Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks in his office Jan. 14, 2013 about allegations against him. The Utah House Special Investigative Committee says newly discovered emails confirm its findings that former Attorney General John Swallow engaged in a host of improper dealings during his 2012 election campaign.
We found lots of bad stuff. I think our intent is to make sure that doesn’t happen again. —Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House Special Investigative Committee says newly discovered emails confirm its findings that former Attorney General John Swallow engaged in a host of improper dealings during his 2012 election campaign.

Computer forensics experts recovered 99 percent of the information on the hard drive of Swallow's personal computer that he said crashed last year and that his lawyer claimed was unrecoverable, Chairman Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said Wednesday.

Among the data were 1,300 emails that Dunnigan said "corroborate" investigators' conclusions about Swallow's conduct presented in a two-day hearing last December. Swallow resigned about two weeks before the hearing.

Investigators say Swallow's campaign devised a strategy to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the payday loan industry and that he destroyed data and created documents to hide wrongdoing. He also had pay-for-play relationships that he used to benefit personally, professionally and politically, according to investigators.

Rod Snow, Swallow's attorney, said Swallow voluntarily gave the hard drive to investigators and was anxious to recover the data because it would prove his innocence.

"He could have trashed it. He did not," Snow said in an email Wednesday. "None of these documents come even close to supporting the view that John was involved in nefarious deeds. Those arguments are simply a legislative fairy tale."

Dunnigan revealed the existence of the emails in a committee meeting held to discuss campaign finance reform legislation in the wake of the Swallow scandal.

One of the proposed bills would make it a third-degree felony to tamper with evidence or alter government records sought in a legislative audit or investigation. It would include those offenses in the state law defining "pattern of unlawful activity."

House investigators allege Swallow deliberately deleted computer files and fabricated documents to hinder their inquiry. Data disappeared from every electronic device Swallow owned since 2009, investigators say.

Dunnigan said the state has now spent $3.8 million on the investigation, and estimated $1 million of that went to recovering missing data. He also said committee members received a draft written report of the investigation for review. It will be made public in 21 days.

"We have learned a lot," he said. "While I wish it would not have cost that much, this has been a very complicated investigation."

The nine committee members — five Republicans, four Democrats — are now wrestling with how to create and clarify campaign finance laws that address their findings.

"We found lots of bad stuff," said Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. "I think our intent is to make sure that doesn’t happen again."

Dunnigan said it's a balancing act to dissuade those who would game the system and provide a reasonable way for people to comply with the laws.

But he told reporters after the meeting that the end result won't be a "toothless tiger."

"It's just a matter of how many teeth we're going to put in the tiger. We are definitely going to put some teeth in that tiger. What we don't want the tiger to do is bite someone who shouldn't be bitten," Dunnigan said.

The committee expects to propose four bills for the Legislature to consider this session. The committee discussed draft versions of two of them, and the other two are still being written.

Lawmakers, however, will be on tight schedule. The legislation can't be introduced until the committee formally adopts the investigative report in three weeks, leaving about a week before the session ends.

One bill expands the information candidates and officeholders would have to disclose on financial reports, including a spouse's income.

The lieutenant governor's office, which oversees state elections, found sufficient evidence last fall that Swallow violated financial disclosure and conflict of interest laws in his 2012 campaign, including failing to report $58,000 in personal income from four entities. Swallow transferred his interests in two entities to his wife just as he filed to run for office.

Including a spouse's income on finance reports didn't sit well with Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, who said his wife wasn't the one elected.

"That's a root canal. That one really hurts. It bothers me," he said.

Committee members also grappled with lowering the personal income reporting threshold from the current $5,000.

"No matter what the dollar amount is, people are going to find a way around it," Hemingway said.

The bill also would make it a class B misdemeanor to knowingly or intentionally violate campaign finance reporting laws.

Dunnigan reminded committee members that bills are drafts.

"Feel free to work on this and make changes," he said.

While legislators contemplate election law changes, Swallow continues to be the subject of a joint Salt Lake and Davis county criminal investigation. Swallow has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Also Wednesday, the House approved a bill spawned by the Swallow investigation.

SB11 clarifies how election law complaints against the attorney general are handled. Rather than being referred to the attorney general's office, as was the case under previous law, the lieutenant governor's office would appoint a special investigator. The Senate had passed the bill earlier.

Twitter: dennisromboy