UtahPolicy polls may not be as objective as claimed8 min read

Bob Bernick, Contributing Editor of UtahPolicy.com, claims that his organization’s polls, which are funded by Zions First National Bank, are more objective than those conducted by organizations that have “taken a stand on a public policy issue.” However, a closer look at UtahPolicy reveals that it is part of an elite group of individuals and interlocking organizations that have not only take a stand on public policy issues but more importantly, are dedicated to maintaining their control of public policy in Utah. These elites coordinate their messaging and use a range of websites, front groups and other tools to push their common agendas.

UtahPolicy’s mission is “to help leaders in the Utah Public Policy Industry obtain those skills and insights, save time and perform their jobs better.” UtahPolicy is joined at the hip with Zions bank which runs UtahPulse and funds UtahPolicy’s polls. LaVarr Webb is the publisher of both UtahPolicy.com and UtahPulse.com. Bryan Schott is Managing Editor of both UtahPolicy.com and UtahPulse.com and Bob Bernick is listed a “Contributing Editor” for both sites.

LaVar Webb is also the founder of the Exoro Group, a political consulting group that proclaims: “We deliver success.” Among Exoro’s clients are Zion’s Bank, UtahPulse, the Salt Lake Chamber, UtahPolicy, the Utah Foundation, Intermountain Healthcare, and USTAR.

Zions bank’s UtahPulse.com lists UtahPolicy as one of its partners. Other UtahPulse partners are the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the World Trade Center—Utah where Zions president and CEO, Scott Anderson serves as Chairman of the Board, USTAR which Anderson championed and chaired and where LaVar Webb plays a key role, and Mountain West Capital Network (business networking organization). But perhaps its most important partner is the powerful and ubiquitous Salt Lake Chamber with its chairman, Lane Beattie.

Zions Bank President A. Scott Anderson is a former two time chair of the Salt Lake Chamber’s board. He was honored by the Chamber as a “Giant of the City.” In turn, Zions is a “Chairman Level Sponsor” of the Salt Lake Chamber and the Salt Lake Chamber, is Zion’s Partner in UtahPulse.

The Salt Lake Chamber partners with chambers of commerce and business associations from all over Utah in a movement called Prosperity 2020. The goal of Prosperity 2020 is to” strengthen our economy by improving education.” Zions’ President/CEO Scott Anderson is a member of Prosperity 2020’s Business Executive Leadership Council. The Salt Lake Chamber and Prosperity 2020 are listed as partner of Education First, a “citizens group” organized as a PAC dedicated to improved investment in education in Utah. Anderson recently published an Op Ed in the Deseret News promoting the Prosperity 2020 agenda.

In addition, The Salt Lake Chamber created a Utah Mobility Coalition to focus on long-term funding and planning issues related to Utah’s mobility infrastructure and appointed the Chamber’s former executive vice-president and general counsel, Robbin Riggs, to lead it.

The Chamber subsequently replaced the Utah Mobility Coalition with the Utah Transportation Coalition. The Transportation Coalition’s mission is ”to secure adequate, stable and long-term [transportation] funding to support a high quality of life and economic growth in Utah” which translates into support for higher taxes. It is also is supposed to “champion the business community’s support for Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan.” The coalition is co-chaired by H. David Burton who is also the head of the Utah Transit Authority board, a founding member of the Downtown Alliance, and a Board Member of the World Trade Center Utah.

In April 2013, LaVarr Webb of UtahPolicy wrote: “ I work with the Utah Mobility Coalition, sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber, so I am involved in a variety of transportation issues.” He then moved on to work with the Utah Transportation Coalition. Webb writes articles on transportation issues for the Salt Lake Chamber while at the same time publishing articles supporting the Chamber’s position on the UtahPolicy website. The UtahPolicy articles may then be posted on the Chamber’s website.

On the health care front, the Chamber favors a “measured approach” to Medicaid expansion and works to gather support for governor Gary Herbert’s [Medicaid expansion] effort which will allow Chamber members to transfer certain of their health care costs to the taxpayers. The Chamber sponsored a survey [in May and June] to gage support for the Governor’s “Healthy Utah” plan and the Chamber has its own Health Systems Reform Task Force.

