Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Standard-Examiner: City Council Amends Campaign Ordinance

On balance, a step in the right direction

By Dan Schroeder

Today's Standard-Examiner has an article (bottom of front page) on the campaign finance ordinance. The article is also up on the S-E live site:
City council amends campaign ordinance
Here are the first few paragraphs:
OGDEN — On the heels of a recent controversy, the city council Tuesday night amended the municipality’s campaign finance disclosure ordinance.
City Councilwoman Dorrene Jeske, who was the only person to cast a dissenting vote, said the ordinance amendments weren’t stringent enough. City Councilman Brandon Stephenson wasn’t present for the meeting and didn’t vote.
The amendments have been under consideration for about a month and were tweaked last week to include several additional provisions.
Those additions include a provision limiting individual campaign contributions to city council candidates to $1,500 and to mayoral candidates to $5,000.
Another provision was added requiring that campaign contributions of $750 or more within seven days of the election be reported within 24 hours.
As noted above, Jeske's principal objection was changing the criminal status of a violation from a class-B misdemeanor to an infraction. The argument given for this (by City Attorney Williams) was that virtually everyone else in Utah does it this way.

In my opinion, an even more serious problem is the removal of the so-called 10-day complaint period. Specifically, the ordinance now gives the city recorder and city attorney much more discretion to simply ignore evidence of violations if they so choose (or if the mayor, who has the power to fire them at any time, so directs them). Although some members of the council expressed a desire to undo this change, most of them seemed to feel that they couldn't do so without the city attorney's permission--and the city attorney didn't give them permission.

Also, in my opinion, the $5000 limit on contributions to mayoral candidates is unlikely to have any discernible effect. I suppose it will prevent such contributions from growing even larger in the future. But if you look at Godfrey's contributors during the 2007 campaign, there were only 9 who gave more than $5000 and none who gave more than $10,000. In virtually all cases, a $10,000 can easily be split into two $5000 contributions either by dividing it between two spouses or by dividing it between a business and the person who owns the business. Unfortunately, the new ordinance puts no special limits on corporate contributions. (Federal election law prohibits corporate contributions, and applies contributions from a partnership toward the limits of the individual partners.)

Still, on balance, I believe this ordinance is a step in the right direction. The limit on contributions to city council candidates is reasonable. The more frequent reporting requirements will give voters much more timely information. And the new reporting requirements for PACs (actually taken from state law) will discourage the use of PACs to conceal the source of contributions. Any one of these three changes would have discouraged or prevented the 2007 FNURE fiasco.

The floor is open for reader discussion.


Only in Godfrey's Ogden said...

The pols get a $500 fine for a campaign "infraction" while a resident who runs lets his grass get too dry is subject to fines up to $500 A DAY.

Dan S. said...

"Only in Godfrey's Ogden" makes an excellent point. To highlight it a little further, let's consider what some serious violations of the campaign finance ordinance might reasonably look like:

* Mayoral candidate has $80,000 in left-over campaign funds and decides to keep this money for personal use.

* Business owner wants to get around the contribution limits so he gives $5000 to each of 10 employees with directions to forward this money to a mayoral candidate.

* City council candidate accepts an illegal $10,000 contribution from a single contributor, and doesn't disclose it until after the election.

All of these things could easily happen in Ogden, and in all cases, the maximum penalty would be a $500 fine.

Yet if you let your grass get too long, the maximum penalty is $500 PER DAY.

Curmidgeon said...

The SE summary article today was a good one, I thought, though it should have had some explanation of what removing the ten day complaint period meant. The policy wonks who frequent WCF will know, but I wonder if that mythical beastie, "the general reader" will know. I doubt it. A fuller description of what the "ten day complaint period" was in the old ordinance would have made it easier for readers to understand the significance of removing it.

Dan S. said...

Curmidgeon (sp?),

The phrase "removing the 10-day complaint process" appears to come from the city council staff, although they may have gotten it from the city attorney himself.

To understand what this phrase means you have to look at the ordinance and then use your critical thinking skills to figure out the implications. Although everyone on the city council is capable of doing this, most of them don't trust themselves to do it so they either ignore the issue or defer to the city attorney for an explanation.

The Standard-Examiner, as a matter of policy, never engages in critical thinking. So the most we could expect of them is to post the ordinance on their web site and let readers figure it out. In this case they won't even do that, because they don't consider the ordinance to be that important.

