Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Wherein I Read Conflict of Interest Forms so You Don’t Have To

As the nine-member Utah House’s special investigatory committee looking into allegations against GOP Attorney General John Swallow got underway this week, the Legislature’s chief legal counsel, John Fellows, warned the representatives that they should look at their conflict of interest forms filed with the Utah Elections Office, and make any updates as needed.

In addition, said Fellows, as the committee’s investigators draw up witness lists, the representatives should check those lists and if they know personally any of the witnesses or have had dealings with them in the past, the legislators should list that on the C of I forms, as well.

So, I took the opportunity to look up the nine representatives’ C of I forms to see if there were any clear conflict of interests either with Swallow or some of his accusers and/or their companies – like Jeremy Johnson and his old firm, IWorks.

Nope, nothing on any of the forms that I could see.

The nine committee members are; chair, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who owns an insurance agency; and Reps. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, who is the personnel director for Weber County; Leo Perry, R-Perry, a section commander for the Utah Highway Patrol; Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, a health care/surgical center administrator; Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, an attorney; Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, a homemaker; Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, who owns real estate investments with her husband; Lynn Hemmingway, D-Millcreek, who is retired; and Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake, who works for 1-800 Contacts.

Dee’s conflict of interest form is not on the Lt. Gov.’s web site. His formal candidate filing is, and is here. But the pages detailing any C of I are missing.

Perry’s conflict of interest form is here.

Duckworth’s is here. Seelig is here. Chavez-Houck is here.

Dunnigan is here. Gibson is here. Hemmingway is here. And McKell, the only attorney on the panel, is here.

Besides these C of I forms filed with the Lt. Gov. Elections Office, each of the 75 House members are to file a conflict of interest form with the House itself. That is a different form, asking different questions, from the state Elections Office form.

You can look up each of the nine members’ House C of I forms here.

Historically, the House’s C of I forms contain less information than the Election Office’s forms, since the House forms ask different, and less specific, questions.

Of course, conflicts of interests by the Swallow investigation committee members got some headlines just after House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, announced Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, as the committee chair.

Snow is an attorney, and his firm did some legal work for Johnson and IWorks back in the day.

Snow said Lockhart didn’t ask him about any possible conflicts of interest, and he didn’t remember that his firm did IWorks legal work, even though in one court filing Snow signed a court form in an IWorks legal action.

Lockhart, a bit embarrassed, asked Snow to step down as committee chair and resign from the committee, and he did before the first committee meeting held this past Tuesday.

She then appointed Gibson to the committee and elevated Dunnigan to the chairmanship.

As is usually the case, those on the committee whose private work entails clients didn’t list any clients on their C of I forms.

None of Dunnigan’s insurance clients or McKell’s attorney clients are listed.

Under House rules, representatives don’t have to verbally declare any possible conflicts of interests unless they speak to a bill or budget item on the House Chamber floor.

Their written statements of C of I filed with the House are sufficient, Fellows reminded the committee members Tuesday.

However, at any time a representative can declare a possible conflict (he or she doesn’t have to state what the conflict is, but only declare it) if they wish, either in a committee discussion or in floor debate.

None of the nine declared any conflicts in Tuesday’s committee meeting, so it’s probably safe to say that at this point they don’t know of any in dealing with the Swallow issues.

A review of Swallow’s campaign account for his 2012 election finds that none of the nine House members either gave him money, nor got a campaign contribution from Swallow’s campaign, either.

However, should the Swallow investigation end up in front of the whole House and Senate, you find that House Minority Assistant Whip Don Ipson, R-St. George, gave Swallow a $1,000 donation May 5, 2012; Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, gave him $250 on May 10, 2012; and Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, gave Swallow $500 in the AG’s race.

It’s not unusual for GOP legislative and statewide candidates to give each other campaign donations, especially after the candidate has locked up the GOP nomination.

Even though Swallow raised $1.2 million in his 2012 AG race and spent $1.1 million, he didn’t give hardly any money to GOP legislative candidates, I found in looking through his filings.

Utah has some of the more lax campaign finance laws in the nation.

Any person or business can give any amount of money to any legislative or statewide candidate.

Candidates can receive civil fines for incorrectly reporting their campaign finances.

Indeed, the State Elections Office has now hired an outside special prosecutor to look into three campaign finance violations by the Swallow campaign.

And under state law, if violations are found the special prosecutor can take his allegations before a state judge, who can order that the election be vacated and nullified.

Thus, if Swallow is found guilty of any campaign violation (not just the three the Elections Office is pursuing), then he could be removed from office via a state judge ruling his election is invalid.

Swallow’s personal attorney has already said he doesn’t think that law is constitutional, since under the Utah Constitution only the state House can impeach a state officer, only the state Senate can remove him after a trial.