- Derek Carlisle
As the August primary drew near, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan filed his first financial-disclosure report of the cycle—one that showed he had raised a formidable $94,000 since the beginning of the year. The six-term incumbent mayor also had north of $79,000 in his war chest from the last reporting period, his state-required document stated.
Added together, Dolan had amassed more than $173,000 in contributions.
But political rivals say the reporting period obfuscates the truth: that this is a fraction of the money Dolan raised, and the reported spending total of $129,000 is less than half of the actual figure.
In the throes of a campaign, mayoral challenger Kurt Bradburn dug through the mayor's documents and honed in on an ostensible discrepancy between the recent Aug. 1 form and the last one that Dolan submitted for the 2013 campaign. That year, Dolen reported an ending balance of about $44,000—tens of thousands less than the balance at the beginning of the report in 2017.
Bradburn, an attorney and first-time candidate, asked the Sandy City Recorder's Office, the entity that oversees municipal elections, to compel Dolan to account for the difference. By this time, the election was less than a week away, and Dolan had already filed his final disclosure.
"I believe that Mayor Dolan filed a false financial report," Bradburn writes in a formal complaint to the city, adding that the mayor "did not comply with the provisions" of the law.
To Dolan, the hubbub is all political posturing.
"If you don't have any issues other than personal attacks—character assassinations—then these are the kinds of things you look for. That's just typical," he says. "Every campaign that I've ever had, it's the same thing."
The difference is easily explained, according to Dolan. Some $44,000 was left over from the campaign in 2013, and in the intervening years, he collected about $35,000 more in contributions by the time he was asked to report in 2017. He says the dollar total in 2017 is, of course, higher than what it was in 2013.
Dolan maintains he was following city guidelines that ask for an accounting of contributions and expenses since the start of the year—not for the last three-and-a-half years. After consulting with the city attorney, who sided with Dolan, he decided to appease his critics anyway and file an exhaustive disclosure that detailed all financial transactions over nearly four years—a three-day endeavor that entailed combing through old bank records.
The amended report is a comprehensive list of contributions and expenditures since Dec. 4, 2013. Dolan brushes off accusations that he was trying to hide these donations, arguing that with the amended disclosure, he's released considerably more information than what is required.
The fact that he volunteered years of his campaign's finances, Dolan went on to say, is a gesture of transparency.
"I bet you I'm the only candidate that has disclosed everything for the past four years," he says. "We've never had to do that before, we never did that before, and I'm not sure if any other city has done such a thing."
But the amended document is revealing, says Gary Forbush, a Sandy City mayoral candidate who lost in the primary.
In what would have been his final report, Dolan listed $94,000 in contributions; with the inclusion of the entire three-and-a-half years, that number swelled to $279,844. But for the amended disclosure, the public would be unaware of more than $185,000 coming into Dolan's coffers.
"He never really stopped campaigning. He's fundraising the whole time, and he's spending money," Forbush says.
The difference between the original document and its amended version is so significant, Bradburn argues, that Dolan should be disqualified as a candidate under Utah law, which demands accurate and complete reporting. Bradburn filed an official complaint on Aug. 14 with the city recorder calling for the city to throw out the votes that went Dolan's way in the primary.
In an interview with City Weekly, Dolan retorts that his two forms didn't reveal errors. One merely covered a longer period of time. "This is all about someone trying to find another way to get elected. It has nothing to do with the issues of the campaign," he says.
But Bradburn says the law is unambiguous and Dolan's forms don't comply.
"I don't understand exactly how compliance with campaign finance laws is a political football," he writes via email. "It's indicative of how transparent and compliant you desire to be, plain and simple."
The recorder's office referred a reporter's questions to the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office, which oversees elections.
Elections chief Mark Thomas says the state doesn't enforce municipal election code, plus, he notes, the law allows for candidates to file amended reports without penalty.
In his complaint, Bradburn contends that Dolan shouldn't be protected by a clause that allows for amended reporting because the law, he points out, says the candidate shall be disqualified if the inaccuracies are intentional or egregious enough.
The city recorder's office disagrees.
Above all, a broad view of the episode highlights potential cracks in a system that is rife for abuse, a point Bradburn also raises in his complaint.
"This action calls into question the integrity of our process and in order for the public to place any trust in our local elections, accountability must be present," he writes.
Had Bradburn not began scrutinizing the mayor's campaign, Dolan likely wouldn't have amended his report, leaving nearly $185,000 in contributions unreported. And if the public is entitled to know who is funding their elected leaders' campaigns and how that money is being spent, the city's filing period allows for years of darkness.
Thomas says state law provides a baseline framework for municipal elections. Asked whether cities should be held to the same standard as the state, Thomas says he doesn't think municipalities should be mandated to stricter filing regulations. It's not uncommon for smaller cities to cancel elections altogether when no one files to run for office. To add more regulatory requirements might exacerbate that problem, Thomas speculates. And in the past, mayoral and city council candidates run thrifty campaigns.
"A lot of them pay the filing fee and that's it," he says. However, Thomas adds, if municipalities wish to make their filing laws more stringent, they can pass ordinances that do so.
Forbush went before the Sandy City Council last month to air his frustration, and members responded by saying it will look into possible ordinance changes. Dolan is not opposed to the city updating the rules, he says. "I think it's a great idea. Let's be totally transparent and get it out."
In addition, though, Forbush says the filing due dates need to give the public time to examine the data. As for Dolan, Forbush wants the mayor to retroactively amend all his financial disclosures since he started running for office more than two decades ago. Finally, Forbush says an office with more independence than the city recorder should be the arbiter of campaign complaints. "We need a financial watchdog."You can read Bradburn's complaint below.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan Campaign Funds Complaint