In our opinion: An ethical loophole

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Attorney General John Swallow

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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While Attorney General John Swallow struggles with growing concerns about his relationship with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, the Utah electorate has discovered that there are significant differences between what is legal and what is ethical. Fortunately, state Sen. Todd Weiler has taken a welcome and necessary step to close the gap between the two.

Weiler's bill, SB83, would close a loophole that currently allows management-level employees to conduct outside consulting work while employed by the state, even though career state employees are not currently permitted to do the same.

While working as deputy attorney general under Mark Shurtleff, Swallow received $23,500 from businessman Richard Rawle for a cement project in Nevada. This was around the same time Swallow also introduced Rawle, who passed away last year, to Jeremy Johnson in an attempt to help Johnson deal with his troubles with federal authorities.

While all this is legal under current law, Weiler and many others believe it is inappropriate for a political appointee in a position of trust in the state to engage in outside work, even if that work is primarily concerned with an out-of-state project.

When he decided to run for attorney general, Swallow removed himself as manager of the consulting firm that had helped Rawle. In a statement on Jan. 18, he said his work for Rawle had complied "comfortably" with the policies in the attorney general's office for outside work. Then, on disclosure forms, he did not list the consulting work.

Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff agreed the outside consulting work didn't violate office policy during his administration, but said it wasn't a good idea.

Where public trust is concerned, appearances matter. Swallow should have disclosed the cement project fees to voters. That is particularly evident now that some have attempted to connect the dots between it and Swallow's decision to introduce Johnson to Rawle.

Rawle later received $250,000 from Johnson as part of a proposed $600,000 effort to influence a federal investigation. In an affidavit signed in December, Rawle said he never agreed to pay Swallow anything for introducing him to Johnson. Swallow may indeed have had nothing to do with what happened after he introduced the two. A clearer legal boundary, however, would likely have prevented him from doing the consulting work and creating what look like suspicious circumstances in the first place.

That's the kind of boundary that Weiler's legislation provides.

"What Swallow was doing would have been prohibited for rank-and-file members of the A.G.'s office, but because he was a political appointee, he was not held to the same rules as the other attorneys in that office," Weiler told the Deseret News. "That's a loophole that should be closed."

He's exactly right.

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