SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General John Swallow wants a petition alleging he violated state election laws dismissed, saying it's politically motivated and without merit.
The lieutenant governor's office Friday released Swallow's response to the complaint filed last month by the Alliance for a Better Utah.
The group claims Swallow filed misleading or false campaign declaration and disclosure forms regarding his personal business interests; conducted campaign activities from his state office during and after business hours; and put campaign funds to personal use. The group wants Swallow removed from office.
In the nine-page response, lawyers for Swallow argue that his disclosure forms were filed in good faith and were true and accurate to the best of his understanding.
Attorneys Rodney Snow and Jennifer James also say the petition errs on two of its 12 counts because it refers to two people named John Swallow who are not the attorney general — "an error which was easily discoverable by a simple Google search."
Snow and James contend the complaint lacks sufficient merit to be worthy of serious consideration and needs no further investigation.
"It appears the petition may have been media and politically motivated," they wrote.
Deputy lieutenant governor and state elections director Mark Thomas said his office would take at least a couple of weeks to review the response to determine whether to appoint special counsel to conduct a formal investigation.
Thomas said the office has discussed hiring an outside attorney to assist in making that determination but hasn't made a decision to do that. The lieutenant governor's office usually turns to the attorney general's office for legal advice but that would be a conflict of interest in this case, he said.
Maryann Martindale, Alliance for a Better Utah executive director, said hiring outside attorneys would be a waste of taxpayers' money. She called on the lieutenant governor to appoint special counsel as state law provides with expertise in election law to investigate whether Swallow did anything wrong.
"Such a step is the only way to assure the citizens of Utah that Mr. Swallow’s actions, and Utah’s election laws, are being fully and properly investigated to either clear Mr. Swallow or to find that he has violated state election law," she said.
The complaint came as the FBI investigates Swallow's relationship with indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson. Investigators also are looking into allegations that Swallow, a Republican, made campaign promises in exchange for donations.
Swallow also has come under fire over outside consulting work he did while serving as chief deputy attorney general.
The petition claims Swallow failed to disclose his interest in seven business entities and income from three, including RMR Consulting.
The late Richard M. Rawle set up the firm after Swallow introduced him to Johnson as someone who could help lobby the Federal Trade Commission on Johnson's behalf. The FTC was investigating Johnson's Internet marketing company in 2010.
Johnson claims Swallow helped arrange a deal to pay off a U.S. senator to thwart the investigation. Johnson and an associate paid Rawle $250,000.
In an affidavit before he died, Rawle said he paid lobbyists with a portion of the money and took $50,000 for his fee, part of which he used to pay "miscellaneous" expenses. One of those bills was from P Solutions for consulting on a cement project Rawle had in Nevada.
P Solutions later returned the check, which came from the RMR account, and asked that it come from another account. Rawle then paid P Solutions $23,500 from another account, according to the affidavit.
Swallow's estate planning attorney, Lee McCullough III, formed P Solutions as a subsidiary of a blind family trust and limited liability company, SSV Management, he had set up for Swallow's family, according to Swallow response to the complaint.
"At no time did Mr. Swallow receive any income, distributions or payment for services from P Solutions, nor was Mr. Swallow compensated directly by Mr. Rawle for consulting work," according to the response. All disbursements from P Solutions were made to Swallow's wife, Suzanne.
According to the response, Swallow never had any ownership interest in P Solutions, but had served as a manager. McCullough advised him that if he resigned as an unpaid manager before the campaign filing deadline, he would not have to disclose P Solutions on his forms, which is what Swallow did.