Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wide Disparities in Funding Among Ogden Council Candidates

The nine candidates running for four seats on the Ogden City Council this year have filed their first round of campaign finance disclosure statements. Here is a summary of their disclosures:

     Contributions     Expenditures
Municipal Ward 1
  Neil K. Garner (I)$0$25
  Pamela Shupe Stevens$0$25
Municipal Ward 3
  Turner C. Bitton$4,698$3,734
  Doug Stephens (I)$3,800$2,312
At-Large A
  Sheri Morreale$1,000$997
  Stephen D. Thompson$1,868$568
  Marcia L. White$10,015$3,384
At-Large B
  Bart Blair (I)$0$25
  Courtney Jon White$80$32

The disparity of fundraising and expenditures among the four races is striking. While there has been virtually no financial activity yet in the Municipal Ward 1 and At-Large B races, the campaigns for the Municipal Ward 3 and At-Large A seats appear to be in full swing.

Utah's municipal elections are nonpartisan, with primary elections used to eliminate all but the top two candidates. Because only the At-Large A seat (currently held by retiring council member Susie Van Hooser) has more than two candidates, it is the only seat involved in next week's primary. Thus, it's hardly surprising that the three candidates for that seat have already raised and spent significant funds. What's somewhat more interesting is the apparent early start in the Municipal Ward 3 race.

Among the candidates, there are also significant disparities in the sources of the funds raised.

In the Municipal Ward 3 race, Turner Bitton's statement lists 51 separate contributions. The largest is $500 from Tim Gill of Denver, Colorado, but most of the contributions come from individuals in Ogden. Incumbent Doug Stephens has listed six contributions on his statement, including a $1500 donation to his own campaign and another $1500 (the maximum amount) from the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors PAC.

In the At-Large A race, Sheri Morreale lists two contributions: a $500 loan from herself and a $500 in-kind contribution from Comet Enterprises of 2417 Grant Avenue. Stephen Thompson lists three small contributions from himself, plus $300 from Republican legislator Jeremy Peterson and $1500 from ABATE, a motorcycling advocacy organization of which Thompson is an officer. Marcia White, meanwhile, lists 59 separate contributions, of which the largest are $1000 from Guy and Colleen Letendre of Ogden, $657 from White herself, and $500 each from five different contributors including the Mike Caldwell for Mayor campaign.

The Ogden Ethics Project is an advocate for integrity and transparency in campaign financing, so that elected officials do not feel beholden, or give the appearance of being beholden, to special interests. Our platform calls for stricter legal limits on certain types of contributions, and we encourage candidates to voluntarily decline contributions that are (or appear to be) ethically questionable.

Without drawing any conclusions at this time, we feel that all of the larger contributions from businesses and other organizations listed above deserve further scrutiny. Some of these contributions are effectively anonymous, with no way to identify the individual(s) who actually contributed the funds. Others represent narrow interests that should not play a disproportionate role in the decisions of elected officials.

The complete candidate disclosure statements can be downloaded from the Ogden elections web page.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Line Item Budget Posted on Ogden City Web Site

For the first time ever, Ogden City has posted a version of its detailed, line-item budget on its public web site,

Until now, the city has posted only a far less detailed version of its budget: the official version that the city council approves each June. Even the council members have rarely, if ever, seen the line-item detail.

As an example, the expenses for the mayor’s office are broken into only five categories in the official budget, but into 28 categories in the line-item budget.

Last winter, however, Ogden citizen Dan Schroeder learned of the existence of a line-item budget printout kept in the city’s Finance Department. He filed a public records request for the document that was initially denied but finally approved after a time-consuming appeal.

Even then, the city refused to provide the document in electronic form, instead producing a 676-page printout and charging Schroeder $169 (25 cents per page) for it. At the time, Chief Deputy City Attorney Mara Brown stated that the city was refusing to release an electronic version because “we are able to track it as a record if it’s in print format” and because an electronic copy “can be manipulated.”

Schroeder then scanned the printed pages and, in early April, posted a searchable electronic version of the document on the Ogden Ethics Project web site (

As the city’s new budget was being prepared this spring, city council member Amy Wicks specifically asked the administration to provide an electronic copy of the line-item budget.

The Ogden Ethics project wishes to thank council member Wicks for her successful efforts to promote government transparency. We also thank Mayor Mike Caldwell and Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson for their apparent change of heart in agreeing to make the line-item budget freely and conveniently available to all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ogden City Line-Item Budget Released to Public

In an effort to promote greater transparency in Ogden City’s finances, the Ogden Ethics Project has obtained and posted a copy of the city’s detailed line-item budget. Interested citizens can now download a copy of this document from

As far as we can determine, no such document has ever before been released to the public. According to Assistant City Attorney Mara Brown, the line-item budget was not widely disseminated even within the city administration, and was not shared with the city council or its staff.

