Donations to Ogden council candidates range from $0 to thousands of dollars

Friday , August 11, 2017 - 6:00 AM2 comments

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The 14* candidates competing for three Ogden City Council seats in the Aug. 15 primary submitted initial campaign finance reports Tuesday, and those documents showed wide variations in support and spending. (*Editor’s note: a previous version of this story listed the incorrect number of candidates in the primary. We apologize for the error.) 

And while contributions to city council races, especially before a primary election, tend to be tame in comparison to the millions of dollars spent on higher profile state and federal candidates, Terri McCulloch believes the documents are still important to peruse. McCulloch is co-leader of Weber County’s League of Women Voters.

“These are the people who set policy for our community,” McCulloch said of local elected officials, “and it would be nice to know where they’re getting their funding from, where their loyalties lie, and what they support.”

Thom Kuehls, a Weber State University political science professor, agreed the reports provide a window into candidates, but also noted the information could be misinterpreted.

“At a city council level, it’s not as substantial as Senate or U.S. Congress races because the amount of money is different. But with city council races, you can look at individual contributions and ask yourself if you respect the judgment of those individuals who contributed,” Kuehls said. “Reports can be helpful, but there’s a lot not answered ... you don’t know the intent of the candidates. Are they beholden because they cashed a check from someone? You can’t automatically say that’s the case.”

In the five-way race to retain her At-Large A seat, incumbent Marcia White raised $11,127 from more than 60 individuals and households. That sum also included a $1,500 check from Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors, an organization that was equally generous to incumbents Bart Blair (At-Large Seat B) and Doug Stephens (Municipal Ward 3).

“My friends support me and my family is very loving and sends me money,” White said. “The donors from Ogden — I want to cast a net that reaches a wide group of people. Potholes don’t care whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, they care whether it gets filled.”

In reference to the sizable check from the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors, White said she appreciates being able to benefit from their knowledge.

“I’ve actually sat down a lot with them, and I go to their annual events because they have a great educational arm,” White said, adding that she reached out to them on the controversial short-term rental issue. “What I did learn from them is how little of an inventory we have as far as housing, and whether we’re prepared for growth in Ogden. But I never felt like they would buy a vote — I don’t know what they could buy.”

From mid-January to early August, White spent $2,387 — of which $1,165 went to ongoing expenses since the last election and $1,222 to 2017 election costs.

White was outspent by At-Large A contender Lew Wheelwright, an Ogden chiropractor whose campaign costs totaled $6,785. Wheelwright loaned himself $6,285, and received in-kind contributions from Woody Printing ($350), Costa Vida ($100) and GetAir ($100). His largest campaign expense was $2,500 to the Dicio Group, a Salt Lake City-based public relations firm. He also paid $1,794 to Salt Lake Printing and Mailing for a mailer and $1,378 to Uintah-based Speak by Design for signs and t-shirts.

Also in the At-Large A race, candidate Jill McCullough brought in $344 from individual donors, which went to purchase a banner, printed brochures, lawn signs, along with a website URL and its hosting fee.

At-Large A candidates John Thompson and Jacob Hale took in no donations and each spent $25 of their own cash to file for office.

Candidate donations in the At-Large B contest were nonexistent with the exception of Blair, the incumbent, who received $1,500 from the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors, and $50 from fellow-Councilman Richard Hyer. Candidates Xiomara Chinchilla, Alexander Johnson, Mary Khalaf and Nelson Riches did not receive any campaign contributions, and Lena Morgan did not file a report.

Blair spent $119, Chinchilla $165, Johnson $173, Khalaf $144 and Riches $25 (to file for office).

In Municipal Ward 3, incumbent Doug Stephens enjoyed an edge with $4,769 coming from 11 donors between late June and early August. So far he’s spent $1,078, mostly for signs and flyers.

Stephens is challenged by Taylor Knuth and Neil Hansen. Knuth received $2,628 from 28 individuals, and spent $2,581 on mailers, signs, t-shirts, Facebook ads and a website. Hansen loaned himself $1,500 and his wife also donated $150. So far he’s spent $1,575 on a website, signs, stamps and printing supplies.

Knuth credited his sturdy support to friends and family who contributed shortly after he filed for office and a host of small donations that came in after the recent candidate forum. 

“I encouraged everyone who reached out to offer support to just give what they could,” Knuth said. “If 10 people each give $10, that’s buttons, t-shirts and mailers. I feel like the people who donated to my campaign are eager for change within our city and donated to a candidate they believe can change things.”

Voters received mail-in ballots about two weeks ago. If returned by mail, ballots must be postmarked on Aug. 14 to get counted in the Aug. 15 primary. Municipal voters in Weber County can also drop their ballots off at any of nine voting centers open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 15). These sites will also have electronic voting machines for those who prefer to use that method.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.   

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