Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly half of Utah voters who believe that recent allegations against Attorney General John Swallow indicate he did something illegal or unethical say he should resign, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The Brigham Young University Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy questioned 500 registered voters Jan. 22-25, and about two-thirds of respondents had heard of the scandal involving Swallow. Key Research Solutions, a Provo polling firm, conducted the survey.
Of those who were aware of the scandal, 17 percent said Swallow did something illegal and 41 percent say he did something unethical but not illegal, the polls shows. Only 14 percent of that group believes he didn't do anything unethical and 28 percent were unsure about the ethics or legality.
Among those who say the Republican attorney general acted illegally or unethically, 49 percent felt he should resign. Another 34 percent said he should remain in office, while 18 percent were unsure.
Very few Republicans or Democrats are willing to say that Swallow did nothing unethical, according to the poll. While some voters haven’t quite made up their minds yet, most voters regardless of party don’t like what they’re hearing so far, according to the democracy center.
"I think right now John Swallow finds himself in a situation, at least in terms of public opinion, where neither party is willing to really be a strong defender of him in this current situation," said Chris Karpowitz, BYU political science professor and assistant director of the democracy center.
Lacking party support would make it difficult for Swallow to remain in office, Karpowitz said, adding the results of the current U.S. Attorney's Office investigation would provide additional evidence that could affect opinions.
Swallow said last week he has no plans to resign.
Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson claims Swallow helped broker a deal to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as part of plan to derail a federal investigation into Johnson's Internet marketing company.
Swallow has vehemently denied the accusation, saying he only introduced Johnson to a friend with connections to federal lobbyists who might be able to help him but that it wouldn't be cheap.
The Federal Trade Commission shut down iWorks two years ago and seized Johnson's millions of dollars in assets. Johnson also faces federal fraud charges related to his business.
Democrats more readily accused Swallow of wrongdoing, while Republicans were more hesitant in the poll.
About 29 percent of Democrats say Swallow did something illegal, while only 13 percent of Republicans agree. But both Democrats (47 percent) and Republicans (40 percent) agree he did something unethical, according to the poll.
“I thought we were innocent until proven guilty,” said Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. As a public figure, Swallow must address allegations, but “we can’t cry out guilty based on allegations.”
The bottom line, he said, “There's an investigation called for. He called for it himself. We need to find out what the truth is. Let's see what it finds out.”
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis also is taking a wait-and-see attitude, saying everyone deserves their day in court.
"Unlike others who are calling for resignation, Utah Democrats just want a thorough, complete, bipartisan investigation," he said. "Despite the opportunity to create some political points here, we believe in the system and we will look forward to seeing what the federal investigation shows."
Dabakis said that if it shows ethical breaches, the Utah Legislature should seriously consider ethics reform, such as campaign contribution limits.
Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright last week said Swallow made "mistakes" and that lawmakers should "get serious" about ethics reform for the state's top executive offices.
The Salt Lake Tribune, Provo Daily Herald and the Spectrum in St. George have called for Swallow's resignation.
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