Erin Mendenhall leads Rocky Anderson in the hunt for money

The official nomination deadline may be months away, but Salt Lake City mayoral hopefuls have spent dollars and stashed money in campaign accounts in what could prove to be a costly contest.

The latest campaign finance reports for February show that Mayor Erin Mendenhall had about $250,000 in her campaign bankroll, eclipsing her highest-profile challenger, former two-year mayor Rocky Anderson, by about $200,000.

“From today’s perspective,” said Ian Koski, Mendenhall’s campaign adviser, “she is in a very strong position.”

From February 2022 to the same date in 2023, Mendenhall raised approximately $200,000 from prominent donors such as Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, and developer Joshua Romney – son of US Senator Mitt Romney, R- Utah – who both contributed the maximum amount of $3,720 to the mayor’s campaign.

Mendenhall had nearly $140,000 in her account at the start of the fundraising period and spent $88,000 over the following year.

Anderson, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2008 and is seeking a third term at City Hall, began raising money in August. Between then and mid-February, he raised about $125,000 and spent about $75,000 during that time.

At the end of the fundraising period, he had almost $50,000 in his campaign treasury.

Anderson’s donors included entrepreneur and former mayoral candidate David Ibarra and prolific developer Kem Gardner, who each contributed the maximum of $3,720. Both Ibarra and Gardner also gave maximum amounts about their trades.

The former mayor, meanwhile, poured $10,000 of his own money into his campaign.

“I’ve been happy with what we’ve been able to gather ahead of the first reporting period and I expect we’ll be very competitive in this race,” he said, “if not with the money then certainly with our base game.”

“Always a fiscal conservative”

Anderson, who announced his candidacy in a glowing speech late last year, has criticized Mendenhall for what he calls a “failure of leadership”. He claims he has proven himself in his professional life and as mayor to address the city’s most pressing issues.

“I have the attitude that we will do everything to win this race,” he said. “That’s the attitude of our volunteers and that’s the attitude of those who funded my race.”

Anderson said he feels on a daily basis that he needs to “amplify” his fundraising, but has boasted about running a lean campaign without a consultant. He said he writes all his own social media posts, writes his own emails to supporters and has volunteers knocking on doors for him.

“I’m always a tax conservative, whether as mayor and with the taxpayers’ money,” he said, “or with the money that people have generously contributed to my campaign.”

Anderson’s largest single spend – approximately $12,000 – went to Reagan Outdoor Advertising for eight billboards throughout the Utah capital. He spent approximately $1,000 developing and producing a campaign song titled “Together” and another $5,000 producing a music video for it.

He also paid a campaign worker about $19,000, about $8,000 more than Mendenhall paid Koski’s political consulting firm Quorum Creative during the period.

Don’t get negative

Mendenhall paid her largest single expense — about $37,000 — to GBAO, a polling and political strategy firm. The company has worked with high-profile campaigns such as those of US Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., US Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Koski said the campaign donations the mayor has received reflect the broad support she has across the city. Backers are not only happy with the work she’s done, he said, but also with the way she’s done it.

“People are standing with her,” he said, “to make sure she gets a chance to continue running the city.

In 2019, Mendenhall raised nearly $537,000 en route to her first term. Earlier this month, she announced her re-election campaign.

Koski said Mendenhall has transformed the way the city operates and works with its partners at the county and state levels. It’s a change central to the mayor’s character, he said, and it will be a theme of her bid for a second term.

“Just like she did as mayor, we also want to run her re-election campaign,” Koski said, “walking the road, focusing on what’s best for the city and doing her best to avoid the negativity and cynicism that plagues ours.” politics really.”

Races could get expensive

Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said early fundraising and spending are higher than usual, but this election – in which an incumbent mayor tries to fend off a former mayor – is hardly typical.

“My overall feeling is that both appear high,” Burbank said. “And that’s partly undoubtedly because Rocky Anderson declared early and Mayor Mendenhall knew this was coming.”

Burbank said it was unlikely many other candidates would consider challenging Mendenhall, noting that Anderson’s early announcement may have deterred those from entering the bipartisan race.

Only one other candidate — Michael Valentine, a vocal opponent of the Utah Theater demolition — has indicated he would run for office. According to the February fundraising report, he had $16 left in his account after raising $100 from two donors and contributing $10 himself.

Burbank suspects that this year’s mayoral race will be a highly prized competition.

“Given the early tone Rocky Anderson set, it seems entirely possible to me that where this was going,” he said, “…they raise a lot of money, they spend a lot of money, they fight, and that.” will be quite an expensive race.”

The submission period for municipal candidates in Salt Lake City is August 8-15.

Since the election is carried out using a ranking list, there is no area code. The general election is on November 7th.

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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