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Winder accused of violating S.L. County campaign finance laws

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 3:42 p.m. MDT

Mark Crockett gets a hug after getting 32 percent of the votes in the first round of balloting for Salt Lake County mayor at the Salt Lake County GOP convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 14, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County elections officials are looking into a complaint that Republican mayoral candidate Mike Winder violated campaign finance laws, an allegation his camp chalks up to a desperate opponent.

In a three-pager letter to Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, Sandy resident  Curtis Patterson contends Winder raised and spent funds before declaring his candidacy for county mayor. He also alleges that Winder, the mayor of West Valley City, continued to raise and spend money in his city campaign account after entering the county mayor's race. And finally that Winder inappropriately shifted money between the accounts.

Patterson, who supports Winder's GOP opponent Mark Crockett, asks Swensen for an "immediate injunction" against Winder using any improperly raised campaign funds.

"I am concerned that moneys be spent appropriately in accordance with county ordinances, and ensure that the election is not influenced by ethics violations," Patterson wrote.

Patterson did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Winder campaign manager Jake Dennis calls the accusation absurd.

"Dirty tricks and negative campaigning are the hallmark of a desperate campaign," he said. "As you know, Mike Winder has been ahead in every poll we have seen of likely Republican voters, and our opponent's desperation is setting in."

Dennis also questioned the timing of the complaint with the primary election five weeks away, saying it "seems pretty political."

Crockett campaign manager Randy O'Hara said the campaign looked at Winder's financial reports at the urging of supporters but decided not to pursue a complaint. It didn't discourage supporters such as Patterson from doing so, however. "He did that on his own," he said.

"We don't want to be talking about campaign finance reports. We would much rather talk about how we're going to reform county government," O'Hara said.

The Winder campaign rejects the notion that someone can't raise and spend money while in office, especially when they have not declared nor are actively campaigning for a specific office, Dennis said.

"A county account was set up once Mayor Winder finalized his decision to run for county mayor, and we have worked closely with the county clerk's office to make sure we are following all campaign rules," he said.

Patterson says Winder appears to bypass county campaign finance law through refunding donations in his city mayor account. He points to contributions made by former Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis, Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall and West Valley City Councilman Corey Rushton, ranging from $2,500 to $5,000, which were refunded from the city account and showed up in the county account just days later.

Dennis said it was on advice of the county clerk's office that the campaign refunded those donations from the city account and encouraged those supporters to contribute to the county account.

"We're trying our best to be very transparent," he said. "Honestly, we did our best. If there's anything that needs to be changed or amended, we're happy to do it."

The Winder campaign has 14 days to respond from the time the complaint was filed last Tuesday. Dennis said he expects to file the response early this week.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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