Francisco Kjolseth
FILE - Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow appears at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City on Monday, July, 27, 2015.

SALT LAKE CITY — Government lawyers have asked a judge not to dismiss the Federal Election Commission complaint against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

The government says in a new court filing that it has a "more-than-plausible" case that Swallow violated the FEC's ban on making campaign contributions in the name of another person.

Swallow was a campaign fundraiser who recruited wealthy Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson to contribute more than 20 times the federal $2,400 limit to a U.S. Senate candidate, according to court documents in U.S. District Court.

Swallow convinced Johnson that he might receive political favors in exchange for his money, instructed Johnson on how to illegally use straw donors to evade the FEC’s contribution limits, and then helped complete some of those illicit contributions, the government contends.

The FEC alleges that now-imprisoned Johnson used "straw" donors to give $100,000 to former GOP Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's short-lived Senate campaign, $50,000 to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and $20,000 to now-retired Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Swallow's new lawyers from the Virginia-based Institute for Free Speech, including a former FEC chairman, want Judge Dee Benson to dismiss the complaint.

Swallow broke no law, and the regulation cited in the complaint is illegal and violates the First Amendment, according to his lawyers.

Congress never created secondary liability — the practice of holding one party legally responsible for helping another — for the type of campaign finance violation Swallow is alleged to have committed, they say.

Not only is the FEC going after Swallow for something he did not do, it is pursuing him for violating a law that does not exist, his lawyer argued.

Government attorneys say the regulation that the FEC has enforced since 1989 is constitutional. They argue it promotes the long-recognized government interest in disclosure of the true sources and amounts of campaign contributions and preventing circumvention of federal contribution limits.

The FEC case is based largely on statements Johnson made to federal and state agents during a criminal investigation of Swallow in 2013 under a grant of immunity.

5 comments on this story

Johnson was to be a key prosecution witness in the public corruption case against Swallow and was found in contempt of court when he refused to testify earlier this year. A 3rd District jury acquitted Swallow of all charges after a four-week trial.

Because the FEC case is a civil action, there's no threat of prison time, but Swallow and Johnson could be fined thousands of dollars if found guilty.

Johnson is serving an 11-year federal prison sentence for making false statements to a bank in connection with his defunct internet marketing company.