Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Told You So

Well, it’s about time I said, “I told you so.”


I never get to say that in my marriage (today is Valentine’s Day, also).

Rarely can I say it to my two daughters.

I say it all the time to my dog, but she never listens to me anyway.

So, I’m saying, “I told you so,” because weeks ago I predicted that, in the end, the Utah Legislature would do little about correcting loopholes in state election/campaign laws found in the John Swallow scandal.


Because changing election/campaign law in an attempt to close some of those loopholes, including candidate conflict-of-interest filings, means the 104 part-time lawmakers will themselves be subject to such openness.

And when it comes to restricting themselves, or “transparency” for themselves, well, that is a horse of a different color.

“This is a root canal; real painful,” said Rep. Lynn Hemmingway, D-Millcreeek, this week as the House’s special Swallow investigation committee started discussion one Swallow-loop-hole-closing bill.

Hemmingway’s complaints came in the suggestion that candidates’/officerholders’ spouses assets and business connections be reported.

Swallow transferred control of his consulting firm into his wife’s name the night before he filed as an AG candidate, and then didn’t report his consulting firm’s connections to the pay-day loan industry.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, who wants to be speaker next year, said several years ago when he ran some lawmaker ethics bills that he found he had few friends in the Legislature.

There will have to be a “real education” process for the other 95 legislators who don’t sit on the House’s Swallow committee in order for them to see the problems the committee is trying to solve, Dee added.

The root problem of the Swallow scandal is campaign money. Or “dark money” being raised by Swallow and his campaign consultant, Jason Powers, and used anonymously to attack Swallow’s GOP opponent, Sean Reyes, (who ironically is now the appointed AG) and defeat former House member Brad Daw.

Reyes was trying to beat Swallow in the GOP AG nomination.

Daw, unfortunately for him, ran a few bills trying to better control Utah’s lucrative pay-day loan businesses.

Swallow worked for a pay-day loan firm and, the House investigation shows, went out of his way (and may have acted illegally) in trying to take pay-day lenders’ money, but not report where it came from.

Swallow did do a lot of “bad” stuff, as Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, put it at this week’s House Swallow committee hearing.

Then – and this may be what sends him to jail – Swallow tried to cover much of it up by “losing” any number of his electronic devices – home computer drives, cell phones, tablets and personal day planners.

In the end, the House’s investigation will cost upwards of $4 million.

About $1 million of that, says committee chairman Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, came because Swallow and his private attorney did not voluntarily comply with many of the evidence requests the committee’s investigators made.

Subpoenas had to be to be issued.

The House hired a computer forensic expert, at between $100,000 and $150,000, to get data off of Swallow’s damaged home computer hard drive (after Swallow’s attorney said he couldn’t recover anything from it.)

The enabling resolution, passed by the House last summer, specifically says that the committee must make recommendations on changes in state law that could help stop a Swallow-like scandal again.

But as those bills are now being drafted, the ole two-step, back-step, is being perfected by some committee members – like Hemmingway.

And, as Dee warns, expect even more pushback when, or if, the election law reform bills hit the rank-and-file House and Senate members.

It was important, as I’ve said before, that the House undertake a thorough investigation of Swallow.

As Dunnigan put it Wednesday in an impromptu press conference, with the glare of the TV lights on him, it is about time for an overall examination of ethics, elections and how the Utah Legislature is dealing with all these laws.

Clearly, Swallow, an attorney himself, parsed, danced around and basically lied, his way through some important financial and conflict of interest laws.

That’s what crooks, and especially crooked attorneys, do.

But to throw away the $4 million of taxpayer money.

To not really address the core problems of the Swallow scandal.

In a way, that would be a great waste, also.

I believe the ultimate motivation of Swallow’s hunger and cheating was to get huge donations – the committee investigators put it at around $450,000 –from the pay-day lender industry.

And the real way to hinder that activity is to adopt campaign contribution limits.

Utah legislators hate that idea.

Utah is one of the few states with no campaign donation limits – candidates and officeholders can take any amount of money from any source.

Many legislative incumbents get 70 percent, 80 percent or even 90 percent of their re-election funds from big, special interest donors.

Many legislators actually solicit and take no money from their constituents at all.

Or if they do, it is small potatoes compared to the cash barrels they take from those who want something back from them.

If there were campaign limits – like $5,000 in a statewide race – then Swallow and Powers would have had to set up 90 PACs or other organizations to get the 450,000.

And Swallow’s campaign account should have shown those 90 PAC donations of $5,000 each – raising some eyebrows.

In any case, look for legislators to take a critical eye – and water down – any of the Swallow-scandal reform bills.

Just like I told you so.