Candy said...

Boy, Oh Boy, All of these Council people need to realize is that the whole reason we the people elect the office holder is for one thing and one thing only. That is INTEGRITY! If they lie on the campaign form what else will they be lying on?
Come on and get a clue. That is why it should be a misdemeanor. Then when the are caught they are kick to the curb and out of office as it should be.

Curmudgeon said...

The issues you want the SE to take up [ref: the crack about its never, as a matter of policy, engaging in critical thinking] should be taken up on the editorial pages, not in a straight news story summarizing a Council meeting. Again, I thought the article this morning was pretty good --- did what it was intended to do: provide readers with a summary of Council action on the campaign finance ordinance and provide a little background information to put it in context. Largely, for a morning-after-meeting story on deadline, I thought it did that pretty well --- with the exception of the "ten day period" matter, which needed fuller explanation for readers not as wonky as you and I to understand at first reading. But other than that, a good job.

Whether the SE chooses to take up the question of the wisdom of the changes, and of not adopting others instead, as well as the question of the Council's frequent, frustrating and puzzling deference to Authority [the Administration in general and the City Attorney in particular] is another matter. I think, as suspect you do, the SE should address those matters on the editorial page.

What really puzzles me is the Council's believing that it could not change the draft ordinance regarding the ten day reply period without prior approval of the city attorney's office. Nonsense. Particularly since the change would have retained the existing regulation.

I'm too contrarian a person to sit on a city council, I'm afraid, because the moment the Administration or the City Attorney told me, an elected member of the Council --- a representative of the people as much as the Mayor is --- that I could not vote on something without their perusing it first, my immediate reply would be: "Wanna bet?" They could advise me that in their view it would be imprudent for me to vote on the matter without waiting for their review. But no more than that.

Dan S. said...

Here's the language regarding the so-called 10-day complaint process.

The section that's now numbered 1-8-6E will now read as follows:

Violation; Notification To City Attorney: If a personal campaign committee or candidate fails to file or correct a statement within two (2) days after receiving notice under subsection C of this Section, or, if any statement filed discloses a violation of this Chapter, or, if the inspection of records discloses a violation of this Chapter, the city recorder shall notify the city attorney and shall furnish the city attorney copies of all papers and other information in the city recorder's possession relating thereto.

There are no substantive changes to this language. However, the new version of the ordinance stops dead at this point, without saying what the city attorney should then do with the evidence of violation. The old version, on the other hand, continued:

... and the City Attorney, on such complaint or the complaint of any other person, shall enter forthwith the same in a docket kept for that purpose in his or her office and within ten (10) days thereafter shall examine every case. If the evidence is deemed sufficient by the City Attorney, he or she shall institute such civil or criminal proceedings, as may be appropriate.

All of this language has now been removed, so the city attorney is no longer under any obligation to even look at the evidence--much less to do so within any particular time period. This raises the very real possibility of selective enforcement: examining the evidence when the mayor wants it examined, and ignoring the evidence when the mayor wants it ignored. Remember, the city attorney answers to the mayor.

In addition, the previous subsection contained a provision saying that when there's a reasonable question over the accuracy of a disclosure statement, "the City Recorder shall request an examination of all books and records of the committee or person." Now the word "shall" has been changed to "may", so this examination is also discretionary on the part of the city recorder, who also answers to the mayor.

One consequence of these changes is that a lawsuit of the type that Dorothy Littrell brought in 2007 would now be almost guaranteed to fail, no matter how strong the evidence. If the city recorder's and city attorney's duties are discretionary, they can't be successfully sued for neglecting their duties.

Add to this the fact that violations now carry a maximum penalty of only $500, and we're in a position where the "enforcement" of this ordinance rests almost entirely on the media. That is, the main punishment for violations will be public embarrassment, and it's up to the Standard-Examiner, the SLC media, and us bloggers to hold candidates accountable.

Dan S. said...

Curm: I'm not talking about the wisdom of the changes, I'm merely talking about their factual implications. So, for example, the Standard-Examiner news section would never print a sentence like "The revised ordinance gives the city recorder and city attorney more discretion in examining evidence of violations and in responding to complaints." That's a high-level factual summary of what the change accomplishes. A New York Times reporter would have no trouble reading the ordinance and composing such a summary. But it's beyond the scope of any Standard-Examiner reporter's job description.

