PROVO — A new poll shows that support for embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow is "extremely low," hovering at only around 12 percent.
A total of 78 percent of Utahns polled think Swallow should resign while 72 percent believe the Utah House of Representatives should begin formal impeachment proceedings against him, according to the Utah voter poll conducted by Brigham Young University.
Quin Monson, director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said he has never seen such a low favorability rating in his time watching Utah politics. The poll, he said, provided needed insight into the opinions of those who elected Swallow.
"That's been the missing piece of the conversation so far and I think, in particular, as we head into a discussion with the Legislature about what they might do moving forward, it's particularly helpful," he said.
Swallow Monday responded to the poll results in similar fashion to the allegations that have dogged his tenure as attorney general:
"From the beginning I have asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate so the public can know the facts rather than the implausible and impossible allegations leveled against me by people indicted or convicted of fraud," he said in a written statement.
"The poll is not surprising but it would be disappointing if legislators act based on baseless allegations instead of waiting for the truth."
Poll results explained
Those respondents calling for Swallow's impeachment transcend party lines with 88 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independent voters and 65 percent of Republican voters supporting impeachment.
Of the 28 percent or so who do not favor impeachment, only 4 percent said their opinion stemmed from not believing the accusations leveled against Swallow. Sixty-five percent of those who did not want impeachment indicated they want to wait until the criminal investigations are complete.
The study was conducted between June 10 and June 16 and included a total of 947 respondents, with 839 completing the full survey. The sample of error for the study was around 3.4 percent.
Monson said previous polls had touched on questions about Swallow, but had never focused fully on the attorney general.
"We thought, given the talk of impeachment and resignation, that it was time to fully probe the issue and see where the public is on this," he said.
Ethical uncertainties surrounding attorney general's office
Swallow, a first-term Republican, is under investigation on several fronts in connection with a number of allegations, including that he helped broker a deal for indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who was attempting to derail a federal investigation into his company.
Johnson, who is facing numerous charges of fraud in federal court, claimed in January that Swallow helped arrange a $600,000 deal to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to quash a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Johnson's Internet marketing company in 2010. Swallow denies having taken part in the scheme and has welcomed investigations into the claims.
Reid has denied any knowledge of Johnson's case.
Federal investigators are looking into the alleged deal with Johnson, as well as allegations that Swallow promised special consideration to several businessmen in exchange for contributions to former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's re-election campaign. Imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson also filed court documents over the weekend saying Swallow and Shurtleff extorted him for personal and political gain.
Jenson is seeking to disqualify the entire Utah Attorney General's Office from prosecuting him on felony charges connected to the failed $3.5 billion Mount Holly resort project because of a "pattern of wrongdoing" and alleged extortion, court documents state.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings are jointly investigating whether Swallow and Shurtleff broke any state laws.
The Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office is also in the process of appointing special counsel to examine allegations that Swallow violated state elections laws.
"Marc Jenson's allegations of a shakedown (just like his repeated lies to media from his prison cell) are an absolute fabrication by a convicted serial fraudster," Shurtleff said in a statement Saturday.
Swallow has said he expects to be exonerated and has no plans to resign. His lawyers have sent a letter to the Utah Legislature saying impeachment proceedings against him are unwarranted because the concerns about Swallow arise from "innuendo and unsupported allegations in the press from indicted and convicted felons and a few political enemies of Mr. Swallow."
Two groups, the conservative Sutherland Institute and the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, have called on Swallow to resign. Three news outlets — the Salt Lake Tribune, the Provo Daily Herald and the Spectrum in St. George — have also called for Swallow to step down, as has Rep. Spencer Cox, R-Fairview. Gov. Gary Herbert cited Swallow's ethical challenges and said if the attorney general worked for him, he'd be fired.
Utah House Republicans are expected to gather Wednesday for an unprecedented meeting to consider whether to begin impeachment proceedings against Swallow. House Speaker Becky Lockhart has said she would not rule out the House — where impeachment is initiated — making an impeachment decision before the investigation into Swallow is complete.
Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said lawmakers must decide if they want to start their own investigation or wait until the current local and federal investigations wrap up.
"Ultimately they need to go through their own investigation and decide whether the accusations, the allegations reach the level that is in the constitution," he said.
"The poll results should be completely irrelevant to the legislators but it won't be, because impeachment is a political process and they're concerned with how their constituents view it," he added.
Lockhart could not be reached for comment Monday, but has said that impeachment talks are being taken very carefully. She has said previously that her constituents are split over what action lawmakers should take.
"I'm hearing the entire spectrum, people who say it's a media witch hunt, there's no facts out there, etc., all the way to others who say he's got to go, he clearly can't do the job," she said in a recent Deseret News interview. "I would have to say I hear more of that — 'It would be better if he resigned' — than I hear anything else."
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Monday that he hopes Democratic representatives will have a voice in Wednesday's meeting, despite Republicans having a "super majority" in the House. He said he was not totally surprised to hear of the poll results.
"There's been so much information that's come out — and it's media reports, it's not fact, it's not information that we know with certainty is true — but there is, to use the analogy, there's so much smoke there and there's so many different sources of information," he said. "It gives me concern about whether we can just sit on our hands and not move forward with some sort of investigation."
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he doesn't believe the accusations against Swallow have risen to malfeasance, high crimes or misdemeanors — the impeachment criteria outlined in the Utah Constitution.
But impeachment is a political process rather than a judicial process. An official could be impeached for malfeasance or dishonoring the office, a much lower standard than is used in criminal cases.
The full report of the poll can be found at <http://utahdatapoints.com>.