The next story was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Undertaking in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sore loser. Bitter grapes.
In hindsight, Billy Palmer figured that’s how folks would doubtless see his marketing campaign finance criticism in opposition to fellow Metropolis Council candidate Alejandro Puy.
Palmer filed his criticism with the Salt Lake Metropolis Recorder’s Workplace on Nov. 1, the day earlier than the 2021 common election. He and Puy have been competing within the west facet’s five-way District 2 race that ranked selection voting would resolve.
When the mud settled, Puy emerged because the victor, capturing 56% of the vote, with Palmer, at 44%, coming in second. Whereas the loss stung, Palmer stated he’s extra involved about the way in which Puy received.
“To me, there’s pushing the bounds of the foundations — after which there’s simply throwing the rule books out, enjoying quick and free,” Palmer stated. “And I believe (Puy’s) marketing campaign, because the weeks went on, began to play somewhat extra quick and free.”
Puy campaigned aggressively, utilizing door-to-door canvassers, a glut of mailers and tv adverts to get his identify on the market in District 2, which incorporates Glendale and Poplar Grove. A longtime political advisor, Puy stated he personally pounded the pavement to unfold his message.
“Simply due to my background and what I do, individuals are going to say, ‘He didn’t do the work, and he will need to have received due to one thing sketchy,’” Puy stated. “However the reality is, I knocked [on doors throughout] the entire district myself nearly twice.”
Palmer’s 10-page criticism alleged that Puy’s marketing campaign violated metropolis code by failing to reveal all expenditures and never stating the supply of funding on a number of mailers.
When requested in regards to the mailers that lacked the required funding disclosure, Puy stated he “had no feedback about that.”
He nonetheless talked of operating 60 campaigns within the metropolis, the state and throughout the nation, and harassed that “my monetary experiences reveal that I paid for the mailers I paid for.”
Puy’s marketing campaign finance disclosures didn’t particularly reveal which mailers — or what number of — his marketing campaign had funded.
Emails from the places of work of the Salt Lake Metropolis recorder and lawyer instantly after the election indicated that many of the points recognized in Palmer’s criticism didn’t represent a authorized foundation for a candidate’s disqualification however acknowledged that Puy’s marketing campaign violated metropolis code by distributing supplies “with out the ‘paid for by –’ attribution language.”
Palmer’s marketing campaign was instructed it might search “any treatments you deem acceptable in district courtroom.”
In search of reforms
Palmer stated he had no intention of suing. As an alternative, he hoped the town would launch an investigation into what had occurred after which bolster its legal guidelines to restrict the inflow and affect of wealth on native races.
“The Metropolis Council seat is one most related to the folks that you just serve,” Palmer stated. “I really feel just like the folks right here deserve an advocate, somebody looking for them.… If someone helped you buy your place, you owe it to them [to identify that benefactor].”
Palmer’s criticism additionally alleged that Puy’s enterprise, Landslide Political, coordinated efforts with a political motion committee named Battleground Utah to avoid the town’s caps on marketing campaign contributions that candidates can obtain.
Puy denied any wrongdoing in a current cellphone interview and denounced any allegation that he secretly collaborated with the PAC.
“The premise was that as a result of the numbers didn’t add up, there was some darkish cash right here,” Puy stated, explaining that some bills confirmed up on subsequent disclosures as a result of timing of invoices. He maintains that the whole lot his marketing campaign did was aboveboard and by the foundations.
“I take this criticism as a sore loser who doesn’t perceive the method,” Puy stated of Palmer’s accusations.
Luke Garrott, who teaches political science on the College of Utah, served on the Salt Lake Metropolis Council from 2008 to 2016. In 2015, he helped set up the town’s particular person marketing campaign contribution limits that exist as we speak — $780 for council candidates and $3,640 for mayoral contenders.
In the midst of that course of, Garrott recalled a few of his council colleagues warning that decreasing the caps would open the door for PACs to “fill the hole.”
“And that seems to be right,” Garrott stated.
Matthew Burbank, a U. political science professor who makes a speciality of marketing campaign finance points, stated that campaigns and PACS usually coordinate in elections, however clear disclosure of expenditures is required.
Whereas Palmer might be accused of “grousing” over his election defeat, Burbank famous that he raised reputable questions on who’s spending what.
Complaints of undisclosed marketing campaign spending usually come up when PACs present oblique help to congressional or presidential candidates “the place it’s fairly straightforward to evade the legal guidelines by merely having a corporation that doesn’t have [campaign] limits do the spending,” Burbank stated. “And that’s one thing that basically is very problematic as a result of there’s no accountability for what that group does.”
Federal candidates regularly violate marketing campaign finance guidelines, Burbank stated, and face minimal penalties from the Federal Election Fee. If the unlawful donation wins you the election, then, by comparability, “it’s a fairly small factor to pay a $500 positive for having violated the legislation.”
What about PACs?
Utah legislation doesn’t limit how a lot a PAC can spend nor does it bar a candidate from coordinating with a PAC. Underneath state legislation, such donations simply must be recognized.
Whereas Puy’s marketing campaign finance experiences filed with the town present normal donations, loans and in-kind contributions, nothing is attributed to Battleground PAC.
Battleground Utah PAC’s 2021 experiences — filed with the state — point out expenditures made to Landslide Political totaling $25,151. However they don’t specify whose campaigns these funds assisted.
Battleground had a handful of donors, chief amongst them billboard firm Reagan Outside Promoting, which gave $6,000, and Dakota Pacific Actual Property, which contributed $5,000 — each in October.
Dakota Pacific’s web site touts the corporate as having raised and invested practically $400 million in a number of industrial and multifamily housing tasks throughout the Salt Lake Valley and in different states.
Reagan Outside, primarily based in Salt Lake Metropolis, has regularly clashed with Salt Lake Metropolis officers over ordinances affecting the position of its indicators.
Throughout the 2015 mayoral marketing campaign, Reagan Outside pioneered using a brilliant PAC in an area Utah race to spend hundreds opposing incumbent Ralph Becker with out restriction by contribution limits. The corporate put up billboards for each candidate difficult Becker, who had spent years advocating more durable regulation of billboards.
Garrott referred to as Reagan Outside and instructed it to not spend cash on his behalf.
“I needed to have the ability to say that I referred to as them and instructed them to cease. I might defend that as not being coordination,” Garrott stated. However, the corporate, by means of it’s tremendous PAC, put up billboards supporting him.
Robert Kubichek, main officer for Battleground PAC, stated he knew nothing about Palmer’s criticism and declined to touch upon specifics.
The criticism in opposition to Puy contained photocopies of seven mailers, two of which contained the required “Paid for by Battleground Utah PAC.” The opposite 5 didn’t say who funded them.
An Oct. 28 screenshot of an advert that ran on CNN included the assertion “Paid for by the Committee to Elect Alejandro Puy.”
From July by means of November, city-filed experiences indicated that Puy’s marketing campaign paid $29,280 to Landslide Political. Of that, $9,000 paid for “adverts,” whereas $12,500 went for “wages and mailers.” Puy’s LinkedIn account identifies him as chief working officer for Landslide Political since 2017.
So far, Puy’s marketing campaign has reported 126 contributions totaling $43,112 and expenditures of $38,954, whereas Palmer’s marketing campaign has listed 334 contributions totaling $33,648 — all of which had been spent.