Curious 1 said...

In the SE article if Envision Ogden which is tax emempt non-profit gave funds for political reasons to FNURE that would be a criminal offense that the IRS should look at, money laundering at its best. If the donors took these non-profit contributions as deductions on their income tax would that not also be fraud?

Follow the money and who authorized the transfer, they should be held accountable for their actions and pay the fines levied by the IRS.

We still don't know who contributed by name or how much.

RudiZink said...

Curious 1 raises an important point, I believe:

"We still don't know who contributed by name or how much."

Under the new ordinance, the council has adopted language "mirroring state law," and providing a definition for the term "political action committee."

So far, so good.

Notwithstanding this effort at arriving at a definition however, the proposed draft document that has been made available so far contains no provision of which I'm aware which would "pierce the veil of anonymity" of any political action committee as PACs are newly-defined, and require disclosure of the names of the principals who compose such political action groups.

Unless new language of which I'm unaware has been inserted into the final ordinance to require such disclosure (by registration, for instance), Ogden's campaign disclosure ordinance remains as toothless under the new revision as it was with the old ordinance.

Defining the term "political action committee" was a good start. My concern however is that the public policy objective of revealing the names of actual contributors to political campaigns is not served, unless the disclosure of PAC members is mandated.

I'll hold off my final judgment on this until such time as the complete text of the new ordinance is made publicly available. For now, however, I have strong concerns that the most important issue involving local PACs has been inadvertantly or intentionally neglected.

I'd love to hear other readers' opinions about this. If I'm missing something here, please chime in and set the record straight.

Dan S. said...

Rudi, PACs that are involved in state-level elections were already required to file disclosure statements, naming their contributors.

Thanks to HB 232 (passed just this year), that requirement now applies to local PACs as well. (See the revised definitions of "Political action committee" and "Political purposes".)

There are still some partial loopholes, and I suspect you can find them. At some point, it becomes a question of how much trouble someone is willing to go to, just to avoid disclosure. Fortunately, that threshold is now much higher than before.

Dorrene, Amy and any council members here said...

Think about what it is like to be a lowly citizen of Ogden the past few years. Utility rates are skyrocketing with no improvements in service. Every year I pay my taxes. Every year my pothole filled street, lined with crumbling sidewalks gets plowed fewer times each winter-while you fight for federal funding(comes from me as well)for a businessman who doesn't pay his property taxes.

A $500 fine for one of these big money campaigns is nothing. If one of us lowly citizens catches the eye of code enforcement the fines-
Day 1-$125
Day 2-$250
Day 3 and on-$500 per day.

This city can be a great place to live, but when people pay out the nose and see the basic city functions neglected they will start looking elsewhere.

Danny said...

Speaking of analytical skills . . .

I'm still at a loss as to why Dan S feels this new law is a step in the right direction.

It seems things are as I said, just as things are almost always as I have said:

The new law is more toothless for well-funded crony candidates. It is also more complex and daunting for citizen candidates to wade through.

Therefore, it favors crony candidates and discourages the better, citizen candidates.

I see this new law, voted in by the city council, as a clean, unambiguous win for Godfrey.

He is a corrupt liar, but he is smart - smarter than most of his opponents, WCF bloggers excluded.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan S.:

The sample sentence you offered --- "The revised ordinance gives the city recorder and city attorney more discretion in examining evidence of violations and in responding to complaints." --- is exactly the kind of fuller explanation I suggested the story needed in re: the ten day reporting exclusion. Where we disagree, Dan, is when you claim that "composing such a summary" is "beyond the scope of any Standard-Examiner reporter's job description." I don't think that's so.

Not to mention that you had the luxury of nearly a day to think about what should go in, what should not, what needs fuller explanation, what doesn't, and how best to phrase the fuller explanations that you think are needed. A reporter working the night shift on a late council meeting does not have quite the luxury of time --- and space --- you and I enjoy here.

The "ten day" deletion needed a brief better explanation so readers would understand what was being done and its significance, and so they would understand it at the first pass. The story didn't include it. Should have. But to jump from that to the argument that including such is "beyond the scope of any Standard-Examiner reporter's job description" --- that writing stories that don't include sufficient explanation of a particular point is a matter of paper policy is quite another matter.