Ogden’s official budget document is posted on the city’s web site but is far less detailed. To give just one example, whereas the official budget breaks down the city’s golf-course-related expenditures into just ten major categories, the line-item budget breaks these down further into more than 100 sub-categories, with staffing, supplies, utilities, and other expenses assigned to either El Monte or Mt. Ogden Golf Course and further broken down between the grounds and pro shops.

For reasons that remain unclear, the city administration was reluctant to release the line-item budget document. A formal request for it, filed pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, was denied on January 9. The city then rejected repeated attempts to discuss or negotiate the denial. Finally, during a formal appeal hearing before the city’s Records Review Board, the administration agreed to release a copy of the document—but only in printed form, at a total cost of $169 (25 cents per page). The administration refused to provide an electronic copy of the document because, in Brown’s words, “we are able to track it as a record if it’s in print format” and because an electronic copy “can be manipulated.”

In total, obtaining a copy of the line-item budget required about a dozen hours of personal time spent over a period of two months. The printed pages have, of course, now been scanned and processed with optical character recognition software to facilitate searching.

The present version of the line-item budget includes actual revenue and expense information from fiscal years 2011 and 2012, plus budget numbers for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Soon the Ogden City Council will begin its consideration of the FY 2014 budget. We hope that the council will demand to see line-item detail during that process, and that the administration will provide that detail promptly upon request.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dollars vs. Votes (preliminary)

With the preliminary results in, it's worth taking a quick look at how the mayoral candidates' expenditures translated (or didn't translate) into votes. Here's a quick table and graph:

Disclaimers: Most of the candidates undoubtedly spent more during the final days before the election, and we won't know how much until the next round of disclosure statements is filed. The vote totals aren't final yet, either. Some of the expenditure amounts may also be misleading for various reasons. For instance, Van Hooser was able to recycle hundreds of yard signs left over from her earlier campaigns.

Note that expenditures are not the same as contributions, so these numbers don't match those in the previous article.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Visualizing Campaign Fundraising

There is a wealth of information in the campaign financial disclosure statements that Ogden’s candidates filed last week. Press reports have focused on the total funds raised and spent by each candidate, as well as a few of the larger individual contributions. We rarely hear about the numerous smaller contributions. Are they significant?

This article attempts to answer this question in a visual way. For example, here is a graph that summarizes all the contributions received by all of Ogden’s mayoral candidates as of the disclosure cutoff date, September 3:

On the horizontal axis is the size of each contribution (plotted on a logarithmic scale that stretches out the lower end of the range, compared to the upper end, in order to show more detail). On the vertical axis is the cumulative total of all contributions that are less than this contribution amount. So, for example, contributions of $50 or less added up to about $3500 for all the candidates, or about 3.6% of the $97,000 total. Donations of exactly $1000 contributed $15,000 to the total, which was more than all donations of $200 or less.

The graph starts at $50, because candidates are not required to itemize contributions of $50 or less. The final jump in the graph is at $5000, the maximum amount that a person can contribute to any given candidate under the ordinance that Ogden passed in 2009. Contributions from a candidate to his or her own campaign (which are still unlimited) are not included in the graph. Multiple donations from the same person to the same candidate are treated as a single donation, but donations from one person to different candidates are not combined.

The good news here is that even the $50 contributions add up to enough to show up on the graph. Small contributors do indeed have a voice! But it’s disturbing that the six $5000 contributions add up to nearly as much as all of the contributions of $500 or less. When candidates feel beholden to a relatively small number of very large donors, ethical quandaries can easily arise. (The Ogden Ethics Project platform calls for a reduction in the maximum contribution size from $5000 to $3000.)

Of course, what you’re really wondering is how these contributions break down among the various candidates. So here, without further ado, is the breakdown:

As the press has reported, Caldwell’s fundraising has far outpaced all the others, accounting for nearly half of the total contributions received. Goddard, Ballard, Stephenson, and Van Hooser are far behind Caldwell but surprisingly close to each other, while Van Wagoner and Hansen are far behind all of these. Thompson is not included in the graph because he hasn’t received any contributions, funding his campaign entirely on his own.

