Like many people in this state, I have closely followed the media coverage of the allegations surrounding newly elected Utah Attorney General John Swallow. I have been deeply disturbed by what has been uncovered. Here is what we know so far.
John Swallow was selected by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to serve as chief deputy attorney general in 2009. Swallow and Shurtleff raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from companies with dubious consumer protection records and multiple Utah Department of Commerce complaints. One such donor was Jeremy Johnson from St. George-based iWorks.
In 2010, Johnson contacted Swallow and asked him for help fending off a yet-to-be-filed Federal Trade Commission lawsuit against iWorks. Swallow agreed to help Johnson find a lobbyist to try to resolve the situation and suggested a $600,000 lobbying retainer. Swallow then coached Johnson via email on how to characterize his business in preparation for potential meetings with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Johnson paid $250,000 to Richard Rawle, a close associate of Swallow, to lobby on iWorks' behalf. Rawle then used a portion of those funds to pay Swallow, through Swallow's firm P-Solutions. According to Swallow, the payment he received from Rawle was for an unrelated political consulting contract in Nevada.
In December of 2010, the FTC sued Johnson and iWorks, resulting in criminal charges filed in 2011. In January 2012, Swallow announced his intention to run for attorney general. Two months later, the same day Swallow filed his financial disclosures in the attorney general's race, he transferred his ownership in P-Solutions to his wife. Swallow did not disclose his interests in P-Solutions in his campaign filings, nor did he disclose his wife's interests.
During his campaign, Swallow continued to solicit campaign contributions from businesses in hot water with Utah's Department of Commerce. In the spring of 2012, Swallow had a conversation with an owner of a telemarketing company with issues in front of the Utah Department of Commerce. Swallow assured the owner that once he became attorney general he would move oversight for the Department of Commerce from under the governor's authority to the AG's office. The owner of the telemarketing company recorded that conversation and City Weekly reported the incident on May 31, 2012.
In the spring of 2012, Johnson began demanding that Swallow repay the $250,000 he paid to lobby against the FTC suit. Johnson and Swallow met at an Orem donut shop in April of 2012 where they discussed the repayment of the lobbying payment and the political implications if the public became aware of the arrangement. Johnson recorded the conversation. During the conversation, Swallow said: "Let's assume that you paid me to put the deal together … What's wrong with that?"
The Salt Lake Tribune broke this story on Jan. 11, 2012. Since then, Swallow has stated publicly that he has broken no laws. Shurtleff, who has had multiple dealings with Johnson, including trips on Johnson's private jet and rides in Johnson's Lamborghini, has stated publicly that Swallow has not broken the laws as Shurtleff "chose to enforce them in [his] administration." I anticipate that more information about Swallow's behavior will come forward over the days and weeks to come.
It is not my call to determine if Swallow broke the law. I will leave that to the federal prosecutors and the legal system to determine. But I do know this: just because something might be technically legal does not make it ethical. I think Utah's top law enforcement official should be held to the highest of ethical standards. What do you think?
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.
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