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Bluffdale considers campaign limits

BLUFFDALE — November elections are a long way off, but already some are thinking certain candidates have one unfair advantage — money.

You wouldn't think a city of 4,700 would need to worry about campaign spending limits, but with three seats on the City Council and the mayor's position up for grabs, money does matter. The council discussed the matter Tuesday.

Mayor Noell Nelson wants limits and he wants leaders in office who are there for the people and not for their own interests or because they were financially able to spend more on their campaigns.

"I don't think it's fair to the rest of the citizens," Nelson said. After nearly 20 years serving Bluffdale and one term as mayor, he is giving up public service, but not before he takes care of a few things, namely spending during elections.

"Years back, you didn't have to spend money to get on the council, it was more of an honor," he said. "Now it's more of a power struggle." For his election, he spent about $1,000, and that's what he thinks ought to be the limit. But there are no mandates on spending limits in cities as large as Salt Lake City or as small as Bluffdale's neighbor, Herriman, population 1,523.

According to the city recorder's office, Salt Lake City has one of two agreements candidates can sign: one to say they will limit expenditures, another declining a limit. Preference has been evenly divided.

"I can't see where campaign spending in a small town would become much of an issue," said Herriman Mayor J. Lynn Crane. But it is in Bluffdale.

For advice on the issue, Nelson called Amy Naccarato, the state's director of elections. Most cities, she said, have some sort of disclosure rule, but they normally don't limit spending. But she's not surprised it's an issue in Bluffdale, a city where everybody knows everybody else, where races get heated and where there's not a lot of accountability.

"Campaign financing is a big issue," she said. Cities normally fall back on a "loose," generic state code. If the Bluffdale City Council wants to pass a resolution governing campaign spending, though, there is nothing the state can do to prevent it from happening.

In the end, Bluffdale's council decided limits would be voluntary and was left with questions: What would be the penalty if someone did spend too much and how much is too much? Candidates will still be required to disclose campaign financial statements.