The contribution size distributions also vary widely among candidates. Caldwell’s bread and butter seem to be the $500 and $1000 donors, with his three $5000 contributions adding a rich dessert. Stephenson has received more than anyone else in amounts under $100, and is nearly even with Caldwell up to the $200 threshold. Van Hooser’s fundraising looks fairly strong in the middle of the graph, but then plateaus at the high end. Goddard is barely ahead of Van Wagoner until the two $5000 contributions from his parents are included, bumping him abruptly into second place.

For some interesting context, here is a similar graph for the two finalists in the 2007 mayoral campaign:

This graph includes contributions from the entire campaign cycle, so it isn’t directly comparable to the graphs above. Note that in 2007 there were no contribution limits, and nine of Godfrey’s contributors gave more than $5000. Note also the distinct shapes of the two lines, with Van Hooser receiving more in amounts under $250, but Godfrey receiving far more in amounts above $1000. Bear in mind, however, that Van Hooser was still able to run a very competitive campaign, ultimately losing the election by a margin of only 3%.

Tonight we’ll learn whether the votes are following the dollars in this year’s primary election. We hope, at least, that the unusually large number of public events has helped some of the less-funded candidates get their messages out to voters.

And what will happen in this year’s general election? Predictions at this time would be extremely foolish, given that we need only wait a few more hours to learn who the two finalists will be. Our hope, however, is that general election fundraising will not again be excessively dominated by the very largest donors.

Monday, August 29, 2011

City Council Candidates to Participate in August 31 Forum

All eight of Ogden’s candidates for contested city council seats will participate in a public forum to be held Wednesday, August 31, beginning at 6:30 pm in the Browning Auditorium at Ogden’s historic Union Station. Everyone is invited to attend. After a half hour of informal mingling with the public, the candidates will address the assembly and answer moderated questions from 7:00 until 8:30.

The Browning Auditorium is located at the north end of Union Station, on Wall Avenue at 25th Street.

Kimbal Wheatley, a professional facilitator who lives in Ogden Valley, will moderate the forum.

The event is sponsored by the Ogden Ethics Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes better ethics in Ogden City government. At the forum, candidates will have a chance to express their views not only on ethics but also on the full range of issues that concern Ogden citizens: taxes and fees, debt reduction, downtown development, job creation, transportation, recreation, land use, public safety, and more.

The event’s organizers are compiling a list of prepared questions for the candidates, with input from a wide spectrum of community organizations and stakeholders. Audience members at the event will also have a chance to submit questions.

The four candidates for City Council At-Large Seat C are Jacob Culliton, Landon Halverson, Stephen D. Thompson, and incumbent Amy L. Wicks. The four candidates for the Municipal Ward 2 seat, representing Ogden’s north side, are Richard Hyer, Jennifer Neil, Todd R. Wallis, and C. Jon White. Incumbent Caitlin K. Gochnour, who represents Municipal Ward 4 on the southeast side of Ogden, is running for reelection unopposed. Gochnour will be present to talk with constituents but will not participate in the formal questions and answers, in order to give the other candidates more time.

Ogden’s nonpartisan primary election will be held on Tuesday, September 13. For each contested council seat, the two candidates who receive the most votes will proceed on to the general election on November 8.

To learn more about the Ogden Ethics Project, please visit

Friday, August 19, 2011

Council Proposes to Ban Retroactive Bidding Waivers

We are delighted to report that the Ogden City Council may soon enact one of the planks in the Ogden Ethics Project platform!

The council agenda for this Tuesday, August 23, includes the following item:
  • Professional Services Contracts – Timing of Waiver and Notice. Proposed Ordinance 2011-45 amending Section 4-2B-9 to revise exceptions for contract approval. (Adopt/not adopt ordinance – roll call vote)
And a look inside the agenda packet reveals that this ordinance would require any mayoral waivers of competitive bidding to be signed "on or before the date of execution of a contract and filed with the office of city council within 10 days after execution of a contract."

At present, Section 4-2B-9 of the Ogden City Code allows the mayor to waive competitive bidding for professional services, as long as he provides written justification and informs the city council. The loophole, however, is that it doesn't say when he must do these things.

On at least two occasions in recent years, the mayor has neglected to sign any waiver or inform the city council until after the contract was signed and the work completed. Both of these contracts were controversial. The first was for the 2006 gondola fiscal impacts study, paid for via a financial shell game that diverted a federal bus facilities grant through the Utah Transit Authority. The city council and the public didn't learn about the study, or how it was funded, until the following year. The second instance was for the recent field house feasibility study, which was contracted without competitive bidding even though the city council had been led to believe otherwise.

The Ogden Ethics Project applauds the city council for taking the initiative to close this loophole and thus keep itself, and the public, better informed about city contracting procedures. We hope this will be the first of many new ethics ordinances to be passed in the coming months.