The Utah Republican Party has signed a $50,000 contract to buy political billboards for Salt Lake County candidates and some legislative candidates.

Salt Lake Democratic Chairman Joe Hatch questioned whether the deal between Reagan Outdoor Advertising and the GOP really is an attempt to disguise contributions from the company to individual candidates."You cannot `wash' contributions through another account," Hatch said. "That would be a violation of our disclosure laws."

State Republican Director Spencer Stokes denied any subterfuge.

"This is not a donation or an in-kind contribution (from Reagan)," Stokes said Thursday. "There's no deal here."

He said most of the billboards will be donated to County Commissioner Mary Callaghan, commission candidate Mark Shurtleff and district attorney hopeful Mark Grif-fin.

"We hope it gets the excitement up with Salt Lake County voters, . . . primarily what I term the high-profile county races," Stokes said.

Reagan is one of the state's most active political donors - kicking in more than $55,000 in 1996 elections, mostly in the form of free or discounted billboards.

Company founder Bill Reagan, a longtime Republican activist, was out of town Wednesday and Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Efforts to reach Dewey Reagan, the firm's general manager, also were unsuccessful.

Stokes said no up-front money was required under the contract, but bills will be paid as they are received.

State Democratic Director Todd Taylor said that when Democrats purchased two I-15 billboards in 1996, Reagan required the $10,000 check in advance.

Reagan Outdoor Advertising is the Wasatch Front's largest billboard company, and it recently has had significant policy issues before elected officials.

Last November, the Salt Lake County Commission relaxed restrictions on billboards, at the request of Reagan. The change significantly increased the number of locations where the signs are permitted.