Another Chamber front group is the Downtown Alliance which is headed by Chamber employee, Jason Mathis. Since 2008, Mathis has served as both the executive director of the Alliance and executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber. The Downtown Alliance is “dedicated to building a dynamic and diverse community that is the regional center for culture, commerce and entertainment.” Mathis also heads up the Chambers’ efforts to obtain amnesty for illegal aliens and for the Chamber members who employ them. Mathis was named a Champion of Change by the Obama Administration for helping draft The Utah Compact.

The Chamber also relies on the United Way to front many of its initiatives including support for the Governor’s Medicaid expansion proposal. Deborah Bayle, President and CEO of the United Way, is a former Chamber Chief Operating Officer. UtahPolicy, Prosperity 2020 and the Salt Lake Chamber are among the United Way’s advocacy partners. LeeAnne B. Linderman, Zions Bank Executive Vice President and Corporate Secretary, serves on the Executive Committee of the United Way. Pat Jones, wife of pollster Dan Jones is a board member and the Salt Lake Chamber is represented on the board by the Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer, Heidi Walker. Scott Anderson was recognized by the Salt Lake Chamber for his work with the United Way when it recognized him as a Giant of the City in 2013.

According to the United Way website, advocacy includes influencing public policy and getting taxpayers to cover the cost of programs that both the United Way and that the public policy elites want.

According to the United Way: State government is a critical partner in furthering our work and achieving our goals. Despite the committed efforts of Utah’s nonprofit organizations and the generous support of Utah’s private sector and religious communities, our resources alone cannot achieve long-term community-level change. Public sector partnerships and investments are also needed in order to achieve lasting solutions to the challenges our communities face.

Another member of the public policy oligarchy is the Utah Foundation which “promotes a thriving economy, a well-prepared workforce, and a high quality of life for Utahns by performing thorough, well-supported research that helps policymakers, business and community leaders, and citizens better understand complex issues and providing practical, well-reasoned recommendations for policy change. Zions bank is a Platinum Level Sponsor. Zions has a seat on the board as does the Salt Lake Chamber (Lane Beattie) and UtahPolicy (LaVarr Webb).

Given the above, it is somewhat disingenuous for Mr. Bernick to argue that UtahPolicy’s polls are the gold standard in terms of objectivity. In the case of Medicaid expansion, the Salt Lake Chamber unquestionably has a dog in the fight and a clear cut agenda. According to its website, “The Chamber has been working closely with the Utah Hospital Association, Chamber members and others to gather support for the Governor’s effort.” In fact, still according to the Chamber’s website: “The Salt Lake Chamber in collaboration the Utah Hospital Association, American Cancer Association, AARP of Utah, Voices for Utah Children and Utah Health Policy Project sponsored a phone and email survey [in May and June] to better understand the public’s sentiment of the Governor’s “Healthy Utah Plan.” That poll was conducted by Dan Jones, Utah Policy’s “objective” pollster and the result was that 70% favored the governor’s plan

Earlier, in March, two members of the Chamber’s Health System Task force, published an op ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. In it, the president of the Leavitt Partners Consulting and the President/CEO of HealthInsight asserted that “Our community will be healthier and financially stronger as we use available federal dollars to provide health care for the poorest among us” and they concluded that the legislature should adopt governor Herbert’s Medicaid expansion proposal. In addition, they testified in favor of the governor’s plan before the legislature’s Health Care Task Force.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the UtahPolicy poll found support for the Chamber backed, governor’s Medicaid expansion plan while a poll commissioned by the Sutherland Institute found a lack of support. After all, the explanations presented to respondents were apparently designed to get the desired results.

UtahPolicy, Zions bank and all those they partner with are as agenda driven as any other group and when a poll is commissioned that affects UtahPolicy and its partners’ interests, it should not come as a surprise when it returns the desired results.

This article was originally written on September 27, 2014 by Ronald Mortensen on examiner.com.

At the time of being republished, links to sources were available, and can be found here.

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