Candidates in Salt Lake County mayor's race dueling in words, dollars

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 8:47 p.m. MDT

Reports on the Salt Lake County mayor candidates' campaign spending were made public Saturday, placing Democrat Ben McAdams far ahead of his Republican opponent, Mark Crockett.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Candidates in the Salt Lake County mayoral race have seen a flurry of activity this week, challenging the substance of each other's platforms and examining their campaign finances.

Reports on the candidates' campaign spending were made public Saturday, placing Democrat Ben McAdams far ahead of his Republican opponent, Mark Crockett.

McAdams took in twice as much money as Crockett, collecting nearly $280,000 between June 19 and Sept. 10. Crockett received roughly $135,000 in donations in the same period.

McAdams' war chest also sits at double his opponent's at $150,000, and he's spent nearly that much more than the Republican.

Crockett's campaign reported a closing balance of nearly $75,000, more than four times the almost $18,000 he had in the bank at the beginning of the period.

On Tuesday, just hours after Crockett issued a challenge asking his opponent for specific solutions to efficient county government rather than "catchy campaign slogans," the Republican received a challenge of his own.

The county's Democratic Party filed a complaint alleging three donations to the Crockett campaign exceeded $6,000, violating campaign finance laws.

Crockett responded saying his campaign has operated appropriately, and the complaint stems from a misunderstanding of a "screwy rule" that isn't written clearly.

"If the elections office decides that they want to interpret differently, then fine. No big deal. We can send a little bit of money back," he said.

The Crockett campaign outlined its understanding of the rule in a news release Wednesday. The statement explains that donations had been based upon the premise that campaigns are allowed to fundraise for their current race, as well as two election cycles in the future.

Therefore, after a donation of the maximum $6,000, a donor would be allowed to contribute an additional $2,000 in the next election cycle, designated for the then-current third cycle.

McAdams said he was unaware the party was preparing a complaint.

Richard Jaramillo, chairman of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party, said Crockett made the same error in his 2008 County Council re-election bid and was asked by the Utah Attorney General's Office to return the $2,000 excess.

Crockett said he doesn't remember the details of the incident. 

Earlier this year, the Republican's campaign was cleared by the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office of allegations of being too vague in campaign finance disclosures.

On Wednesday, McAdams literally took to the streets for a press conference announcing his plan to increase the county's efficiency, which was dubbed "Ben's Fiscal Fitness Diet Plan."

The McAdams campaign announced the event Tuesday, almost simultaneously with the challenge from Crockett.

McAdams said the plan and corresponding press conference were not done in response to Crockett's gauntlet. The fiscal plan is one of several policy proposals that have been in planning stages through the summer, he said.

"This is certainly not a policy document we wrote overnight," the Democrat said. "You will be seeing over the next few weeks … those substantive policy announcements that we'll be making throughout the course of this campaign."

McAdams stood at the mouth of Nibley Circle on Wednesday morning to debut the plan, pointing down 800 East. 

"If you look across the street, yesterday we had trash collected by Salt Lake County on the west side of 800 East," he said. "Today, we're having Salt Lake City coming and collecting trash on the east side of 800 East."

McAdams, a Democrat and proclaimed friend to both parties, used the trash collection example and the similar dilemma that city and county snowplows face each winter to demonstrate jurisdictional inefficiency.

He outlined a five-point plan for cutting costs and upping efficiency, starting with an internal review of county government. A copy of the proposal is available on his website, benmcadams.com.

The plan includes McAdams' familiar chorus of cooperation across party lines, and touting the support he has garnered from area mayors. The campaign announced Tuesday that McAdams had picked up another endorsement, Republican Mayor Dennis Webb of Holladay, bringing his total to 13 of the 17 county mayors. Among them are several Republicans and current county Mayor Peter Corroon.

Crockett said he is looking forward to discussing implementation of the candidates' plans. Upon reviewing the McAdams' Fiscal Diet Plan, Crockett questioned the Democrat's ability to execute it.

"They're all fine points, they're fairly generic and obvious, and the real question is, do you have the experience to get it done?" Crockett said.

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com Twitter: @McKenzieRomero

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