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Ogden residents will elect three City Council members and a new mayor in November and a citizens watchdog group is urging candidates to voluntarily impose limits on the source of their campaign contributions.
Resident activist Dan Schroeder, who heads the nonpartisan Ogden Ethics Project, believes that the current city ordinance gives donors latitude to exceed individual campaign finance caps of $1,500 to City Council candidates and $5,000 to mayoral hopefuls.
"The limitations will close loopholes in Ogden's existing campaign finance disclosure law, ensure that voters know the sources of candidates' funds," Schroeder said, "and encourage all candidates to represent a broad spectrum of citizens rather than just a few special interests."
On Wednesday, the Project mailed five-question surveys to each candidate who has either filed for office or registered a personal campaign committee to commence raising funds. The filing period opened July 1 and closes July 15.
What the survey requests:
• Not accepting contributions from corporations, businesses, unions or other organizations.
• Accepting contributions from legitimate Utah political action committees, except when individuals use that route to circumvent caps or disclosure requirements.
• Not accepting third-party contributions, such as funds raised for a general issue and then passed to a candidate.
• Not accepting independent expenditures such as a supporter creating signs that bypass the campaign finance reporting system.
• Requiring that individuals who donate $250 or more list their employer.
"Best case scenario," Schroeder said, is "every candidate will check all five squares and return (the survey) to us immediately. We'll post the information on our Web site so everybody knows."
The voluntary restrictions would apply only if all candidates in any given race agree to the terms, Schroeder added.
Councilwoman Susan Van Hooser said she supports what the Ogden Ethics Project is asking. The retired educator lost to Mayor Matthew Godfrey in 2007 by a mere 449 votes and will seek the office again this year.
"When I ran, most people gave me under $50," Van Hooser said. "That's grassroots."
Steve Van Wagoner, president of Ogden's Historic 25th Street Association, said he also will file for the mayoral race shortly and "100 percent supports the Ogden Ethics Project."
"Candidates are too focused on raising the most amount of money and are not focused on the people," Van Wagoner said, adding that the voluntary restrictions would increase transparency and help voters make more informed decisions.
Jonny Ballard, community development manager for Ogden City, announced his intention to run for mayor several months ago. While he agrees that campaigns should be run "aboveboard," he differs with some items the Ogden Ethics Project put forward.
"There are two boxes I will not check," Ballard said, noting that he sees no problem with accepting corporate donations and also considers it inappropriate to require donors who give $250 or more to name their employers.
Former state Rep. Neil Hansen also seeks the role of mayor, and said he will need to study the survey further, but would prefer to take it a step further and have all campaigns be publicly financed.
"The current system leads to conflicts of interest," Hansen said. "Public financing would make the competition about better ideas rather than the amount of money."
Within a few days of the filing period's close on July 15, Schroeder hopes to post a complete list of survey responses on the nonprofit's web site, http://www.ogdenethics.org.
Who's running for office in Ogden so far?
For mayor • Former Democratic state Rep. Neil Hansen and City Councilman Brandon Stephenson have filed. Other hopefuls who have registered personal campaign committees include Ogden Community Development Manager Jonny Ballard, former Weber County Commissioner Ken Bischoff, Weber County Public Information Officer Mike Caldwell, City Councilwoman Susan Van Hooser and Steve Van Wagoner, president of Ogden's Historic 25th Street Association.
Council District 2 • No one has filed yet; current officeholder Brandon Stephenson is running for mayor.
Council District 4 • Caitlin Gochnour has filed for re-election.
At-large Council C • Stephen Thompson has filed and it remains to be seen whether Councilwoman Amy Wicks will seek re-election.
O View the checklist that the Ogden Ethics Project hopes municipal candidates will support.