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Billboards supporting Jackie Biskupski's mayoral campaign are sprouting up around Salt Lake City and they are coming not from the candidate, but from the sign company itself.
It appears to be a first in Salt Lake City politics.
A political-action committee called Utahns for Independent Government is paying for the signs. The PAC was registered June 30 by Dewey and Bill Reagan, owners of Reagan Outdoor Advertising.
According to city ordinances, direct donations to a mayoral candidate are limited to $7,500.
But independent spending by a PAC apparently is unlimited.
City Recorder Cindi Mansell described the campaign by Utahns for Independent Government as "unprecedented" in Salt Lake City political races.
But, she added, that although the city ordinance is "a little fuzzy," it appears to be legal.
Nonetheless, Mayor Ralph Becker's campaign cried foul Wednesday and called on Biskupski to take down the billboards.
"Utahns for an Independent Government has launched a campaign to circumvent Salt Lake City's election policies in an effort to help its chosen candidate, Jackie Biskupski, become Salt Lake City's next mayor," Becker said in a statement. "Today, I am calling on Jackie Biskupski to disavow support for this type of outside spending and take the billboards down."
For years, Becker has fought to restrict billboards, arguing they are a blight on neighborhoods, a deterrent to economic development, and degrade Utah's scenic landscapes. And that, he said, has earned him the sign company's enmity.
For her part, Biskupski said she wouldn't take down the billboards even if she could. And she wouldn't disavow them either.
The former state legislator cast the signs as a free-speech issue.
"The mayor has refused to even meet with this company that does business in our city," Biskupski said. "This is more anti-Ralph than it is pro-Jackie."
Further, she said, it's ironic that the two-term mayor is complaining about a city ordinance after seven years at the helm of City Hall.
"I have always been against money-driven politics," she said. "But this PAC has done its due diligence by registering with the state and the city."
According to campaign-finance disclosures, Reagan Outdoor Advertising gave Biskupski's campaign $7,475 in February $25 shy of the limit.
The billboards, if they were being donated directly to her campaign, would push that contribution well past the legal limit.
But since those billboards are being funded independently by a PAC, there are no caps. And Utahns for Independent Government is not required to report its spending on the campaign until Aug. 4.
According to the July 1 campaign disclosure, Biskupski had taken in a total of $219,824.
Becker had garnered $419,495 as of July 1 and had on hand an additional $200,333 from a previous campaign, for a total of $619,828.
Nate Sechrest, the treasurer of Utahns for Independent Government and the general counsel for Reagan Outdoor Advertising, said the new PAC was not created simply for the mayor's race. But the municipal election is the first opportunity for the organization to get involved in politics.
Sechrest added that the PAC did not coordinate its actions with Biskupski's campaign.
"I haven't spoken to her in months," he said.
The PAC could spend more on the mayor's race, Sechrest added, although it has no immediate plans to do so.