are taught in Utah schools, demonstrated against mandates for school masks, and most recently, organized against materials in school libraries that it thought was obscene. In a training video, Brooke Stevens, director of curriculum at the University of Utah Barents United, tells parents to call the police if they find reading material that they feel is inappropriate for students.

Capitol tours are usually not worth more than a glimpse. Hundreds of schools and community groups pass through the halls of the Utah State Capitol each year to get a glimpse of where and how the state is governed. But Monday’s event is raising some tension.

Usually most groups that come to the Capitol don’t get a lengthy question-and-answer session with lawmakers, let alone top leaders from the House and Senate. House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R. Hooper, and Senate Speaker Stuart Adams, R. Leighton, will entertain the group on the floor of the House and Senate, respectively, that evening. Cox’s chief counsel, Mike Moore, and Rick Cantrell, chief of staff to Attorney General Sean Reyes, are also scheduled to participate.

According to a video posted on the Utah Parents United Facebook page, the plan is to divide the attendees into four groups and rotate them through the evening.

“They’ll talk to us about our concerns as parents, and we’ll have the opportunity to ask and answer with them,” group president Nicole Mason said in the video.

Another video included in the group’s newsletter sells potential participants the opportunity to interact with “eight major players” on Capitol Hill.

Four Republican lawmakers will serve as tour guides for the evening: Senator John Johnson of Logan, Senate Majority Webb Kirk Collymore of Sandy, Rep. Candice Perucci of Riverton, and Rep. Karen Leesonby of Clearfield.

The tour and participation of elected officials does not violate any ethical rules. Lawmakers are free to interview whomever they choose. But Monday’s event appears to blur the line between legitimate contact with founders and selling access to policymakers by charging attendance.

The Utah Parents United website announces: “You get $25 off a T-shirt and you keep your place.”

Organizers say they hope to register 100 people, which will bring in a cool $2,500 for the evening. The event sign-up page says the $25 covers materials and event marketing costs. It is not clear how the group is advertising the event outside of their site’s social media channels. Utah Parents United has not run any paid ads on Facebook since October 2020.

The group denies the event is a fundraising campaign, but it will not answer any further questions and did not respond to a request for comment or an interview. A Salt Lake Tribune reporter tried to buy a ticket for the tour but was told the event was not open to the press. A subsequent attempt to purchase a ticket as a private citizen was also rejected.

Schultz says he doesn’t see a difference between Monday’s event and when he talks to other private groups that charge membership fees, such as the Salt Lake Room.

“When I talk to those organizations, does this sell access?” Schultz asked. He doesn’t see Monday’s event as anything other than a meeting with voters, adding that many parents in his area belong to the group.

Senator Kathleen Ribe. D-Cottonwood Heights, says she and other lawmakers have heard many complaints about the tour.

“Government officials should not be portrayed in this way,” says Ribe.

The event has been described as an “exclusive private tour,” although the Capitol is open to the public during the first hour of the tour.

Mower says he agreed to speak with the group because Cox and Lt. Col. Deidre Henderson were not present.

“I talk to a lot of the groups during the session and I said I would be happy to visit with them,” Mauer said.

Cantrell says he agreed to a “routine” meeting but was not given the impression it was any more. A spokesman for President Adams said he agreed to participate because the event “fits his schedule”.

Some lawmakers involved as tour guides are careful to point out that they do not give special access to the group.

Lisonbee says she was “invited to interact with the electorate,” but was unaware that participants were required to attend.

Perucci said the ticket price was to “cover costs” for the group.

“As legislators, we have just been invited to make rounds for our naturopaths attending that evening,” Perucci said in a text message.

A big selling point is the opportunity for participants to be photographed in the governor’s chair. A representative for Cox said this is something given to most groups that tour the governor’s office.

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