Feb 22, 2024 - News

Republicans under fire for Utah fundraiser ad featuring Ken Paxton with Mormon leader

A post on X advertising a fundraiser for the Davis County Republican Party.
A now-deleted Feb. 9 post on X, advertising a fundraiser featuring Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Elder Tad R. Callister, an emeritus leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Image via X

Davis County Republicans are facing scrutiny over a Saturday fundraiser where embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will appear alongside an "emeritus" leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The intrigue: In ads, the party used the former church official's ministerial title, "elder," which critics say conflicts with the church's claims of political neutrality.

Driving the news: The controversy surfaced on Wednesday, when a Salt Lake Tribune reporter shared a flyer on X that promoted Paxton's appearance this weekend with "Elder" Tad R. Callister.

What happened: As critics argued the party used the honorific to link itself to the church, the Davis County Republicans shared an edited flyer with the word "elder" removed.

  • "We accidentally used 'Elder' when we developed the first iteration of the flyer," the party wrote. The version you are using is outdated."

Yes, but: The unedited version remained on social media for the rest of the day.

What they're saying: "That isn't the kind of mistake that happens if you aren't habitually trying to imply church support for your partisan causes," wrote Jared Cook, a Latter-day Saint lawyer in Rochester, New York.

  • "It seems like a line is crossed when general authorities (even emeritus) are speakers at political fundraisers," added David Ostler, a former local church leader and mission president. "Sharing the billing with Paxton is just icky, given his ethical problems in Texas."

Catch up fast: Paxton faces trial in April on securities fraud charges.

  • Texas House Republicans overwhelmingly voted to impeach Paxton last May on corruption allegations, but the state Senate acquitted him.

Context: Although the church disavows partisan ties, it has aligned politically and legally with conservative causes, and its U.S. members are overwhelmingly Republican.

Flashback: Callister's involvement in politics raised questions about the church's neutrality last summer, when leaders endorsed his "Founders Month" campaign to members.

  • The group behind the campaign included several high-profile right-wing activists — but no known Democrats, The Salt Lake Tribune reported in July. It also invited prominent Christian nationalist David Barton to speak in a church-owned building, but switched locations after complaints of political involvement.
  • Callister said the group, "Why I Love America" is not partisan, and a church spokesman said studying the Constitution is not a "partisan issue."

The other side: "Utah Democrats do the same thing," one user replied, pointing to social media posts identifying a Black pastor elected to the state Legislature as "Rev."

Of note: Callister did not immediately respond to Axios' requests for comment.

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