We will leave for another day your touching confidence in the reporting skills and quick incisive grasp of the significance of what they report of NY Times reporters. It may have once been so of the Grey Lady's reporting staff overall, but it hasn't necessarily been for a while now.

Ozboy said...


If what you wrote -

"Although some members of the council expressed a desire to undo this change, most of them seemed to feel that they couldn't do so without the city attorney's permission--and the city attorney didn't give them permission"

is true, it begs the question -

Why have an elected council to begin with if they need permission from the mayor and his cronies to enact any changes in the law?

I'm with Mr. Curmudgeon on this one. If the council had the courage of their convictions and a belief in democracy, they would have told the mayor and his lackey Williams where to put it on this one.

It is really a shame that the Ogden City councils of the last decade have been so toothless as to become lap dogs of the mayor. Ogden would not be in the mess it is if that were not the case.

Dorrene Jeske said...

Dorrene, Amy and any council members here,

You make the point that I was trying to make last night -- when a candidate receives large donations, the fine of $ a drop in the bucket -- the penalty does not address the seriousness of the crime. Also, I tried to have the paragraph concerning the right of citizens 10 days to ask for an investigation or file a complaint of a suspected breach of the campaign finance ordinance, but it was removed, and I was told that there wasn't time to look into it. My point is that it was in the current ordinance. Changes that the Council made last week, took ONE week to research and incorporate into the new ordinance. The excuse that there wasn't time to do all that before candidates file to run for a council seat, does not hold water as there are three weeks before a candidate can file. That same paragraph relieved the city attorney of any responsibiity to investigate a protest by a citizen of a possible infraction of this ordinance. It is a self-serving statement and precludes transparency in our political sampaigns.

Most of the changes did clarify the campaign law, but removed several processes that were good and should have remained in my opinion.

The Council wanted to close loopholes and put in place a good and strong campaing finance law. That was achieved to a certain extent, but not without easing a few checks that the public had.

When the budget process is completed, I hope the Council will reconsider the campaign finance law.

Curmudgeon said...


Yup. Exactly. Claiming making no change in the existing ordinance [regarding the ten day matter] would take so l-o-o-n-g to research that the Council had no choice but to vote immediately or give the whole ordinance up was sophistry at best, rank dishonesty at worst.

Thanks for standing up for those of us who think making the investigation by City officials of complaints about campaign finance illegalities entirely a matter of discretion --- and that seems to be what the Council did last night --- a bad idea. This would be true regardless of who might be Mayor. He and his appointees should not have it wholly in their discretion to decide which allegations involving election cheating to have investigated and which to ignore. I wouldn't trust a city administration that powerful if Moses was running it --- much less a failing Republican mayor with a penchant for secrecy, and a thin grasp of what ethical conduct requires of a public man --- hypothetically speaking, of course.

Nils Bejerot said...

A thankless job to start with and battered so many times the Council is starting to exhibit extreme symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.

May God bless the good one's.

Dan S. said...

Danny: I gave a couple of reasons why the law is a step in the right direction (contribution limits; more timely reporting), and there are others (full addresses of contributors now required; disclosures required on advertisements; etc.).

Whether these improvements offset the weaker enforcement provisions is a matter of opinion, I suppose. But consider this: Gary Williams refused to enforce the ordinance last time around, so how much worse could the enforcement situation get?

Curm: The Standard-Examiner had a full week to figure out how to explain the removal of the "10-day complaint process".

My conclusion that doing so would be beyond Mr. Schwebke's job description is based not on this one article but on years of experience and hundreds of articles, not just by Mr. Schwebke but by other reporters as well. And on a few things the editors have said from time to time.

paul said...

Ah cummon Dan, just because the Standard is a lame embarrassment doesn't mean you have to tell every one. The advertising circular and coupon business is tough these days what with the recession and all.

Bill C. said...

