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John Swallow paid $235k in legal fees from campaign

Published January 11, 2014 3:21 pm

$235,000 • Under Utah law, state said, using campaign funds for legal defense is OK.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Former Attorney General John Swallow used campaign funds to pay nearly $235,000 in legal fees, staving off multiple investigations into alleged misconduct, which ultimately led to his resignation.

State law prohibits candidates spending their campaign funds for personal use, but the lieutenant governor's office has said previously that Swallow's use of his campaign account to pay legal fees arising from the yearlong scandal is permissible because it stems from his role as attorney general.

When he announced his resignation in November, Swallow cited the toll that multiple investigations had taken on his finances, saying at the time he had spent a total of about $300,000 defending himself.

Swallow raised nearly $100,000 during the course of 2013 and gave $60,000 of his own money to the campaign, as had been previously reported. The contributions came from several longtime supporters and companies in the payday lending and coaching and marketing industries.

Swallow began making payments to his attorneys at the firm of Clyde, Snow & Sessions in 2012, before the scandal broke and made periodic payments throughout the year — the largest a $100,000 payment in September, just before the U.S. Department of Justice notified Swallow it would not file charges against him.

The most recent payment of $25,000 was made on Oct. 31, 2013, three weeks before Swallow announced his resignation.

Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah and an expert in campaign finance law, said most states give politicians the latitude to use campaign funds for legal expenses so they aren't targeted by political attacks without being able to defend themselves.

"I think the lieutenant governor's interpretation is consistent with most other states and the Federal Election Commission, that those legal fees are not personal use," Jowers said.

Swallow's report shows he also paid nearly $56,000 to Guidant Strategies for political consulting through February and into May. Swallow's long-time political adviser, Jason Powers, who founded Guidant, is under scrutiny for his role in Swallow's fundraising. Authorities executed a search warrant on Guidant's offices last month.

Swallow's report also shows the campaign repaid $1,000 to Tim and Jennifer Bell, a Holladay couple who hosted a fundraiser for Swallow in August 2012.

House investigators looking into allegations of misconduct by Swallow said the Bells actually paid more than $28,000 to stage the fundraiser and under-reported the value at the request of Swallow's campaign. The Bells amended their contribution report this week, reporting the full cost of the event.

At the time of the fundraiser, the Bells were involved in a major mortgage case alleging Bank of America had unlawfully foreclosed on their home. The state had joined the Bells' lawsuit against the bank on behalf of thousands of homeowners.

Days before he left office, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, against the wishes of other attorneys in his office, unilaterally dismissed the state's lawsuit against Bank of America. In an email, Shurtleff explained he dismissed the case because it had become politically difficult for Swallow because of the Bells' fundraiser.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke