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A political action committee has now put up billboards for all of Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's challengers in what appears to be an anyone-but-Becker campaign.
Utahns for Independent Government, with ties to Reagan Outdoor Advertising, has now erected billboards for Jackie Biskupski, Luke Garrott, George Chapman and Dave Robinson.
Becker has fought against billboards and Reagan specifically for decades, including during his tenure in the Utah House.
When the PAC-sponsored billboards went up for Biskupski two weeks ago, Becker and Garrott, who is the chairman of the City Council, cried foul. Although the billboards are lawful, they run counter to the spirit of Salt Lake City's campaign-finance laws, the pair said in a debate, by allowing the free flow of corporate money.
Under city election law, corporate or individual donors may contribute up to $7,500 to a mayoral candidate. By contrast, there is no limit on PAC spending as long as it is not coordinated with a candidate's campaign.
Garrott also chastised the mayor for taking campaign contributions from numerous corporate donors. As of July 1, the mayor had collected $419,495 and had on hand $200,333 from a previous campaign, for a total of $619,828.
As of July 1, Garrott had received $17,906 in donations.
Becker's campaign manager, Matt Lyon, responded to Garrott by saying that Reagan's approach is far different from the mayor accepting limited contributions from various corporations.
"This is a case," Lyon said, "where you have a single special interest without spending limits trying to further its interest in an election."
In the past few days, billboards began popping up for Garrott. Although he accepted one of the billboards from the Reagan-backed PAC as an in-kind contribution, he has asked the company to take down the others.
Garrott said he told the PAC, specifically, that he did not want any PAC-sponsored billboards.
"They violated the agreement," Garrott said.
Nate Sechrest, the treasurer of Utahns for Independent Government and the general counsel for Reagan Outdoor Advertising, said the PAC had no intention of remove the billboards.
"The whole goal behind this [billboard] campaign is to let people know there are options other than Becker out there," Sechrest said. "We are not doing this in coordination [with any campaign], so I'm not in a position to talk to any candidates [about taking down billboards]."
Chapman also is the recipient of new billboards trumpeting his candidacy. And that is just fine with him.
"The big issue is: How do we get people to know there is an election coming up?" Chapman said. "The only way for the little person to get their voice heard is through a PAC to help with a billboard."
As of July 1, Chapman had a campaign fund of $2,600, $2,000 of it from his own pocket.
Robinson said he, too, had accepted an in-kind contribution of a billboard from Utahns for Independent Government and apparently has been the recipient of other PAC-sponsored billboards.
"I met with someone from Reagan who said, 'We would like to put you on a billboard as in-kind contribution,' " Robinson said. "I said, that's fine. I think a PAC has a right to put up billboards."
Becker's campaign continued Monday to criticize the Reagan-based PAC's entry into the mayoral campaign.
"Corporate money infiltrating our election is bad for our city and bad for democracy," said Laura Anderson, deputy campaign manager.
She noted that one candidate has far more PAC-sponsored billboards than the rest.
Without naming Biskupski, Anderson said Reagan's PAC has chosen a candidate to back.
Biskupski who has more than a dozen billboards (Becker's campaign said they've counted 19) declined comment Monday.
A primary election is slated for Aug. 11. The two top vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 3 general election.