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.

6 comments:

  1. Good work Dan! Thanks for all you do.

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  2. $500 from the Mayor to support the election of a Council candidate.
    Raises at least a shadow of a doubt about the candidate's independence re: Hizzonah should she win a seat on the Council, que no?

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  3. Yes, Curmudgeon, as I've already written elsewhere, the practice of politicians contributing to each others' campaigns is pretty common, and perfectly legal in Ogden and most other places. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. As you point out, it at least creates the appearance that these politicians are beholden to each other and, hence, not as responsive to the voters as they should be.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Dan and Curmudgeon, I am unsure what you are suggesting? The candidate you pointed out is Marcia, who received funding from a broad range of sources including the Mayor's campaign and Amy Wicks who are polar opposites politically. You failed to point that out Dan. And while you mentioned it Dan I wish to point out again that Jeremy Peterson contributed to a candidate as well. Almost all of Marcia's funds came from Ogden residents as well. The small amount of out of state funding for Marcia came from her family, as should have been guessed. In all races the majority of funding is coming from individuals who are friends of the person running, not from corporation. These funds are transparent just as you like Dan, so questioning ones motives seems unnecessary.

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  6. Thanks for your comment, James.

    In order to keep the article reasonably short, we explicitly highlighted only the few most noteworthy contributions received by each candidate. Generally this means the largest contributions, although I could imagine exceptions. The $138 in-kind contribution of yard sign materials from Wicks to White simply didn't make the cut, mostly due to its small size in comparison to the $500 cash contribution from the Caldwell campaign.

    As far as transparency goes, the Caldwell campaign hasn't filed a disclosure statement since December 2011, so we actually don't know where its money has been coming from lately.

    You're certainly entitled to your opinion on how to categorize these individuals on a political spectrum, but the Ogden Ethics Project tries to avoid those kinds of judgments.

    Curmudgeon and I are hardly the first to raise our eyebrows at the general practice of elected officials contributing to each others' campaigns. Still, the Ogden Ethics Project has never taken a position on this practice, and our intent is not to condemn it but merely to shine a light on it and generate discussion.

    You're correct to point out that the importance of any questionable contribution can be diluted by large numbers of unquestionable contributions (though some might still wonder, in that case, why the candidate accepted a questionable contribution that wasn't especially needed). I think the article provides enough information for readers to put all of the highlighted contributions into their proper context.

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