Jeez, Blain Johnson came up with such articulate verbage describing the purpose and nature of this new ordinance. Gary Williams hurridly ran upstairs to print it into the first paragraph (preamble) so it could be publicly read outloud during the Council meeting. Funny thing that after that verbage, the rest of the document does not in fact match up. The ommissions speak louder than what's written.
While introducing his written purpose to the others, he said something about how good it was to have this included in the new ordinance, intent and such, yet not codify it.
After the last couple of elections, it seems any weakening of the ordinance is insanity. Ogden needs the strickest campain and election laws ever, to quote Jessie, they can always come back and revisit them.(after this corrupt administration is outta here)
One final thought for all to ponder, why does the contribution limit from an individual to a candidate for the mayor of Ogden have to be more than double the amount that one can contribute to a candidate running for the President of the United States? A lttle outta whack?

Da answer man said...


A. Big no bid contracts require big donations.

Carol said...


You apparently don't read the Standard or don't pay that much attention when you do, otherwise you would not make such a statement. The subject at hand in this discussion, the ten day complaint process, is a perfect example in and of itself.

Dan S. said...


If you can't even be bothered to make up a name for yourself, I don't see why I should take time to provide you with detailed examples. But a few that come to mind are:

* The way it took several months for a group of us to convince Scott Schwebke that the Peterson Project, as proposed in 2006, would require selling not just the golf course but also a substantial amount (60 acres) of undeveloped city-owned open space. Anyone could see this from looking at the city's map, but Mr. Schwebke wouldn't acknowledge it until we hit him over the head with it and he finally got the mayor to admit it directly (more or less).

* Similarly, during those days the Standard-Examiner printed an article about how the city attorney wrote a "cease and desist" letter to Smart Growth Ogden about a flier showing a map that was attributed to the city. The city claimed that the map had been altered, while SGO claimed that the alterations were immaterial (colors and line weights). The Standard-Examiner never tried to ascertain the facts--it just printed he-said-she-said quotes.

* In the fall of 2006 the city administration brought a proposed "mixed use" zoning ordinance to the Planning Commission for consideration. The Sierra Club filed a GRAMA request for related documents and these documents clearly showed that the ordinance had been drafted by Chris Peterson's attorney. The S-E didn't even look at the documents; they just printed a he-said-she-said article as if the question of who drafted the ordinance was a matter of opinion.

* Jumping forward in time, the Standard-Examiner did a big front-page article, shortly before the November 2007 election, on the competing claims about crime statistics in the two mayoral candidates' campaign materials. The article made no attempt to ascertain, let alone summarize, the facts. It was just he-said-she-said, plus an out-of-context quote from my colleague Rob Reynolds about how, in general, two people could look at the same data and reach different conclusions. (They didn't even ask Reynolds to look at the crime statistics data, yet they presented his quote as if he had.) The S-E's other recent articles on crime statistics have been equally bad, based on press releases and presenting raw data with little context and no attempt by the reporters to actually understand any of it.

* There were quite a few other competing factual claims during the 2007 campaign that the S-E could have checked but didn't: property taxes, responsibility for RDA debt, etc.

* Also in 2007, the S-E printed an article about the proposed sales tax increase for transportation. In the article they made a math error, misstating the size of the tax by a factor of 10. After I pointed out the error, the editor basically stated (in one of those Saturday columns) that from then on the S-E reporters wouldn't even try to do math--they would just report numbers that were given to them by others.

* In its coverage of campaign finance disclosure statements in 2007, the S-E never pointed out the obvious fact that nearly all of Godfrey's major contributions were from people and companies who were doing business with the city. And the S-E completely missed the fact that two city council candidates received the large majority of their funds from an entity that nobody had ever heard of before.

* In its coverage of the currently proposed water tanks on Ogden's east bench, the S-E has relied entirely on verbal quotes from city officials, stubbornly refusing to report the obvious conclusion from the data in the engineering consultants' report: that one of the tanks isn't needed to serve any existing customers.

I could go on and on, but it's getting late. The common theme here is that there are facts that any intelligent and articulate person can readily assimilate and summarize. Nevertheless, the S-E reporters make no attempt to do so; instead they just print quotes (and sometimes raw data).

Curmudgeon said...

Dan's summary is a good illustration of the main fault of SE reporting in general: it's refusal to fact check statements given it, particularly statements by elected officials or their appointees. This has been a consistent failing of the SE since I've been reading it.

I'd disagree with Dan's list only regarding the water tank matter. That it is not needed is a conclusion Dan [and many others] draw from the available information. It's not "verifiable fact" in the same sense as the other items in his list. I think he's right about the water tower matter, but it's a conclusion he draws.

