Why would out-of-state individuals or firms care about who was the top law enforcement officer in little ole Utah?
But that mold has been broken this year by GOP attorney general nominee John Swallow, the current chief deputy of retiring AG Mark Shurtleff.
A UtahPolicy review of Swallow’s donations over the last 18 months shows that Swallow has raised nearly a fifth of his $679,000 from out-of-state sources – or $128,100.
You can read Swallow’s latest campaign finance filing here. But that is a report only for the time between the GOP state convention and Swallow’s June primary win over fellow Republican Sean Reyes. One needs to backtrack over Swallow’s 2011 and 2012 filings to see all the donors to his campaign.
Contacted Monday morning, Swallow said he would speak with UtahPolicy later. But he then sent a message saying he was too busy to be interviewed on his fund raising. He offered to have a campaign spokesman address the issue.
However, UtahPolicy prefers, if possible, to speak directly to candidates on such issues, since they often make the fund raising requests personally to prospective donors – especially to large donors of $10,00 or $15,000 in the case of Swallow – and they know the donors and why those specific donors may want to support them financially.
For example, last November Swallow raised $10,000 from Coventry Acquisition Group, LLC, and $15,000 from Booker T. Equity. Both entities have the same Apollo Beach, FL., address.
At $25,000 the firms have donated to Swallow more money that his Democratic opponent, Dee W. Smith, has raised in his whole campaign so far, financial records at the Utah Elections Office show.
On its web site, Booker T. Equity says it is: “A firm committed to raising funds and investing in equity deals in the business, entrepreneurial, financial, and investor education industry.”
The large donations are perfectly legal; Utah law allows in state races any amount of donations from any source, including businesses.
All candidates fund raising can, depending on the office sought and amounts given, create conflicts of interest.
Two years ago Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who challenged GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, made the governor’s fund raising one of the top issues of his campaign – claiming Herbert was raising significant amounts of cash from people and businesses that had financial interests with the state.
It didn’t stick, and Herbert beat Corroon easily.
One reason Corroon’s attacks on Herbert didn’t work may well be that Utahns understand – and accept – that a top politician fund raises from folks with an interest in how he performs his job.
Still, when it comes to judicial and/or top law enforcement offices, in the past citizens and the Legislature have taken a more conservative approach.
Like many states, Utah used to elect its judges. That led to the sometimes-awkward situation where judges had to fund-raise to fight off other lawyers who may challenge them for their bench seat. And often judges asked attorneys and legal firms who appeared before them for cash donations.
The Legislature changed that system years ago, and now judges are appointed and when their term ends they stand for retention – there is no other lawyer challenging them, but citizens get to vote whether to keep the judge in office. If the judge gets 50 percent of the “aye” vote or more, he is elected to another term on the bench.
Most judges don’t fund raise at all, and just rely on the general good feeling for them in the community (and, hopefully, the job approval rankings they get in the Voters Information Pamphlet).
Utah’s top law enforcement officer – the state attorney general – has been elected since statehood.
And that has led some to be concerned about who is giving campaign cash to prospective AG candidates, and whether those folks may want some kind of special favors from the top cop/prosecutor at a later date. (City Weekly reported this spring on a Swallow fundraising kerfuffle here.)
When the AG’s office used to hire a number of outside lawyers on legally-technical cases, it was not uncommon to see those law firms donating to the AG’s race.
Swallow is no stranger to big-time fund raising. He cites his fund raising ability on his web site, here.
Swallow was a state house member when he first challenged U.S. House Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in 2002, barely losing the 2nd Congressional District race.
It was widely believed at the time that Swallow would have unseated Matheson if he could only have had a few more dollars to run TV and radio spots at the end of the race. Swallow ran against Matheson again in 2004, but Matheson was better prepared in the newly-drawn 2nd Congressional District and beat Swallow handily that year.
Shurtleff, a popular Republican incumbent who has twice fought off cancer and a shattered leg in a motorcycle accident, decided some time ago that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.
He hired Swallow as his top deputy and crowned him his successor.
Shurtleff kick-started Swallow’s fund raising the end of last year when he donated out of his own PAC $132,000 to his handpicked guy.
Shurtleff later gave Swallow another $10,000 from his PAC, and has basically drained the PAC now. Shurtleff’s Utah’s Prosperity Foundation has $21,000 in cash remaining.
Shurtleff’s PAC donors are mostly from Utah. But he has some out-of-state donors as well – and so passing along out-of-state cash to Swallow increases Swallow’s out-of-state cash percentages, as well.
(Since it is impossible to directly tie Shurtleff’s out-of-state donations to Swallow’s, UtahPolicy didn’t include any of Shurtleff’s $142,000 donations in Swallow’s total of 18.8 percent out-of-state donations to Swallow’s campaign.)
Swallow is no slouch in fund raising himself.
Knowing that the state GOP convention and, if need be, the GOP primary would basically be the race in this Mitt-Romney-crazy-year in Utah, Swallow spent $586,280 through the June primary – beating Reyes 68-32 percent in an intra-party affair that many politicos believed would be much closer.
Reyes spent $396,830 up to the primary, his records show.
Now Swallow faces Democrat Smith in the final election.
While it is true that Utahns elected two Democratic AGs during the 1990s – the only statewide Democratic officers to win in the last 40 years – it will be an uphill fight for Smith to make a dent in Swallow’s GOP majorities this year.
Smith has raised $24,776, spent $17,883 and has only $6,893 in cash as he enters the general election race.
Swallow has $92,827 in cash, and clearly the ability to raise a lot more, along with the name I.D. he earned in the tough primary against Reyes – a primary that saw an outside super PAC spend money against Reyes.