Within a few days expect the chair of the special John Swallow investigative committee to open at least two bill files that, at some point, will be filled with the committee’s recommended changes to Utah campaign and election law aimed at stopping the abuses Swallow is alleged of committing over the last few years.
Swallow, a Republican, resigned as attorney general in November – serving less than a year in office.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, told Utah Policy Monday morning, as he stood on the House Chamber floor preparing for the first day of the 2014 Legislature, “our (investigative) work is done.”
The ultimate cost is not in, but it will be more than $3.5 million.
Several GOP and Democratic House members had encouraged Dunnigan and House GOP leaders to continue the committee’s work, saying the depth of Swallow’s misdeeds may not have been reached.
Now that won’t happen.
“All that is left is to prepare our final report. I believe our committee will have at least one bill (on election/campaign reform), maybe two,” said Dunnigan, who took over the helm of the bipartisan committee last summer when House Speaker Becky Lockhart’s first choice had to recuse himself because his law firm had some connections to a man who became one of Swallow’s main accusers.
The odd timing of the committee’s final report – set in a resolution authorizing the committee last summer – makes it basically impossible for Dunnigan to wait until the final report is given to the House before he and his committee act on bill drafting.
Here is the issue:
-- It will take “about two weeks” for the committee’s lawyers, both the private attorneys hired by the House and the Legislature’s staff lawyers, to write up a draft.
-- Then the authorizing resolution says the draft “must percolate” for 21 days. That is, the committee can’t adopt a final report for three weeks after the draft is submitted.
Dunnigan said he can’t really remember the reason for that waiting period, but it is what it is.
Five weeks from Monday puts the 45-day Legislature near its end, standing committees (which hear bills) winding down and the budgets (in case the changes take any money) being set.
“It’s going to be tight,” said Dunnigan.
Dunnigan said he’ll call the committee together within two weeks to accept the draft and get the 21-day clock ticking.
Since a week from Thursday is the last day to introduce bills (without a super-majority vote of the body), Dunnigan says he will open so-called “boxcar” bills – bills that have a title, but no text.
The recommended changes already made by the Lieutenant Governor’s Election Office (which decided in its own outside investigation that Swallow violated at least five campaign/election laws and was prepared to take Swallow to court to force him from office) will be wrapped into insights from Dunnigan’s outside counsel and investigators.
Legislative staffers, lead by chief counsel John Fellows, will have some suggestions of their own.
“All three groups will have input” into the final recommendations, Dunnigan told UtahPolicy.
Text will be put into Dunnigan’s boxcars and he and others will then run the bills.
Already, more than a dozen bills have been pre-filed that deal in some way with campaign and election reform – most sparked by Swallow, but others reruns of bills that have failed in the Legislature before.
At least two bills would place campaign donation limits on state races: Legislature, governor, AG, treasurer and auditor.
Utah is one of the few states that have no campaign contribution limits at all, anyone, businesses included, can give as much as they want to any candidate.
But that still didn’t stop Swallow and his campaign consultant, Jason Powers, from setting up a 501(c)4 committee that raised money from unknown sources (many from the payday-loan industry, Dunnigan’s committee found).
Powers and Swallow illegally funneled cash into campaigns against Swallow’s GOP primary opponent, Sean Reyes (now ironically the appointed AG).
In addition, Powers went after former Rep. Brad Daw (who ran a payday loan bill the industry didn’t like) and so defeated him.
Some bills may go after those workings.
But Dunnigan warned that it would be wrong to make major campaign/election changes aimed at the actions of just one man.
Rather, Dunnigan said, wise moderating actions should be taken, if lawmakers believe they would be good policy for all in the future.