As Park City began voting, candidates’ donor lists remained secret | ParkRecord.com

As Park City began voting, candidates’ donor lists remained secret

Campaign-finance deadlines do not take into account mail-in balloting

by Jay Hamburger
THE PARK RECORD

Did Andy Beerman tap current or former elected officials while raising funds for his mayoral campaign, as he did during a previous bid for the city's highest office?

Was Dana Williams able to rekindle the financial support he enjoyed during his earlier successful campaigns for the mayor's office?

And did Roger Armstrong, a current member of the Summit County Council, draw on his support outside the Park City limits to help fund his mayoral campaign?

None of the answers were publicly known as voters in the mayoral primary election started to cast ballots, a result of a change in the way the election is managed. Many Park City voters will likely have cast their ballots prior to the release of the candidates' first financial disclosure.

The Aug. 15 mayoral primary election is underway through a mail-in balloting process. The Summit County Clerk's Office, which is administering the primary election on behalf of City Hall, in late July mailed ballots and return envelopes to registered voters inside Park City. The ballots should have arrived a few days later. They must be returned with a postmark on or before Aug. 14 or they can be left in a drop box at the Marsac Building by 8 p.m. on Aug. 15.

The first financial disclosure, though, was not due until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 8. Voters who mailed back their ballots prior to Tuesday did not have access to the financial disclosures. They would not have seen the list of contributors, the dollar figures attached to the names, the overall total of contributions or how the candidates spent the funds they raised.

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The mail-in balloting was instituted in an effort to make voting more convenient and it is something that is expected to increase turnout. The Summit County Clerk's Office on Tuesday reported it had processed and qualified, but not yet counted, 585 ballots mailed back by Park City voters by Aug. 3. Another 760 ballots have been returned since then, but it was not immediately known how many were sent by Park City voters. They are scheduled to be processed on Thursday. The county clerk is also administering primaries in Kamas, Oakley and Coalville.

Even as Park City leaders prepared to hold the primary through the mail, they did not address the ramifications on the campaign-finance disclosure schedule.

The Tuesday deadline for the mayoral candidates was the first important date on the schedule. The candidate who does not advance out of the primary must file a final disclosure within 30 days after the loss. In the weeks before Election Day in November, meanwhile, there is an Oct. 31 deadline for financial reports. That deadline will cover the mayoral candidates as well as the Park City Council field. There is not a City Council primary, meaning that the Oct. 31 report will be the first financial disclosure by the four candidates seeking one of two seats on the ballot.

Campaign financials were for years a peripheral issue in City Hall contests, but interest increased as the numbers started to rise in the 1990s. The 2001 mayoral campaign, the first of three won by Williams, set a record as the fundraising reached toward $50,000. It fell 12 years later, during a 2013 mayoral campaign that pitted eventual winner Jack Thomas, then a member of the Planning Commission, against Beerman, then and still a City Councilor. The campaign between Thomas and Beerman topped $80,000.

It is not clear what the Tuesday filings will show. All three of the mayoral candidates appear to be spending on the primary as campaign materials have been seen for each of them in recent weeks. The level of spending, though, is not known.

City Hall over the years has tinkered with the deadlines for financial disclosures during campaigns. The deadlines were temporarily loosened a decade ago to strip away a section of Park City's election rules that required candidates to file a disclosure just before a primary. The deadlines were later tightened to require a disclosure prior to a primary.

In an interview, the mayor acknowledged the disclosure deadline is "kind of awkward" with the mail-in balloting underway. He said there is "not full disclosure" with the deadlines as they are now. Thomas said the City Council should discuss and re-evaluate deadlines for financial disclosures, potentially prior to him leaving office in early January.

"Obviously, to the voter it means they don't see the entire picture" or the "spectrum of support," Thomas said.