Donations, actions raise more questions about Swallow's judgment

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 9:45 p.m. MST

"I just never, ever saw an ounce of poor judgment on his part in that setting," said Pelo, who founded companies such as Ancestry.com and Nextpage and who has produced several movies and the annual Stadium of Fire celebration.

Swallow took a break from politics after the second loss to Matheson. He worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for the payday loan firm Check City and did legal work for a dietary supplement company — industries that were among his predecessor's most prolific campaign donors.

Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff brought Swallow on as lead fundraiser for his 2008 re-election campaign. He then named Swallow chief deputy attorney general for civil cases in October 2009. After Shurtleff decided to not seek a fourth term, Swallow ran and won the office last November.

'Curious' contribution

Swallow's financial disclosure reports from his 2012 campaign — in which he raised nearly $1.3 million — show contributions that could create ethical dilemmas as the state's chief law enforcer.

Swallow received $5,000 from a company called Mutual Benefits International Group based in Mesquite, Nev. According to the report, the donation came in on Nov. 27, 2012 — three weeks after Swallow was elected attorney general.

Hank Brock, a former St. George financial adviser, is listed as the firm's CEO. Brock once served on the Utah Thrift Panel established by the Legislature in 1989 to arbitrate claims against failed thrift institutions.

Brock and former business partner Jay Rice sued Utah for $357 million in December 2009. They claim the Utah Division of Securities engaged in extortion, bribery and witness tampering while investigating them from 2000 to 2005. The lawsuit lists Shurtleff among the defendants.

The suit came after the state securities division revoked their securities licenses. Brock settled with the division in 2006, but his license was not reinstated.

A federal judge in Salt Lake City dismissed Brock's lawsuit in July 2010, but the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals kicked it back a year later, saying some aspects of the case should be reconsidered. It was again dismissed last March, but Brock and Rice filed an objection to the decision. The court didn't act on that filing.

The Swallow campaign sees no problem with the contribution because the court lists the case as closed.

Swallow campaign strategist Jason Powers said in an email that "in adhering to the highest ethical standards, it is the policy of the campaign to not accept contributions from any individual or company currently in litigation with the state."

Brock said he has never talked to Swallow or his campaign. He said he considers himself a constitutionalist and made the donation because he sees Swallow as a defender of the Constitution.

As for the lawsuit, Brock said he and his attorney have talked about it in the past few weeks and he understands he has a year from the March 26, 2012, dismissal date to refile the case. Asked if he intended to do that, Brock said, "Regarding that question, I better answer no comment."

Should that happen, it would put Swallow in the position of having to defend the state against a lawsuit filed by someone who contributed to his campaign.

"I think it's dang curious," said Utah Department of Commerce Executive Director Francine Giani, when asked about the potential conflict. She oversees the securities and consumer protection divisions.

Ethical box

Kirk Jowers, who heads the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said some political contributions can be problematic for the attorney general.

Individuals and companies most likely to donate are those concerned with investigations from the state's top law enforcement office or other consumer protection and business regulators, he said.

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