Natalie Cline’s Republican opponent for state school board reports raising nearly 6x the funds Cline has

The Utah State Board of Education and others have urged Cline to resign since she publicly questioned a high school athlete’s gender.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A group calls for Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline’s impeachment outside the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Natalie Cline's Republican opponent, Amanda Bollinger, says she received thousands in donations the week after Cline questioned the gender of a high school student athlete.

Defying calls for her to resign now, Utah state school board member Natalie Cline is instead running for reelection — and her Republican opponent has already raised 11 times more than Cline did during her entire 2020 race.

Cline’s latest contribution report showed that as of Wednesday afternoon, she had raised a little over $4,500 between Feb. 17 and Feb. 20.

Challenger Amanda Bollinger, a longtime administrator in Jordan School District, reported raising over $26,000 between Jan. 7 and Feb. 21, also as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Democratic hopeful for the District 9 seat — which covers southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County — is Will Shiflett, who oversees a business program at Salt Lake Community College. As of Wednesday, he had not released any contribution reports.

Cline and Bollinger may have raised additional funds that haven’t been have reported yet. During an election year, candidates have 31 days to report having received donations, or seven days if money is received within the month before a nominating convention, primary or general election.

Cline is moving forward with her reelection bid despite the Utah State Board of Education’s formal request last week that she resign. The board, state lawmakers, local leaders and others have condemned Cline for questioning a high school athlete’s gender in a since-deleted Facebook post that caused a social media frenzy.

She made her campaign announcement Monday in a Facebook post, saying that she’s running to “protect children” against systems that “exploit” them “for political, sexual, social, environmental and economic agendas” and that seek to “erase children’s sexual inhibitions and boundaries and confuse them about biological reality.”

Bollinger said she estimates about half of the money she has raised poured in after Cline falsely suggested the student athlete was transgender on Feb. 6.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Bollinger said, adding that within one month of announcing her candidacy, she’s already nearing her $30,000 campaign goal.

Notable donors to Bollinger’s campaign include Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, who donated $5,000, marking the largest individual contribution to Bollinger thus far. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson donated $1,000.

The two released a rare joint statement on Feb. 7, saying Cline had “embarrassed the state” with her Facebook post about the student. Other noteworthy donors to Bolligner’s campaign include:

  • Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton: $500

  • Republican Sen. Michael McKell: $500

  • Republican Rep. Raymond Ward and Beverly Ward: $3,000

  • Education First Utah: $2,500

  • Bountiful City Council member Kate Bradshaw: $100

  • Utah Transit Authority Board Chair Carlton Christensen: $25

Of Cline’s reported $4,500 in donations, $3,000 was contributed by Cathy Richardson, a former Republican candidate for the Utah House of Representatives in District 38. She withdrew her candidacy on Jan. 12, according to official candidate filings.

Cline did not respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s requests for comment.

Shiflett said that he’s been “a little slow” to set up an online contribution page and therefore has not received any donations. However, he said he has gotten pledges for “thousands of dollars” and will report those donations within the required timeframe once they’re received.

Cline first ran for office in 2020, which marked the state’s first-ever partisan elections for the State Board of Education. She garnered 69% of the vote, defeating opponent Tony Zani, who ran unaffiliated, for the then-District 11 seat. That year, Cline raised just over $2,300 in total, campaign contribution reports show.

The area Cline represents was called District 11 when she was elected, but it was changed to District 9 during a statewide redistricting initiative in 2021. The coverage area remains unchanged.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Cline outpaced Zani in both counties, amassing nearly 77,000 votes in Salt Lake County and approximately 3,700 in Utah County, according to official election records. Zani received roughly 35,000 votes in Salt Lake County and about 1,160 in Utah County.

State board members make $285 for every meeting they attend that lasts longer than four hours, a USBE spokesperson said. Their salaries are set annually by the Legislative Compensation Commission. State board members are also eligible for some reimbursements related to their duties and certain benefits, such as life and health insurance.

