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Serve one master

Published February 23, 2013 1:01 am

One lesson from Swallow scandals
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The worst outcome of the scandal enveloping Utah Attorney General John Swallow would be if nobody learned anything from it. Swallow, who ought to have resigned by now, doesn't seem to have gotten any smarter.

But SB83 offers a way for the whole of state government to benefit from Swallow's error.

That's the bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, that would make it clear that the top staff members who surround the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor and, yes, attorney general, are subject to the same kinds of conflict-of-interest rules that apply to civil servants.

While Swallow was pulling down six figures — pay and benefits — from the taxpayers, he was also freelancing for a former employer, Richard Rawle, the founder of Check City, one of those payday loan operations that often find themselves under investigation by such organizations as, oh, the attorney general's office. Rawle was also one of the players in the complicated flowchart of a scandal that continues to link Swallow with indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson.

Johnson, on Swallow's advice, funneled $600,000 to Rawle, who was supposed to use his contacts in Nevada politics to get U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to lean on federal investigators to call off their probe of Johnson's I Works Internet consulting firm. Rawle turned around and paid Swallow $23,500 of that in compensation for consulting and legal work Swallow had done for Rawle on a limestone cement project in Nevada. Swallow later returned that money, due to its fishy provenance, and was paid again from another account.

It later turned out that Swallow, while chief deputy in the A.G.'s office, was an officer of three different consulting companies. He removed himself from all three the day he filed his financial disclosures as a candidate for attorney general.

Then the other day, at what should have been a routine budget hearing, Swallow was reasonably arguing that his office attorneys are seriously underpaid. One good argument for paying them more, of course, is that it would remove the temptation for them to moonlight for people they may later be called upon to investigate. But when a Democratic lawmaker quite logically tried to connect those dots, the Republican committee chairman ruled the question out of order.

It wasn't out of order. Just embarrassing.

State lawyers and other professional staff probably ought to be paid more. But no matter how much they make, passing SB83 would help make it clear that they are working for the people of Utah, and only the people of Utah.