Finally, the matter that triggered this whole discussion doesn't seem directly related to Dan's list either. It was that the SE ought to have included a slightly fuller description of what the "ten day period" matter involved in its summary of Tuesday's Council meeting. Dan thought it's not having done so was a matter of deliberate editorial policy. I didn't and don't. The examples Dan gives above [one excepted] are powerful examples of the SE's painful failure to fact check statements by people in positions of authority and public trust, not illustrations of omitting a slightly fuller explanation of particular term in a story. The former are substantive failures driven by editorial policy. The later is a simple omission on in otherwise decent story.

Curmudgeon said...

An edited version of this comment has been moved to today's new article comment section

monotreme said...


Re the water tank story. In the long list of needed improvements to the water system, where is the statement that two additional tanks on 36th are needed?

The report doesn't say we shouldn't be sending rockets full of water to the moon, either. Yet we can infer that from its omission in a long list of things that are critically needed, can't we?

Curmudgeon said...


I'm not disagreeing with the conclusion Dan, and you, and many others, draw in re: the moved water tank. But it's wisdom depends on predictions about future development on the east bench around 36th Street that are, as predictions, not fact. And so conclusions about the wisdom of building the tank there, now, are as well conclusions. Other people making other assumptions [predictions] about the pace of development in the area might draw different ones. So, again, what's involved in not verifiable fact in the same sense as the other items in Dan's list.

My objection to the moved water tank doesn't depend at all on whether it's a good idea to build it there, now, or not. My objection is this: the City Council was careful to draw a lot of public input before deciding on its final Water Horizon's plan. It held public meetings. It hired a consultant who put a lot of effort into gathering public input and into keeping the public informed, every step of the way, about what the Council was doing in re: the expensive Water Horizons plan to upgrade water and sewer systems it was planning. The Council stressed on numerous occasions how important it was that the public be consulted, that it be kept in formed, that people knew, every step of the way, what was being done and why, and exactly how and on what the public's money would be spent. It was open government in action, and it produced a plan the Council presented to the public to justify the cost and increase in water rates that would accompany it.

And then, by fiat, the Mayor's office changed the plan by moving the tank. Without so much as a by your leave. And shifted money from an approved project under the new water plan to an unapproved one. Given that, I really don't give a damn if moving the tank makes long term sense or not. It was done by fiat, and so betrayed the entire Water Horizons process, and the Council, and the public which thought it knew what it was approving, but in the end --- because of the Mayor's actions --- did not. Even Hizzonah's normally docile and compliant City attorney thought this so brazen a violation of the Mayor's legitimate authority that he ruled the change must go through the Planning Commission and Council to be authorized [since it was so substantive and substantial a change from what had been previously, and legitimately, authorized by the Council.]

That's what has me frosted, Mono --- the Mayor's belief that he could, by fiat, spit in the public's eye and the Council's eye and alter the plan that had been so meticulously, carefully and publicly shepherded to approval.

monotreme said...


Then we are in agreement. But I think what Dan was saying (and certainly what I am saying) is that stories regarding the water tanks should have made the same point you just made.

Here's the sentence. S-E reporters, feel free to cut and paste.

In building the water tanks, Mayor Godfrey and his staff ignored the recommendations from the Water Horizons process initiated by City Council.

Dan S. said...


Regarding the water tanks, my main point was that no reporter has even attempted to look at the engineering study and summarize, in a news article, what the study says. The study says that for the higher-elevation zones, the tank capacity needed to serve existing development is 1,857,300 gallons. The capacity of the existing tanks above 46th Street, which serve these zones, is 2 million gallons. I don't think it's a mere matter of opinion that 2 million is greater than 1,857,300, and hence that no new tank is needed to serve existing customers in these zones.

The similarity of this example, and the others, to yesterday's article on the campaign finance ordinance is the following: In each case the reporter neglected to consult the authoritative document or data, use a bit of intellect to process the information, and report the facts as facts. Call it laziness if you like. The S-E editors obviously tolerate this practice as a matter of policy, and in some cases they even seem to encourage it, on the grounds that they don't think their reporters are smart enough to do any different.

democrat said...

The reason why democrats want more laws is because of republicans like Godfrey and Greiner... that are way too unethical!!!

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