There are signs that some political campaigns are breaking the law — even a few for candidates seeking Salt Lake County’s top law enforcement positions of sheriff and district attorney.
They are the campaign placards sprouting up on overpasses, pedestrian bridges and highway boundary fences.
“Technically, they are breaking the law. It is illegal to post those types of signs in our rights of way if they haven’t been approved.... And we never approve them,” says John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.
But that law isn’t really enforced — at least no more than laws against late-night fireworks, or Utah’s technical ban on driving while talking on cellphones. At most, the signs risk costing the relevant candidate the support of voters here and there who notice the violations and don’t appreciate them.
“Our maintenance crews have more important work to be doing” than removing hundreds of signs statewide, Gleason says. “That isn’t the best use of their time.”
Besides, when UDOT has removed signs, he says, “more tend to show up the next morning.”
So, “typically we let it run its course,” Gleason says. “That saves some work because after the election, most campaigns will remove their signs. For any that aren’t cleaned up in a week or two, we’ll go out and remove them — knowing that more aren’t just going to replace them immediately.”
UDOT also will remove signs anytime that they create a hazard — such as blocking essential sightlines or threatening to fall into a roadway.
“And just out of fairness, if we remove a campaign sign because it’s a hazard," Gleason says, “we would remove any other campaign signs in that area as well.”
He adds that state rules ban UDOT from discarding the signs immediately, so it holds them temporarily at maintenance facilities in case campaigns want to retrieve them.
Utah Code 72-7-503 outlaws placing advertising in public areas along state highways without permission from UDOT or along county roads without permission from the county. Violation is a class B misdemeanor.
Utah Code 72-5-708 allows fines between $500 and $1,500 a day, depending on how long roadway advertising remains after notice is given ordering removal. Utah Administrative Code R933-2 (and state law) allows UDOT to remove offending signs and to charge owners the cost of doing so.
Still, a quick drive on almost any major highway in Salt Lake County will yield many examples of scofflaw campaigns — even for some vying for top law enforcement positions there.
For example, Democratic Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera had some signs this week attached to the chain-link fence atop the 4100 South overpass above Interstate 215.
Politically, those signs may be no-harm-no-foul because her Republican opponent, Justin Hoyal, posted similar signs on a pedestrian bridge over 4700 South at about 3100 West.
Rivera says her paid workers and campaign volunteers are well instructed on where signs are allowed, but other zealous supporters sometimes put up placards where they do not belong.
“They will see my opponent’s signs and go put one up,” she says. “So I will drive around and find where supporters are putting signs where I don’t want them. I took some down on Sunday.”
Hoyal also says his signs have also at times been posted by overzealous volunteers, adding that he will remove any that are improperly placed.
“I personally have taken down some signs that I know were in places they should not be,” he says. “I want to abide by the rules…. That’s part of running a campaign, and running for sheriff is one where you have to play by the rules.”
The Republican nominee for Salt Lake County district attorney, Nathan Evershed, gives a similar explanation: campaign volunteers.
“With so many campaign volunteers, some may have put signs where they shouldn’t go,” campaign spokeswoman Cindie Quintana says. “We will definitely take care of that. We will look more into that and will send a message to our volunteers to be more careful when placing signs.”
Some enterprising campaigns even put signs along an Interstate 215 boundary fence at Valley Fair Mall — where customers gasing up cars at Costco would have to see them as they exit. It was a bipartisan move. Those campaigns were for Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, and Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, plus some nonpartisan school board races.
Despite the laws against it, UDOT’s Gleason says, “We will see more and more [campaign signs right] up to the election. It happens every year.”