FreedomWorks tries to Manipulate the Utah Caucus System

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by Daryl Acumen

It’s no secret that Utah’s caucus system is under attack.  There are those in the media and across the state who are tired of our caucus system and who want to see it replaced with straight primaries which they see as more democratic.  While I support the current caucus system, one criticism cannot be denied – the system is easily manipulated by well funded organizations with an agenda.

The most blatant example of this manipulation came to my attention over the weekend in the form of an email from FreedomWorks, a conservative “Nanny PAC” from Washington D.C. that is trying to raise it’s profile by targeting “vulnerable” Republican Senators who can “cost effectively” be defeated (…their words, not mine).  By ‘cost effectively’ they mean to say cheaply, and no system can be manipulated more ‘cheaply’ than a caucus system like the one we have here in Utah!

The email I received as part of the FreedomWorks effort to manipulate our caucus system over the weekend included two attachments which I’ve linked below.  The first is a coaching document with canned “talking points” for operatives to use at their local caucus meeting.  The second is a “caucus strategy” document which lists ‘tips and tricks’ operatives can use to give them a better chance of being elected state and county delegates.

These were transcribed from a mailing which Freedom Works sent out on March 8th, a scanned copy of which you can review here [PDF].

The talking points memo seems benign at first.  It’s the sort of thing a father would tell his son who is interested in being elected a state delegate.  What’s disturbing about the document is the specificity Freedom Works gives to it’s followers and the disingenuousness it is encouraging.  Consider these coaching points:

  • Talk about how you want to make Utah better for your children
  • Talk about how you want to be involved  and will give it your ‘best shot’
  • Talk about how you want to defeat Obama
  • Talk about limited government and how the federal government is getting in your way
  • Dare to do bold things at caucus

I’m not saying the “talking points” above aren’t good things for a person to talk about at Caucus, but it is insulting to me that an organization from outside Utah is contacting people in my precinct and putting words in their mouths.  If someone wants to get involved, wants the state to be better off for their children (if they even have kids), really want to “defeat Obama” and if the federal government really was ‘getting in their way’, then that person shouldn’t need a talking sheet from a D.C. pressure group to tell them to mention those things.  I for one don’t want to hear people talking about things just because some out-of-state group told them to.  The caucus meeting is for people to share their real feelings, not to spout words that tested well in a focus group run by some pressure group’s marketing department.

The so called “strategy” document  attached next is even more insulting!  It includes little tips and tricks on how to manipulate the caucus meetings for best results.  Highlights include the following:

  • If you live in Utah County you need to run to become a precinct leader because that position is also a state delegate.  If you do not win you can run again for a state delegate slot.
  • The first round of voting will be for leadership.  Get nominated for a leadership role.  This will give you a chance to speak and be up in front of the group.
  • When the group gets the chance to ask questions make sure you have people prepared to ask you friendly questions
  • Larger counties hold a pre-meeting before you go into the caucus room.  Have your people skip this pre-meeting.
  • Ask [your supporters] to vote for you only (their underline, not mine)

The trouble with these so called “strategy” points should be obvious.  First of all, FreedomWorks is encouraging caucus goers to run for “leadership” posts even though they might not actually be interested in doing the work required of the position!  The idea of encouraging people to run for offices they’re not interested in serving for simply to improve their chances of becoming a state delegate so they can further an out-of-state pressure group’s agenda is disturbing to me.  This year we face the prospect of caucus meetings running long into the night as we vote round after round eliminating pressure group straw men trying to reach the 50% threshold required for legitimate candidates to get elected to a precint office.  It is my view that those not interested in doing the work of a precinct office should not run for one.

Encouraging caucus goers to have their friends “padd” the question and answer section of the debates and to skip any pre-caucus meetings is also disturbing to me.  We want honest questions on caucus night and we want people to participate in the entire process, not just the parts that profit the out-of-state pressure group to whom they are beholden.

Our party’s caucus system is designed to make it easy for a candidate without a lot of money but with a strong message to have a shot at the party’s nomination for major elected offices.  It’s also designed to encourage everybody to get involved in the election process and to step forward with their passions and ideas and speak to their neighbors.  If we allow the ease of our system to be manipulated by opportunistic out-of-state organizations with their own agenda, then we are handing our voices over to Washington and ensuring that our unique local caucus system will not survive.  Eventually our elections will be the exclusive domain of well-funded candidates backed by super-PACs from outside the state who have no accountability to Utah voters and no stake in the outcome of our elections.  Our voices as individuals will be silenced, never to be heard from again…