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Mayoral campaign signs at stadium — foul ball?

Pignanelli and Rocky didn’t disclose services

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A pair of Salt Lake City mayoral campaigns may have violated the city's campaign finance reform laws by not reporting in-kind services received from the Salt Lake Stingers.

The potential violations come after incumbent Mayor Rocky Anderson and challenger Frank Pignanelli received for free something for which other groups would likely be charged $500 to $1,500.

Neither campaign claimed the expenses on their campaign financial disclosure forms filed Tuesday — the first filing since both candidates displayed campaign banners and dispersed literature at Franklin Covey Field on Independence and Pioneer days.

At the July 4 game, Anderson's campaign placed two large banners over the infield walls and handed out balloons to the more than 14,000 fans who packed the stadium. Similar Pignanelli signs were placed on dugouts during the July 24 game, also a sellout.

Anderson's campaign went to the game on Independence Day after Stingers business manager Dorsena Picknell invited the mayor. Later, Pignanelli's campaign sent a letter to Picknell asking for similar consideration, which was granted on Pioneer Day.

Anderson's campaign manager Sheryl Ivey said she told Picknell to send her a bill for any expense the campaign incurred on July 4. The only charge Picknell sent was for about 10 tickets the campaign used to get into the game, Ivey said. Anderson's disclosure form listed an $80 in-kind contribution from the Stingers for the tickets.

"If there's some sort of violation, I'm not aware of it," she said in July when the Deseret News began examining the Stingers issue. "Franklin Covey hasn't indicated that there would be a charge" for putting banners on the walls.

Pignanelli's campaign manager, Dallis Nordstrom, said she tried to find out what she should reimburse the Stingers for but had trouble getting any information.

"It's been hard to find that out," she said.

Pignanelli's disclosure form listed no in-kind or other contribution from the Stingers.

Picknell said the Stingers charge $500 for someone to have a table and pass out literature at a game. Both candidates had such a table and placed posters in the arena and the field. There is also a package, Picknell said, that allows businesses or groups to place signs, do public address announcements and throw out the game's first pitch for $1,500.

Charges are waived for political candidates, Picknell said, as part of the Stingers' effort to have candidates get their messages to the public.

"All it is is a venue for everyone to get their message out," she said, adding that no candidate, be it City Council, mayor, governor or other political seat would be denied their own Stingers' night.

While Picknell denied the Stingers had ulterior motives, the Stingers' lease on the city-owned stadium runs out next year and the club is currently negotiating for a new deal with the mayor's office. Also, Anderson has fought for Stingers causes in the past. He had his staff craft an ordinance that sought to push ticket scalpers across the street from Franklin Covey Field. The idea was to keep scalpers from selling cheap tickets to would-be Stingers patrons in line to buy full-price tickets. The City Council has yet to adopt the ordinance.

Assistant city attorney Boyd Ferguson was reluctant to say whether the nondisclosure by either Anderson or Pignanelli violated the city's campaign finance reform ordinance. He noted the city attorney's office generally advises the city, not the press, and a criminal violation of city code would be left to the city prosecutor's office to determine. Violating the city's campaign finance code is a misdemeanor.

Still, Ferguson pointed to the code, which he helped write. The law defines a contribution as "anything of value, including nonmonetary contributions."

Beyond the free services, under city code it is forbidden — unless prior city permission is obtained — for any political candidate to place signs or banners on public property.

That may or may not be a violation, says assistant city attorney Lynn Pace, commenting generally about candidates placing signs on public property.

It's a tricky legal issue since the Stingers rent out the field and technically have control over the stadium during the hours it is rented. Therefore, the rented stadium may not be covered by city laws forbidding campaign signage on public property.

"I know the Stingers have a lease, so does that mean the city still has exclusive control?" Pace said. "Those are all interesting wrinkles that I'm not sure I know the answer to."

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com