SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has rejected former Utah Attorney General John Swallow's claim for attorney fees in the now-dismissed Federal Election Commission complaint against him.
Saying it was a "close call," U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled that Swallow isn't entitled to $91,921 in fees, even though he succeeded in getting the FEC complaint against him thrown out.
The FEC alleged that Swallow solicited large contributions from businessman Jeremy Johnson for political campaigns, and showed him how to circumvent federal laws on contribution limits. Swallow was not accused of making donations himself but helping Johnson do so.
Johnson, who is in federal prison in an unrelated criminal case, used "straw" donors to make political contributions, according to the complaint
Benson found the regulation the FEC attempted to use against Swallow in the case had no basis in the law and barred the agency from enforcing it. The rule, he said, could not be used to bring a civil action against an alleged "helper or assister" such as Swallow.1 comment on this story
Still, in denying Swallow attorney costs, the judge wrote that the FEC did not file the complaint against him in bad faith.
"Under all of the circumstances, the FEC has met its burden of showing its case was substantially justified," Benson wrote. "In so finding, the court does not intend to suggest that the FEC’s regulation and its efforts to defend it, had any merit whatsoever."
Swallow has a claim pending in an unrelated criminal case in state court for $1.5 million in attorney fees after a jury acquitted him of public corruption charges in 2017.