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Allegations against AG may have impact on proposed ethics reform

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Feb 15th, 2013 @ 10:20pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers made a call for ethics reform Friday on Utah's Capitol Hill. While such proposals have failed in the past, recent accusations against the attorney general have created a more receptive audience this year.

While no one is talking on the record about possible consequences of ethics violations, lawmakers seem to be preparing for possible impeachment proceedings against Attorney General John Swallow.

Swallow was recently accused of helping to broker a bribe between southern Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. The deal, Johnson claimed, was to prevent a possible lawsuit being filed against him by the Federal Trade Commission.

Swallow claims all he did was introduce Johnson to a man with connections to federal lobbyists, and Reid has denied any knowledge of Johnson's case.

While Johnson did not contribute to Swallow's campaign for attorney general, he did contribute $200,000 to former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Critics say that relationship, though not direct, still had influence over Shurtleff's former deputy.

"That's Swallow's problem: all his friends are donors, and (it's) hard to draw the line between your friends and your donors especially when they come to you asking you to move things around," said Isaac Holyoak, spokesman for the Alliance for a Better Utah.

At least 11 bills this session address ethics reform. Of those, at least three include proposed campaign finance reform and limits on donations. Lawmakers met Friday to discuss those bills.

"It is our attempt, today, to change those rules and to put ethics into the minds of all our political leaders," said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.

"If it's a large enough amount of money, they'll have a say about how public policy is developed in the state of Utah," said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.

Using Swallow as an example, Dabakis pointed out the current attorney general's recent campaign raised $1.2 million dollars, compared to Democrat opponent Dee Smith's war chest — worth a mere $47,000.

Among Swallow's largest donors: a Washington PAC, and one run by Mark Shurtleff. Such donations are not illegal, but some lawmakers say it's a matter of ethics.

From both Republicans and Democrats at the Utah Legislature though, there is a reluctance to tie any of that legislation to Swallow because recent talk of possible impeachment proceedings.

"For us to comment in any way on the situation of the attorney general would probably be inappropriate," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.

If lawmakers do go forward with the rumored impeachment proceedings, Niederhauser said he and his colleagues would be appointed to stand as judges.


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