According to Transparent Utah, Cline in fiscal year 2023 made $9,690 in base wages and $792 in benefits, for a total of $10,482.

Cline claims election interference

Prior to USBE’s planned disciplinary hearing on Feb. 14, Cline questioned in a Facebook post whether any discipline from USBE constituted “election interference.” Her post included screenshots of an email she sent board leadership on Feb. 13.

In the email, Cline cited rules pertaining to Utah’s Independent Executive Branch Ethics Commission that bar people from filing complaints within 60 days of a primary or general election. She noted the upcoming Salt Lake County GOP nominating convention, which she incorrectly described as her “primary election,” is in April.

That commission has jurisdiction over the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor and state treasurer, but not state school board members. Cline’s primary election is more than 60 days away, in June.

Cline noted in her email that the state’s Political Subdivisions Ethics Commission has a similar 60-day rule. However, Cline and other elected state officials do not fall under the purview of that commission, said Erin Bergstedt, the Political Subdivisions’ executive director.

In her email, Cline accused Henderson, who administers Utah’s elections, of using her “taxpayer-funded office to attack me.”

Henderson on Feb. 7 publicly announced on X, formerly Twitter, that she had donated to Bollinger’s campaign, saying that Bollinger could “use everyone’s help.”

Cline incorrectly argued in her email that Henderson had “broken the law” with the post, which had been shared on Henderson’s personal account, by endorsing her opponent.

“Lt. Governor Henderson runs our election system,” Cline wrote. “How can my supporters and I trust her to fairly and impartially run our election when it appears she broke the law to help my opponent?”

What will this year look like for Cline?

Cline’s term officially ends on Jan. 6, 2025. However, in addition to demanding her resignation, state board leadership effectively stripped Cline of her power through December 2024.

That means for the remainder of this year, Cline cannot place items on USBE agendas or attend meetings of advisory groups. She’s also been removed from all board standing committees, though Cline had only served on one, the Standards and Assessment Committee.

The board’s decision seems to amount to the most disciplinary action its leadership can take. The state board does not have the power or authority to unseat an elected official. USBE leaders also don’t have the authority to impeach a member.

Legislators do possess that authority, and had been considering impeaching Cline, which would have barred her from seeking reelection. However, lawmakers ultimately voted on a resolution last week to condemn and censure Cline instead.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline, who is running for reelection in District 9.

The resolution said her actions “violate the moral and ethical standards expected of an elected official, particularly one charged with the duty to support our children in public education.”

Cox signed it shortly after it passed, saying in a statement that he agrees with the Legislature’s actions. He acknowledged the possibility of Cline’s reelection, saying, “we hope the voters will hold her equally accountable this fall.”

Should Cline win her bid, all disciplinary measures would be lifted starting in the new term. State board members serve for four years and Cline wouldn’t be up for reelection again until 2028.

Other state board races

Including District 9, there are eight out of 15 state school board seats up for grabs this year and 21 candidates vying to fill them.

Of those seats, three are guaranteed to go to Republican candidates and one to a Democratic incumbent, since no challengers from a different party filed, and the winners will be officially decided by the primaries in June.

Each seat or district covers a voting area of approximately 218,108 voters, though some have slightly more or slightly less.

District 3

This area captures Clearfield and surrounding cities.

District 6 (uncontested)

This area contains northeast Salt Lake County and southwest Summit County.

District 7

This area captures cities that include Sandy, Draper, Alta and Cottonwood Heights.

District 10

This area covers a large portion of Tooele County and the western sides of Utah and Salt Lake counties.

District 12

This area covers Wasatch, Duchesne, Uintah and Daggett counties.

District 13

This area encompasses Provo and surrounding cities, including Spanish Fork and portions of Payson.

District 15

This area covers Utah’s southern counties including San Juan, Kane, Washington, Garfield, a portion of Iron County, Wayne and Piute.

Correction • Feb. 22, 9:45 a.m.: The story has been updated to correct the name of Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton.