I haven’t been following the Romney/LDS Church story that closely since it broke at the end of last week, but it still seems to be chugging along nicely in Boston and Utah.
The key claim by the Boston Globe was this:
Holland, a former BYU president, suggested using the alumni organization of the university's business school, the BYU Management Society, to build a network for Romney [to campaign for the 2008 Presidential election], according to the documents.
The immediate problem for the Church is this:
Both the church and BYU, as tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations, are prohibited by federal law from advocating on behalf of a particular candidate or political party.
According to the Deseret News, the Church says the Globe got it wrong: [The Deseret News, as always, doesn’t disclose in its story about the Church that it is owned by the Church. Minor conflict of interest, one might think. Although it would get tiresome since half the stories they report on involve the Church in some respect.]
[A]ccording to the transcript provided by [LDS Church spokesman] Otterson, Elder Holland did not advise Romney's people to use the BYU Management Society.
"He told them what they already knew — that neither the Church, nor BYU, nor any other direct arm of the Church would or could ever sponsor or publicly support a political candidate, and that our position of institutional neutrality was well-known and of long standing," according to the transcript.
Either the Globe or the Church is wrong. It seems odd that Holland would meet with Romney’s supporters only to advise them that the Church could not help them. I didn’t see a retraction or “clarification” from either party in today’s follow-up story in the Globe.
The question Romney must be worried about right now is how will reports of official outreach on his behalf by the LDS Church affect his chances of becoming the Republican nominee for President in 2008? The only groups Americans think are less likely to be elected President than Mormons are atheists and gays and lesbians. As much as Romney needs financial backing and campaign support from Church members as he eyes the upcoming campaign, he will be wanting to play down any official ties with the Church to avoid alienating evangelicals, many of whom deeply distrust the LDS Church.
Now I see in today's Globe article that Romney’s supporters are actually using this argument explicitly to show that they wouldn’t have been courting the Church on Romney’s behalf because that would upset evangelicals. With friends like these . . .
I am inclined to believe that Romney is smarter than to pull something like this. I guess it might be like when those supporters of Chris Cannon (R-UT) a few years back got overzealous and put up some inflammatory posters around Provo without his approval, causing him more damage than if they’d just stayed home. At any rate, the problem this is posing for Romney's nascent campaign shows how volatile an issue his religion will be in the next couple of years.