Ogden mayoral race shows sharp fundraising disparity

Friday , September 11, 2015 - 2:57 PM4 comments

OGDEN — New campaign finance reports detail a wide cash gap in Ogden’s mayoral race.

The reports account for contributions and expenditures received through Aug. 28. For incumbent Mayor Mike Caldwell, donations date back to April 2013 and expenditures to December 2011.

Caldwell received $15,600 during that period and spent $4,245. With $3,795 already on hand, Caldwell moves forward with $15,150 in his campaign coffers.

His eager challenger, Paraguayan immigrant Sebastian Benitez, reported $575 in donations and $9,593 in expenses, putting his campaign at a deficit of $9,017.

■ RELATED: Ogden Mayor's race starts to take shape

The details indicate the different orbits in which incumbents and challengers generally travel.

Caldwell reported eight contributions, seven of significant size:

$1,500 — Stuart C. Reid for Senate District #18 (donated in 2013)

$5,000 — made in two separate donations from the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors ($2,500 in 2014, $2,500 this June)

$1,000 — Friends of Kerry Gibson (former state lawmaker and current Weber County commissioner — donated this July)

$5,000 — ENVE (an Ogden cycling components company that donated this July)

$1,000 — Ray Kimber (donated July 15)

$2,000 — Chris & Mary Ford (donated July 21)

$100 — Craig and Sheryl Dearden (donated July 15)

Benitez reported eight donations, all received on Aug. 25: four individuals each gave $100, three $50 and one $25.

Leah Murray, a political science professor at Weber State University, said that kind of funding disparity is typical.

“Generally, the rule of thumb is that no one funds a challenger,” Murray said. “They face a very uphill battle and have to spend a lot of their own money. With incumbents, the money rolls in very easily because they’re a known commodity and have a proven track record.”

And with nonpartisan races, the fundraising battle sharpens because challengers generally do not have a political party that will help fuel their campaign, Murray said.

Caldwell said that since he faced no primary, he had not yet begun to fundraise this year.

“In the next month that landscape will look very differently,” Caldwell said, noting the groundswell of grassroots support that fueled his first campaign in 2011.

Based on that track record, Caldwell said he expects to see more $25 and $50 contributions flow his way during the next several weeks. And the recent sizable sums affirm approval for some of his actions as mayor, Caldwell added.

“I’ve worked really hard to build consensus ... with Weber State University and Weber County,” Caldwell said. “I take some of that as ‘thank you’ for working really hard to build that consensus.”

That “we” mentality is part of his effort to say “let’s find a way to work together to improve the economic environment in the city and the county,” Caldwell said.

Benitez said that if he spends several thousand dollars out of his own pocket to convey his message, he’ll have accomplished his goal whether he wins in November or not.

“I decided to spend this money to make it clear about my message, which is, please take care of our city,” Benitez said.

While in some ways Ogden has seen great improvement, Benitez said it can do better when it comes to unemployment, crime and education.

For example, the Aug. 20 shooting of an 18-year-old man near 2300 Van Buren Ave. remains unsolved. The hospitalized victim died a few days later from multiple gunshot wounds.

“They still don’t know why it happened,” Benitez said. “So many crime cases go unresolved and police need more support.”

RELATED: Recent Ogden gang shootings remain unsolved

Benitez also pledged to improve education at Ben Lomond and Ogden high schools. However, one of this biggest beefs is low voter turnout.

“The people who are voting typically don’t want to make change, but we need to,” Benitez said. “That is my point. I am spending my own money to show everyone that they need to vote — 10 to 15 percent voter turnout is not enough.”

Benitez said he was recently interviewed at length by 1490 AM, a Spanish-speaking radio station in Salt Lake City, and has been contacted by area television stations for upcoming interviews as well. He also hopes to debate Caldwell in the next several weeks, but none have been scheduled so far.

For more information about Benitez, go to www.sebastianbenitez.org. Caldwell’s re-election website can be found mikecaldwellformayor.com.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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