He may get around any legal problems in the mangled association he had with indicted fraud Internet boss Jeremy Johnson.
But certainly his personal and public reputation and political acumen will remain under a dark cloud for some time to come.
And I’m guessing that if Swallow survives as attorney general, and he seeks a second term in 2016, the whole Johnson affair will be brought up again.
As reported in an excellent article in The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday, Johnson claims that Swallow was knee-deep in a plan for Johnson, a former high-flying millionaire, to get Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, to intervene on Johnson’s behalf in first a Federal Trade Commission civil case against Johnson, then later in a Justice Department criminal investigation against Johnson and his I Works internet firm.
You can read the Tribune story here. A follow-up Tribune story on Sunday is here.
Swallow denies any wrongdoing, saying he was just trying to help Johnson hire a lobbyist to help him with the FTC I Works Internet probe. Swallow has hired a leading Utah law firm to pursue defamation claims against his good name, the Tribune reports.
Swallow has produced his own sworn testimony with others confirming that Swallow was just working with Johnson to help him get lobbying help.
Utah Democrats on Saturday called for a federal investigation of the whole affair and started an online petition encouraging such action.
Fascinating as the story may be, I’ll keep myself targeted on what I see as the bottom line in all of this: The Utah politician’s overwhelming desire to raise campaign money, and the complete lack of contribution limits that naturally give rise to the thirst for really big campaign donations.
It was Swallow’s desire, I believe, that led him into contact with Johnson back in 2008 when Swallow was legally raising money for former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s re-election race and Swallow’s desire in his own 2012 AG campaign to get more legal donations from Johnson that brings us all to the sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in today.
Yes, both Shurtleff and Swallow used poor judgment in their dealings with Johnson.
Yes, their involvement – as innocent as both claim today – looks worse because they were then, or are now, top law enforcement officers and need to have – or should have – higher standards than your run of the mill state politician.
But Utah’s Wild West approach to campaign finance control opens the door to poor decisions regarding campaign fund raising and the ability to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who seek undue influence or outright favors from powerful officeholders.
Simply stated, would Swallow, who Shurtleff hired as his chief deputy in 2009 and was Shurtleff’s hand picked successor, have acted the way he did if he was seeking, say, a $10,000 donation from Johnson instead of the possibility that Johnson would give $200,000 or more?
With Swallow as the main Shurtleff fundraiser, Johnson, his business partners and family members, ultimately gave Shurtleff more than $200,000 starting in 2008, and contributed to Shurtleff charities, the Tribune reports.
Shurtleff’s Utah’s Prosperity Foundation ultimately gave Swallow’s 2012 campaign $298,250, state Election Office reports show. All such donations are legal under current Utah law.
Before he left office to become ambassador to China, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. set up his Governor’s Commission on Democracy – and gave the leading Utahns on the panel (Larry Miller was chair until he died) the charge of finding ways to improve Utah democracy and especially voter participation in elections.
The commission came up with a number of recommendations.
You can read the commission’s recommendations on campaign finance contribution limitations here.
At the heart of campaign reform was the commission suggestion that Utah adopt for statewide races, like governor and attorney general, a contribution limit of $10,000 for every two-year cycle, or $20,000 for a four-year term office.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who succeeded Huntsman and was his lieutenant governor, never really embraced the commission’s report – and especially found fault with the campaign limit recommendations.
The GOP-dominated Legislature adopted just a few (and minor) commission recommendations. But wouldn’t touch campaign contribution limits.
One legislator on the commission, former Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, at first supported the commission’s campaign contribution limits, but then backtracked, saying he had talked with his constituents (some of whom gave him money) and they were against it.
If the limits had been in place it is unlikely Johnson and his friends couldn’t have given Shurtleff and his causes so much money.
And certainly Shurtleff couldn’t have donated $298,250 in leftover funds to Swallow’s 2012 campaign.
Swallow raised $1,309,003 over two years for his 2012 race; so Shurtleff’s donations made up 22.7 percent of Swallow’s whole campaign fund raising.
But the cash aside, if Utah statewide campaigns were limited to $20,000 per person, group or business, the desire to make “friends” with big-donors would – one would hope – subside.
You can’t legislate good decisions.
You can’t stop shady folks from trying to influence our elected officials.
But you can make some effort to ameliorate the influence of huge cash donations to our top public officials.
Will the 2013 Legislature act in light of the Johnson/Swallow affair?
But don’t dismiss the core problem with all this trouble – candidates seeking high state office trying to get more and more big campaign donations, and the strings that may well be tied to such donations coming back to bite them later.