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Swallow raking in campaign cash again, but it may help pay lawyers

Published November 8, 2013 9:33 am

Money • His growing political cache may be more of a legal-defense fund.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Utah Attorney General John Swallow loaned his campaign nearly $50,000 last month and has amassed more than $100,000 since the end of August — some of which will go toward the mounting legal fees he acknowledged have been a financial strain.

The cash infusion breaks a months-long spell in which little money flowed to the embattled attorney general's campaign account. He had raised just $3,000 from the time he took office in January through Aug. 25, when the floodgates opened.

To generate the $156,000 in donations between Aug. 26 and Oct. 2, Swallow turned to familiar supporters: longtime friends and business partners and payday-lending companies.

The biggest chunk, though, came from his own pocket — a $49,500 loan to his campaign account.

Swallow, during a brief interview Thursday with The Salt Lake Tribune, said the money was "not exclusively" for legal expenses, but some could be used for those costs.

His attorney, Rod Snow, said he is "not prepared" to talk about legal fees.

By lending his campaign the money, Swallow would be able to recoup that cash from future contributions. He earns $104,405 as attorney general.

Swallow, who became the focus of multiple investigations after he took office in January, acknowledged the financial toll he has suffered.

"My family is strong. My finances are another issue," Swallow told KSL Radio's Doug Wright on Thursday. "If this continues for another year, it will be really tough for us."

The amount Swallow has raised surprised Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"I'm stunned by the total," Jowers said, "particularly in relation to what he had raised [earlier] in the year."

Three years out from an election, Jowers said, it is logical to assume the money will go toward paying attorneys. Swallow's campaign paid Snow's firm $17,000 in December, before allegations of misconduct made headlines.

"Swallow set the precedent that he would pay legal fees out of this fund, and it seems improbable that he wouldn't be paying those fees," Jowers said. "There is no re-election if he can't solve this legal matter, so I would suspect his donors would have a fair and clear warning that most of these funds at this point would be for his legal defense."

Bert Smith, founder of the Smith & Edwards surplus store, and his wife, Kathy, gave Swallow a combined $35,000.

The attorney general received $25,000 from MicroBilt, a New Jersey company that provides business services.

The CEO of the company that owns MicroBilt was released from prison in 2011 after serving time for tax evasion.

Another $15,000 came from companies in the payday-lending industry.

Swallow also took in $7,500 from two former business associates.

George Evan Bybee gave Swallow $2,500 through his business, The Helping Entity. Swallow was an attorney and registered lobbyist for several of Bybee's companies, including Basic Research, before joining the attorney general's office.

Daniel Mowrey, who was an official with Basic Research, gave Swallow $5,000. The Federal Trade Commission alleged Mowrey represented himself as a medical doctor, although his degree was in experimental psychology. As part of a settlement, Mowrey agreed to no longer claim to be a physician.

Mark Thomas, chief deputy of the lieutenant governor's office, which oversees Utah's campaign laws, said the office wasn't asked for an opinion on spending campaign money on legal expenses, but added Swallow likely would be able to tap his campaign account to pay his lawyers.

"I don't see any red flags as far as them being able to use it," Thomas said.

The law bars using the campaign dollars for personal legal fees, but Thomas said that is generally interpreted to prevent paying expenses that don't arise from the campaign or the politician's service in office.

Thomas said Swallow could likely make the case that his legal expenses from the investigations are related to his official duties.

At the same time, Swallow has asserted that some of the allegations stem from events that took place before he joined the attorney general's office in December 2009.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke