Legislative Coverage

Investigators: Swallow Obscured Campaign Contributions


(KCPW News) On Thursday, the House committee investigating former Utah Attorney General John Swallow learned of the lengths to which Swallow went to obscure his actions. On Friday, that committee got a look at Swallow’s involvement in some less-than-flattering dealings.

Special counsel Jim Mintz and his team of investigators built the case that Swallow was involved in a “pay-to-play” scheme with the Utah payday loan industry. In a 2011 email, Swallow makes an appeal to payday loan interests, saying that if they contributed to his campaign, he would  “go to bat” for the payday loan industry. In the same email, Swallow offered instructions on how to contribute to his as-of-yet unannounced campaign, expressing his preference to keep the payday loans issue out of the public campaign.

So Swallow and his supporters used what investigators have called a “daisy chain” of non-profit organizations and political action committees, or PACs, to hide the identity of donors. In one case, as special counsel Reich notes, a $5,000 donation from Cash America was reported as a campaign donation, even though the organization receiving the donation was a non-profit, not a political organization.

“The reporting of this money by Cash America accurately, in our view, reflects what the money was, and certainly reflects how Cash America viewed the money it had given,” Reich says.

According to the investigators, money from the payday loan industry eventually ended up being spent on attack ads against Swallow’s opponent, Sean Reyes. An email exchange about those radio and TV ads seemed to suggest that Swallow and his campaign may have coordinated with the It’s Now or Never PAC on those ads. Ironically, the attack ad in question takes Reyes to task for his “major ethics issues.”

Questions were also raised about Swallow’s connections to push polling and a campaign mailer slamming a state representative who favored tighter restrictions on payday loan businesses.

In light of these findings, some members of the committee expressed an interest in continuing the investigation. Here’s Rep. Mike McKell:

“Maybe when I run for re-election, maybe I’m going to have Energy Alternatives come after me. Maybe I’ll have It’s Now or Never come after me. Maybe Crossroads Media. Maybe the Proper Role of Government Education Association is going to come after me,” McKell says.

“But I don’t care,” he continues. “This is serious, and I’ll go on the record that I think there’s a strong, strong, strong likelihood that somebody should go to jail for what’s been done.”

This scandal may only grow as we head into the new year. Swallow’s predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, has had a warrant issued for his cell phone records.

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