Orem sets transparency standard with new financial disclosures ordinance

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Orem City Council changed its financial disclosure policy. This raises the bar for other Utah cities. (Zoe Cook)

Orem recently passed a new city ordinance which requires current elected officials to complete financial disclosures. This also asks that current elected officials produce records from the length of their term.

“Most (cities) just do what the state requires, which is the minimum,” Pete Wolfley, Orem communications manager, said. These financial disclosures allow you to get a sense of who has influence (at least in Orem), he continued. Provo currently only complies with state regulation.

State regulation requires candidates provide financial disclosures for their campaigns. Once they are elected, however, they no longer need to report where any remaining funds go.

Provo City Council member Rachel Whipple explained that this is relevant because it is common for candidates to donate the remainder of their own campaign funds to another running candidate. Understanding where current council members are putting their support can help educate voters.

Orem City’s change is also partially a reflection of the amount of money Orem officials are handling — roughly $15,000 or more for a campaign. This can be seen in current and past candidates’ financial disclosure documents.

Provo’s larger candidates spend a similar amount, but because of Provo’s district system, which divides Provo into five districts, some candidates are able to spend less.

Provo candidates also only need to reach voters within their district. In 2022 the Provo City Council debated eliminating the district system but opted to keep it so that each neighborhood could have its own advocate on the City Council, Whipple explained.

By comparison, Orem’s “at large” system encourages candidates to gain support from a larger population to make it onto the city council. To do this, some Orem candidates take advantage of Veracity Enterprises, a consulting firm located in Provo. Veracity offers nationally ranked campaign assistance, helping candidates learn the skills necessary to be successful.

“I’m kind of like a river guide,” Veracity consultant David Kyle said. Most of what he does is help candidates magnify and clarify their voice so that voters know what the candidates stand for, he said. This can mean anything from training candidates in public speaking to helping make signs, flyers or digital materials.

While each city is required to meet the state requirements, this could be the beginning of a trend towards higher transparency.

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