While many of the candidates running for Salt Lake City mayor have focused on hyperlocal issues, not all of their campaign cash is coming from local donors.
A new Salt Lake Tribune analysis of campaign finance data as of the July 1 filing deadline shows the eight candidates in the race have cumulatively collected nearly $200,000 in out-of-state cash. Businessman and entrepreneur David Ibarra has taken the biggest stack: $126,286.25.
Out-of-state donations make up 32 percent of the $394,019 he’d raised up to that point. That’s double the percentage of the second-highest out-of-state fundraiser.
“I’m surprised to see any of the candidates in Salt Lake City’s mayor’s race with out-of-state percentages quite that high,” Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University, said of Ibarra’s funds. “You don’t usually see people getting involved in that sort of way from out of state, simply because many of those individuals don’t have an interest in outcomes in Salt Lake City government.”
Former Pioneer Park Executive Director David Garbett raised the second most out of state, at 16 percent, followed by former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold at 9 percent. The rest of the candidates generated 5 percent or less.
Ibarra, who has also raised the most money among those in the race, said the contributions in question are a reflection of his large out-of-state network, both through his businesses and work with his brother’s nonprofit, the Latino Leaders Network.
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“I view it as being an individual that has had a national presence for 20 years, [when] I decide to do something that most say, ‘What, you’re really going to do that and tip up your career? I want to help you,’ ” he said of the donations. “And I’ll take that help and am delighted to receive it. Because I have had success all across this country and I certainly wouldn’t want to run from that."
Ibarra noted that he has also done some fundraising out of state, with his campaign expenditures pointing to at least two events: one in Houston and another in Los Angeles.
Cann, a North Logan councilman who serves on the board of directors for the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said it struck him as “unusual” that any candidate would go “that far out field” to tap into donor networks.
“I suspect [Ibarra] may have some connections, know people who know people elsewhere who might be willing to support him for a variety of reasons,” Cann said. “Perhaps it could have to do with promoting a particular ideology, election of another Hispanic mayor somewhere in the country that could be motivating the ability to raise money like that, but definitely not common. I can’t think of a municipal election where it’s been a common practice, at least in Utah, to raise money out of state.”
Ibarra has received a number of donations specifically from public officials outside the state, most of whom he says are personal friends and several of whom are Latino. Those include Adrian Garcia, a Harris County, Texas, commissioner; Fabian Nunez, a former California Assembly member; and Ruben Kihuen, a former U.S. House member from Nevada.
On his campaign social media accounts, Ibarra has also advertised endorsements from several mayors across the United States, including Michael Hancock of Denver; Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles; and Greg Fischer of Louisville, Ky. Those endorsements, he said, reflect a larger vision for how he’d run the city.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he told The Tribune in a recent interview. “I will reach out to the Conference of Mayors and find best practices, talk to those mayors, see how they solve [problems] and bring the best ideas to Salt Lake City. I think that’s the role of a good leader.”
Garbett, who has raised the second-most money from out of state — about $39,000 of the total $243,316 he’d raised as of July 1 — noted that, like Ibarra, he’s also been reliant on friends and family throughout the country to ensure he has the campaign resources necessary to knock on doors and communicate with residents.
“For me, I think it’s just who my personal network involves,” he said. “I have a lot of friends and family out of state and I’ve relied on them heavily and I’m so grateful they’ve been willing to help out. I mean, it’s part of what’s made it possible for me to get the word out to voters.”
Sen. Jim Dabakis, who polls show is one of the front-runners in the Aug. 13 primary race, has been outspoken about the need for campaign finance reform, which he has said would be his “first act” if he’s ultimately elected to the office in November. He’d raised nearly 4 percent, or $9,779, of his money out of state as of the last filing deadline.
The candidate, in an interview with The Tribune, didn’t go so far as to criticize Ibarra’s high percentage of out-of-state earnings but said he hopes voters will "take that into consideration.”
“Whether [donors] are in Utah or in Salt Lake or out of state, the issue is these waves of money coming in,” he said. “It’s part of what needs to be a whole redo of our entire campaign finance system so that the people and the small donors are respected and that we don’t have this all-out grabbing to a few small special interests that come in. They don’t spread all this money around without a price, and the price is public policy that is held hostage.”