Salt Lake County Democratic candidates far ahead in campaign fundraising

While much of the public attention this election is fixed on high profile races for the White House, Congress and the governor’s mansion, local candidates for Salt Lake County office are campaigning hard and raising and spending cash — and lots of it.

Campaigns for Salt Lake County mayor and County Council have brought in $1 million and $305,000 respectively, at last count.

In every one of these county races, Democrats are dramatically outraising Republicans. While two of the races involve Democratic incumbents, giving them an advantage in fundraising, the more liberal candidates are leading the money sweepstakes even in the two contests for open council seats to replace Republican members.

The Council’s 5-4 Republican majority could be in the balance.

Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chair Emily Hase said Democratic candidates' lead in fundraising is a payoff of a multiyear effort to build a robust party organization and a reflection of how candidates' messages of compassion and action are resonating.

“Donors are responding to this, and the hard work of our county candidates, by voting with their pocketbooks before Election Day," Hase said.

Salt Lake County GOP Chair Scott Miller isn’t fazed by the Democratic lead in fundraising as he says his party has been doing more with less this election season.

“Before it was just, raise as much money as you can and hand it to as many candidates as you can," Miller said, adding that now, “we look for value to dollar for what we spend.” This year that’s meant concentrating the party’s resources on social media, and apparently, it’s paying off. Miller said the Salt Lake County GOP is the number one Facebook account in the state for engagement.

“I am very proud of our candidates for how well they have run competitive, fiscally conservative and issue-based campaigns,” Miller said.

Top donors for Democratic candidates in the Salt Lake County mayor and council races include SMART TD PAC, which pushes to elect mostly Democratic candidates who it believes will support airline, bus, rail and transit workers; Impact PAC, which has doled out nearly $1.5 million to elect Democratic candidates across the country; the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, whose donations for mayoral campaigns were split between Democrat Jenny Wilson and Republican Trent Staggs; and billionaire Bruce Bastian, a co-founder of WordPerfect.

Republican campaigns received generous donations from entrepreneur Spencer Millerberg and Brad Bonham, a business owner and recently appointed member of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development board.

Mayor’s race

Wilson, the county mayor, has raised $606,866, about 50% more than Staggs’ total of $402,969.

Chris Harelson, campaign manager for Staggs, the mayor of Riverton, said a funding disparity is to be expected when running against an incumbent. But he added that the campaign hasn’t been outworked, saying it has made nearly 1 million direct personal contacts with voters.

“Voters don’t care how much money a candidate has raised. They want to know if you are willing to reach out and talk to them. That is the big difference between the candidates. Mayor Staggs listens to residents and has real plans for change,” Harelson said.

Wilson’s campaign spokesperson Ian Koski said Wilson’s team has only done a fraction of its usual fundraising efforts because her time and efforts have been focused on handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That we were still able to raise what we did is a kind of a testament to the support she’s earned, especially over this last year,” Koski said. “The mayor’s been out there making frankly difficult decisions to keep people safe, and I think a lot of people are grateful for that.”

The difference in campaign contributions between Staggs and Wilson pale, however, when compared to Green Party mayoral candidate Michael Cundick — whose total contributions added up to $6,109, all of it from individuals.

Among the largest donors were members of the Cumming family, who own Powdr, one of the largest ski resort operators in the country. They gave a combined total of $18,000. Philanthropists Brent and Bonnie Jean Beesley also gave $1,200. Wilson’s top PAC donors were IMPACT, Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 District 12 PAC, Iron Workers PAC and Johnson and Johnson.

Staggs' largest donor was Dynamic Blending, a multimillion-dollar cosmetics company based in Vineyard, and its owners. He also received more than $139,600 from businesses, including trucking company C.R. England, Nevada-owned OCIFG Inc, home construction companies like DR Horton and Edge Homes and medical care companies like Medallus Medical, which owns a string of urgent cares on the Wasatch front, and Med USA, a medical billing and software company. Staggs also took in sizable donations from organizations like Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, the Wasatch Residential Group and the Salt Lake Home Owners Association.

The largest PAC donor to Staggs’ campaign was the Reagan Roundtable, a conservative PAC whose officers have included Gov. Gary Herbert, according to Utah Policy, followed by Friends of Mia Love; Salt Lake Board of Realtors; and Fighting for Freedom in the 21st Century, which has contributed more than $141,000 to Republican campaigns on the federal and state level, including congressional hopeful Burgess Owens.

County Council at Large A

(Tribune file photos) Laurie Stringham, left, and Salt Lake County Council member Shireen Ghorbani.

County Council member Shireen Ghorbani, a first-term Democrat, raised $107,733, seven times as much as challenger Laurie Stringham, who brought in $15,257, and more than any other county council candidate.

Ghorbani attributed her fundraising success to her previous experience running a congressional campaign in 2018 and to her campaign’s ability to connect with donors.

About 72% of Ghorbani’s contributions came from individuals, including her largest overall donor, Tim Watcke, a developer who owns the Maven District, a curated block of wellness businesses on 9th and 9th.

“I am incredibly proud that we have over 900 donors on Team Shireen," Ghorbani said.

Her two second largest donors were the Salt Lake Board of Realtors and investment company East Star.

Stringham, a Republican, received a majority of her campaign contributions from individuals. She was her own largest contributor, making up 18% of her campaign’s total contributions.

Stringham did not receive much in the way of donations from businesses or organizations but did secure $800 from Utah Values PAC LLC and $250 from the Friends of Jason Chaffetz, a PAC run by the former congressman.

County Council 2

(Salt Lake Tribune photos) Deborah Gatrell, left, and Dave Alvord.

Democrat Deborah Gatrell’s campaign raked in $84,166 — nearly four times that of Republican Dave Alvord, former South Jordan mayor, in the race to replace Republican Council member Michael Jensen, who did not seek re-election.

Developer Kem Gardner and Impact PAC were Gatrell’s two biggest campaign contributors. Arbor Development, Anthem Center, and Fort Herriman Services also made large donations.

Well over half of Alvord’s $22,795 in campaign cash came from the candidate and his business.

Profession Insurance Exchange Mutual, Utah’s largest dental malpractice insurance company, chipped in about 21% of the total to Alvord, who became CEO there after selling his private dentistry practice earlier this year. Another 35% came from Alvord’s pocket.

Other large donations came from Millerberg, the Utah Association of Realtors, Lehi-based Entrata CEO David Bateman and entrepreneur Branden Neish.

County Council 6

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photos) Dea Theodore, left, and Terri Hrechkosy are both candidates for Salt Lake County Council District 6.

Democratic candidate Terri Tapp Hrechkosy raised more than six times as much as her opponent, Dea Theodore, who ousted three-term council member Max Burdick in the June Republican primary election.

“When I decided to run as a Democrat, I knew that in order to have a fighting chance I would need to raise a significant amount of money so that I could reach as many voters as possible,” Hrechkosy said. Her goal was $50,000. She raised $64,259.

Her own donation of $11,097 was the largest. Retired hedge-fund manager Art Lipson, Kem Gardner and Bruce Bastian also made big contributions to her campaign.

Theodore had few large donations among her total fundraising of $10,884.

The only contributions of $1,000 or more came from the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, Staggs for Mayor, Bonham and an in-kind donation from GR Consulting. The Salt Lake County Republican Party also made a $534 contribution.

Theodore wasn’t worried about the fundraising gap.

“I stayed within budget while getting my message and material distributed,” she said. “Although COVID-19 changed the way we campaign, I have had a wonderful time running this race.”