Investigations under way into SLC mayor’s race

Posted at 6:18 PM, Aug 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-27 00:26:56-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A series of investigations are under way into the mayor's race, including one FOX 13 has confirmed is being conducted by the Utah Attorney General's Office.

The political action committee Utahns for Independent Government put up billboards for every candidate in the Salt Lake City mayor's race -- with the exception of incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker. He has been outspoken in his opposition to billboards, including securing a moratorium on electronic billboards within the city.

The PAC has ties to Reagan Outdoor Advertising and YESCO Outdoor Media. Filings with the Salt Lake City Recorder's Office show it spent more than $100,000 on the primary election billboards.

"This exceeds any donation, as far as I know, to a single candidate ever in state politics -- more than the governor has ever received, more than any county mayor or county candidate has ever received," said Matt Lyon, a spokesman for Becker's re-election campaign.

Salt Lake City Recorder Cindi Mansell inquired if the PAC violated the city's ordinance against donations to a candidate exceeding the $7,500 contribution limit. Ultimately, Salt Lake City Attorney Margaret Plane concluded that it was operating independently of any particular candidate and planned to close the case, according to a letter sent to the PAC and given to FOX 13.

"As long as our expenditures were completely independent of any campaign, which they absolutely have been," said Nate Sechrest, the secretary for Utahns for Independent Government. "We've been very, very careful to make sure that's the case. We're completely in the clear."

The letter states that as long as it declares it is operating independently of any candidate, it can "raise funds in unlimited amounts." Lyon called Utahns for Independent Government's activities "unprecedented" in local politics. He pointed to the sheer volume of billboards supporting Jackie Biskupski over her rivals.

"If there are an overwhelming number of billboards for one candidate, but just a few for the others, this isn't just an 'Anybody but Becker' effort," he said.

Sechrest said the PAC would meet and discuss whether to continue its billboards through the general election. Biskupski's campaign declined to comment on the billboard investigation on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, FOX 13 has confirmed the Utah Attorney General's Office is investigating Becker's campaign for possible campaign law violations. A complaint was lodged against the mayor's re-election campaign by former candidate and city councilman Luke Garrott, accusing his staffers of improperly collecting ballots.

Plane told FOX 13 she asked the Salt Lake City Police Department to investigate the potential misdemeanor. The police department wanted to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, so it asked Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to take the case. A spokeswoman for Reyes would only say Wednesday the office had received the complaint.

Becker's campaign insists it did not break any laws.

"We didn't collect any ballots. We didn't touch any ballots, none of the staff managed ballots. There's no evidence or proof of that. It's not something we actually did," Lyon said. "I feel extremely confident that we are on slid ground and did not break the law or do anything questionable."