Complaint alleges Salt Lake City councilman broke campaign laws to get elected


The next story was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Venture in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Sore loser. Bitter grapes.

In hindsight, Billy Palmer figured that’s how individuals would doubtless see his marketing campaign finance grievance in opposition to fellow Metropolis Council candidate Alejandro Puy.

Palmer filed his grievance with the Salt Lake Metropolis Recorder’s Workplace on Nov. 1, the day earlier than the 2021 common election. He and Puy had been competing within the west aspect’s five-way District 2 race that ranked alternative voting would determine.

When the mud settled, Puy emerged because the victor, capturing 56% of the vote, with Palmer, at 44%, coming in second. Whereas the loss stung, Palmer stated he’s extra involved about the best way Puy gained.

“To me, there’s pushing the boundaries of the foundations — after which there’s simply throwing the rule books out, enjoying quick and free,” Palmer stated. “And I believe (Puy’s) marketing campaign, because the weeks went on, began to play a bit of extra quick and free.”

Puy campaigned aggressively, utilizing door-to-door canvassers, a glut of mailers and tv adverts to get his title on the market in District 2, which incorporates Glendale and Poplar Grove. A longtime political marketing consultant, Puy stated he personally pounded the pavement to unfold his message.

“Simply due to my background and what I do, individuals are going to say, ‘He didn’t do the work, and he should have gained due to one thing sketchy,’” Puy stated. “However the truth is, I knocked [on doors throughout] the entire district myself nearly twice.”

Palmer’s 10-page grievance alleged that Puy’s marketing campaign violated metropolis code by failing to reveal all expenditures and never stating the supply of funding on a number of mailers.

When requested in regards to the mailers that lacked the required funding disclosure, Puy stated he “had no feedback about that.”

He nonetheless talked of operating 60 campaigns within the metropolis, the state and throughout the nation, and pressured that “my monetary stories reveal that I paid for the mailers I paid for.”

Puy’s marketing campaign finance disclosures didn’t particularly reveal which mailers — or what number of — his marketing campaign had funded.

Emails from the places of work of the Salt Lake Metropolis recorder and lawyer instantly after the election indicated that many of the points recognized in Palmer’s grievance didn’t represent a authorized foundation for a candidate’s disqualification however acknowledged that Puy’s marketing campaign violated metropolis code by distributing supplies “with out the ‘paid for by –’ attribution language.”

Palmer’s marketing campaign was advised it might search “any cures you deem applicable in district courtroom.”

Searching for reforms

Palmer stated he had no intention of suing. As a substitute, he hoped town would launch an investigation into what had occurred after which bolster its legal guidelines to restrict the inflow and affect of wealth on native races.

“The Metropolis Council seat is one most linked to the individuals that you simply serve,” Palmer stated. “I really feel just like the individuals right here deserve an advocate, somebody looking for them.… If any individual helped you buy your place, you owe it to them [to identify that benefactor].”

Palmer’s grievance additionally alleged that Puy’s enterprise, Landslide Political, coordinated efforts with a political motion committee named Battleground Utah to bypass town’s caps on marketing campaign contributions that candidates can obtain.

Puy denied any wrongdoing in a current cellphone interview and denounced any allegation that he secretly collaborated with the PAC.

“The premise was that as a result of the numbers didn’t add up, there was some darkish cash right here,” Puy stated, explaining that some bills confirmed up on subsequent disclosures because of the timing of invoices. He maintains that every part his marketing campaign did was aboveboard and by the foundations.

“I take this grievance as a sore loser who doesn’t perceive the method,” Puy stated of Palmer’s accusations.

Luke Garrott, who teaches political science on the College of Utah, served on the Salt Lake Metropolis Council from 2008 to 2016. In 2015, he helped set up town’s particular person marketing campaign contribution limits that exist at this time — $780 for council candidates and $3,640 for mayoral contenders.

In the middle of that course of, Garrott recalled a few of his council colleagues warning that reducing the caps would open the door for PACs to “fill the hole.”

“And that seems to be right,” Garrott stated.

Matthew Burbank, a U. political science professor who focuses on marketing campaign finance points, stated that campaigns and PACS typically coordinate in elections, however clear disclosure of expenditures is required.

Whereas Palmer may very well be accused of “grousing” over his election defeat, Burbank famous that he raised reliable questions on who’s spending what.

Complaints of undisclosed marketing campaign spending typically come up when PACs present oblique help to congressional or presidential candidates “the place it’s fairly simple to evade the legal guidelines by merely having a corporation that doesn’t have [campaign] limits do the spending,” Burbank stated. “And that’s one thing that basically is very problematic as a result of there’s no accountability for what that group does.”

Federal candidates often violate marketing campaign finance guidelines, Burbank stated, and face minimal penalties from the Federal Election Fee. If the unlawful donation wins you the election, then, by comparability, “it’s a reasonably small factor to pay a $500 nice for having violated the legislation.”

What about PACs?

Utah legislation doesn’t prohibit how a lot a PAC can spend nor does it bar a candidate from coordinating with a PAC. Beneath state legislation, such donations simply should be recognized.

Whereas Puy’s marketing campaign finance stories filed with town present commonplace donations, loans and in-kind contributions, nothing is attributed to Battleground PAC.

Battleground Utah PAC’s 2021 stories — filed with the state — point out expenditures made to Landslide Political totaling $25,151. However they don’t specify whose campaigns these funds assisted.

Battleground had a handful of donors, chief amongst them billboard firm Reagan Out of doors Promoting, which gave $6,000, and Dakota Pacific Actual Property, which contributed $5,000 — each in October.

Dakota Pacific’s web site touts the corporate as having raised and invested almost $400 million in a number of business and multifamily housing initiatives throughout the Salt Lake Valley and in different states.

Reagan Out of doors, based mostly in Salt Lake Metropolis, has often clashed with Salt Lake Metropolis officers over ordinances affecting the position of its indicators.

In the course of the 2015 mayoral marketing campaign, Reagan Out of doors pioneered using an excellent PAC in a neighborhood Utah race to spend hundreds opposing incumbent Ralph Becker with out restriction by contribution limits. The corporate put up billboards for each candidate difficult Becker, who had spent years advocating harder regulation of billboards.

Garrott known as Reagan Out of doors and advised it to not spend cash on his behalf.

“I needed to have the ability to say that I known as them and advised them to cease. I might defend that as not being coordination,” Garrott stated. However, the corporate, by way of it’s tremendous PAC, put up billboards supporting him.

Robert Kubichek, major officer for Battleground PAC, stated he knew nothing about Palmer’s grievance and declined to touch upon specifics.

The grievance in opposition to Puy contained photocopies of seven mailers, two of which contained the required “Paid for by Battleground Utah PAC.” The opposite 5 didn’t say who funded them.

An Oct. 28 screenshot of an advert that ran on CNN included the assertion “Paid for by the Committee to Elect Alejandro Puy.”

From July by way of November, city-filed stories indicated that Puy’s marketing campaign paid $29,280 to Landslide Political. Of that, $9,000 paid for “adverts,” whereas $12,500 went for “wages and mailers.” Puy’s LinkedIn account identifies him as chief working officer for Landslide Political since 2017.

To this point, Puy’s marketing campaign has reported 126 contributions totaling $43,112 and expenditures of $38,954, whereas Palmer’s marketing campaign has listed 334 contributions totaling $33,648 — all of which had been spent.

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