Monday, August 15, 2011

Ogden Candidates Weigh in on Ethics

Nearly all of Ogden’s candidates for mayor and city council have expressed their views on ethics in municipal elections and government, in response to inquiries from the Ogden Ethics Project, a nonpartisan organization formed in May. Overall, the Ogden Ethics Project is encouraged by these responses and the ongoing discussions that they have generated.

As the campaign was getting underway in July, the Ogden Ethics Project sent each candidate a letter and questionnaire.

The questionnaire asked candidates whether they would agree to five specific voluntary limitations on funding their campaigns, provided that all of their opponents similarly agreed. Of the 17 candidates, 11 signed and returned this questionnaire, while three others responded to it in general terms without returning the actual document.

Nearly all of those who responded endorsed three limitations that would avoid certain loopholes in Ogden’s existing campaign finance disclosure rules:
  • Accepting contributions from political action committees only if they are in compliance with all laws and are not being used to circumvent contribution limits or disclosure requirements;
  • Not accepting contributions made indirectly through third parties;
  • Not encouraging others to make independent expenditures, bypassing their campaign treasury, on their behalf or in opposition to any opponent.
The most controversial item on the questionnaire asked candidates not to accept contributions from corporations, business entities, unions, or other organizations, with the exception of registered political action committees (which are subject to disclosure laws). As explained in a Guest Commentary that appeared in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on August 4, this request is intended to remove any appearance of impropriety in the awarding of city contracts, incentives, and permits, and to prevent business entities from being used to circumvent contribution limits and disclosure requirements.

Of the eleven candidates who signed the questionnaire, six endorsed the item that would restrict contributions from businesses and organizations. The Ogden Ethics Project values the diversity of opinion on this issue and understands that it takes time to update a community’s views about such a long-established custom.

The final item on the questionnaire asked candidates to report the name of the employer of any individual who contributes more than $250. This suggestion mirrors a similar requirement in federal campaigns, intended to give voters more information about the special interests that might be backing a candidate. Seven candidates endorsed this proposal.

Because some candidates did not respond, the Ogden Ethics Project will not treat the questionnaires as firm commitments from the candidates who returned them. Some candidates have said they will voluntarily respect the limitations even if their opponents do not similarly agree, and that is their choice. Most importantly, the questionnaire has accomplished the goal of raising awareness of campaign ethics and generating ongoing discussions.

Along with the questionnaire, the Ogden Ethics Project invited each candidate to submit a position statement on ethics in Ogden City Government. Nine candidates took us up on this invitation, and their statements are now posted at Among the responses there were relatively few that addressed specific elements of the Ogden Ethics Project platform pertaining to open government, conflicts of interest, and fairness in city contracting, communications, and personnel matters. This is probably because candidates are unfamiliar with existing ethics laws pertaining to municipal government, and are therefore unsure of how those laws might need modification.

Now that the candidates have weighed in, we hope the public will join this discussion. Please do so by leaving a comment!

1 comment:

  1. I should also point out that four of the mayoral candidates began raising campaign funds months before receiving our checklist in the mail. It may have been unfair to ask them to accept these voluntary limitations at the time when we did. Still, we can hope that they've used some common sense when it comes to large contributions that are ethically suspect. Or perhaps all the large contributors are holding back for the time being anyway, waiting to see who wins the primary. We'll find out when the candidates turn in their first disclosure statements on September 6!