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The City Journals

A look at municipal campaign donations in Salt Lake County

Aug 19, 2019 10:58AM ● By Justin Adams

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

With Salt Lake County’s 2019 municipal primary elections in the rearview mirror and the general election now months away, it’s a good time to look at the state of campaign finances at the local level.

The City Journals examined the campaign finance disclosures of every municipal candidate in the valley (excluding Salt Lake City proper) to see which cities’ elections are drawing the most money, where the money is coming from and to what degree campaign spending impacts election results. Here’s what we found.

Where is the money going?

It turns out there is a wide disparity in how much money is being spent in different cities across the valley. 

In Sandy City, 26 times more campaign money per candidate was raised than in the neighboring city of Midvale. 

A competitive race in the city of Draper where 11 candidates are fighting for three open at-large city council seats has drawn $88,894 worth of campaign funds, the most of any city in the county. Of that total, $23,471 came from just one candidate.

Most cities (10 out of 13) raised between $1,000 and $5,000 per candidate. 

 

Where is the money coming from?

The three most common types of campaign contributors are individual donors, donations from businesses (which sometimes happens through a political action committee) and self-funding from the candidate themselves. The balance between these three types of sources varies from city to city.

 

We took a look at the three cities with the most total donations, Sandy, West Jordan and Draper, to see where the money is coming from in their respective races. Draper was the most balanced, with each category being within a few thousand dollars of each other.

Sandy City was the only city which had more donations coming from businesses.

West Jordan was noteworthy for how much its races are being self-funded by its candidates. Fifty-seven percent of the funding for all the city’s campaigns came from the candidates themselves. 

When it comes to donations from businesses and business interests, one source stands out from the rest. The Salt Lake Board of Realtors (and its political action committee, The Realtors) doled out over $58,000 in donations to candidates’ campaigns during the primary season. 

In some cities, donations from the Board of Realtors accounted for a quarter, or even half, of all donations. 

At the candidate level, the Board of Realtors donated an average of $2,252 to candidates, though there were a few candidates who received more than $5,000. For 10 candidates, donations from the Board of Realtors made up at least half of their total campaign finances.

 

Does the money even matter?

In today’s world where candidates can easily reach people through social media, some might wonder if having money for traditional campaign advertising is still important. Can you win without courting donors, or does money buy elections?

In the primaries, 76% of candidates who raised at least $1,000 advanced to the general election. However, there may be diminishing returns when it comes to bigger campaign coffers; for candidates who raised at least $5,000, the percentage of those who advanced to the general election remained at 76%. 

However, candidates who received money from the Board of Realtors got an extra boost—84% of them advanced to the general election, compared to 50% of candidates who didn’t.

Money is not the be-all and end-all however, as there were 11 candidates throughout the valley who were able to advance to the general election despite having the lowest-funded campaign in their respective races.