Legislation to Address Swallow Abuses Coming

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

The first four bill files have been opened to deal with the John Swallow scandal by the chair of the House’s special investigation committee.

 

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, has opened the following bill files. There is no text yet to the quartet, only a short title:

-- Amendments to Campaign Finance.

-- Special Investigation of Campaign Finance Issues.

-- Pattern of Unlawful Activities Amendments.

-- Legislative Powers Amendments.

For those who have followed the Swallow saga carefully, just by the titles you can see where Dunnigan is going with his bills.

In an interview Monday morning with Utah Policy, Dunnigan said all four deal with the Lieutenant Governor’s Election Office special investigation; his House committee’s special investigators suggestions; and suggestions made by the Legislature’s attorneys who helped staff the House investigation.

After the Lt. Gov.’s special investigator attorneys issued their report in late November, Swallow resigned.

Swallow could see the writing on the wall. If he didn’t go, the Lt. Gov.’s attorneys would have taken the five violations of campaign reporting laws they believed him guilty of to state court.

If a judge had found Swallow guilty, the judge could have voided the 2012 Attorney General’s election, and Swallow would have been out of office.

While Swallow told the state Elections Office, the House Committee and others investigating him that he would cooperate, in fact he did not – extending the investigations and costing state taxpayers probably millions of dollars.

“There was a lot of parsing of words” by Swallow and his personal attorneys as they battled against the various investigations, said Dunnigan.

That frustrated lawmakers and the investigators.

At one point, Swallow told Lt. Gov. investigators that he “verbally” assigned some business responsibilities from one entity to another. But Swallow controlled both entities.

So Swallow, an attorney himself, basically talked to himself to change the legal location of his business interests.

It is that kind of nutty legal arguments and diversions that Dunnigan wants to “clarify in state law.”

Another bill, said Dunnigan, will make it clear that a candidate has to report money he pays his wife or child in relation to his business dealings and campaign finance reporting.

The night before his filed for Attorney General in the spring of 2012, Swallow placed his consulting firm, P-Solutions, under his wife’s name – and didn’t report around $23,000 that he was paid by pay-day lender.

Swallow and his campaign consultant, Jason Powers, went to great length (and some would say illegal length) to keep Swallow away from any pay-day lender money.

Swallow’s official campaign reporting shows no money from pay-day lenders, when in fact investigators say ultimately $450,000 from pay-day lenders went into campaigning for Swallow, or campaigning against his opponents.

And another Dunnigan bill will require a candidate’s campaign manager/consultant to specify exactly where campaign expenses are going.

Swallow (and it must be said a number of other legislative and state candidates as well) will list a payment to their manager or campaign consultant in their reports.

But there are no details on where that money ultimately went.

Sometimes this may be done for convenience – the manager is paying for radio or TV time out of that cash, or a poll, or any other campaign-related expense.

But this process is also a way to hide where the candidate is spending his money.

For example, maybe the consult is paying a polling firm to conduct a “push poll,” where the pollster calls 10,000 Utah residents and says nasty things about the candidate’s opponent.

If the public, and media and opposing candidate, can’t see that a polling firm has been hired, they can’t connect the candidate to the negative campaigning.

Finally, more Swallow scandal-connected bills may yet be coming.

Dunnigan said he hopes these four bills, once they are drafted and introducted, will be approved by the special committee (which is still scheduled at least one more meeting during the 2014 session to hear a final draft report).

There are a number of other Swallow-related bills that have already been introduced and had a hearing.

For example, Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, has HB274.

That simple bill gives subpoena powers to the chairmen of the Executive Appropriations Committee and to the House and Senate chairs of the eight budget subcommittees.

During the Swallow investigation, several persons or entities fought subpoenas and tried to avoid testifying under oath.

Twice Swallow did sit for official interviews in the Elections Office inquiry, but he never testified before the House special investigation committee – he resigned before the House committee could get him at their table.

Bird said it is important that legislative budget committees, like standing, ethics and special committees, have the power to subpoena individuals and entities and force the disclosure of documents and testimony. HB274 passed the House Monday morning 73-0. It now goes to the Senate.

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