SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Wednesday he's told his campaign staff to "do our due diligence" and contact contributors to his 2010 race to ask whether they are connected to allegations that he received illegal "straw donations."
The allegations that Lee accepted about $50,000 in contributions made in other people's names are the subject of a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission in June by the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah.
The allegations appeared deep in a search warrant affidavit in the criminal investigation into former Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow that was released shortly before the FEC complaint was filed.
Lee said again Wednesday in an interview on KSL NewsRadio's "Doug Wright Show" that he did not know about the contributions tied to indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who was involved in raising money for Shurtleff with Swallow's help.
"First of all, when all of this surfaced in the news, this was the first time I had heard of it. I was not aware at any time during my campaign of anyone claiming they had illegally raised funds for my campaign," Lee said.
Utah's junior senator said he and his campaign team "have worked very hard since this has come out in the news to make sure we complied with the campaign finance laws that are on the books."
Lee said he has "directed my campaign staff to do our due diligence to reach out to our various donors to find out who may have been connected to any effort along those lines and we're gathering the information right now."
So they're trying to avoid the drip, drip, drip scenario. They're wanting to get (donors) to either certify right now or refund right now. That's more of a political calculus than a legal calculus.
–Matthew Sanderson, Washington political law attorney
Matthew Sanderson, a political law attorney with the Washington, D.C., firm of Caplin & Drysdale, said it's a "bit unusual" for Lee to be reaching out to donors at this point.
"I guess they're being safe rather than sorry," Sanderson said, adding that Lee may have some indication that there are contributions that need to be refunded or otherwise removed from his campaign coffers.
"So they're trying to avoid the drip, drip, drip scenario," Sanderson said. "They're wanting to get (donors) to either certify right now or refund right now. That's more of a political calculus than a legal calculus."
In March, the Utah House Special Investigative Committee into Swallow, who along with Shurtleff now faces criminal charges, reported that four of the checks Johnson secured for Lee bounced.
The committee said in its final report that Swallow, who had helped raise money for Shurtleff's short-lived Senate campaign, was "working hard" to raise money for Lee's June 2010 primary against fellow Republican Tim Bridgewater.
“I am really sorry about the checks. I will get it fixed ASAP! Let me know whos [sic] bounced. I was in a mad rush to get those so maybe I pushed a few people too hard,” Johnson wrote Swallow, according to the committee's final report.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy