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Post-Swallow reform bills advance

Published February 27, 2014 9:47 pm

Politics • Measures would require more candidate disclosures, tighten loopholes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Two bills stemming from state investigations of former Attorney General John Swallow won unanimous approval from a House committee Thursday.

HB394, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who headed the special investigative committee, would prevent candidates from simply reporting a lump-sum payment to consultants to spend on the campaign.

It would require candidates to itemize campaign-related payments to credit-card companies, report expenditures by third parties that are coordinated with a campaign and to provide additional detail on their personal finances when they file to run.

The second bill, HB390 sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, would make it a crime to obstruct a legislative investigation.

During the Swallow probe, investigators found that a nonprofit run by his campaign consultant acted as a conduit for $450,000 from supporters that the campaign wanted to conceal, mainly the payday-lending industry. A portion of that money was spent attacking Swallow's political foes. Swallow and a political-action committee also paid the consultant nearly $450,000 with little or no disclosure of how the money was spent.

Swallow transferred companies from his name to his wife's on the day he filed for office so he did not have to disclose his role in them. Investigators also alleged that Swallow engaged in wholesale data destruction and document fabrication to try to hide his business dealings.

The bills won unanimous support from the House Government Operations Committee, although Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, expressed some dismay.

"We have one bad actor and the 99 percent of the rest of us who do it properly, or try to do it properly, have to suffer the consequences," Noel said. "It has gotten to a situation where it's so difficult for people to serve … and not ending up in jail for dong something they didn't realize was wrong."

Dunnigan agreed with Noel's concern, but said the committee tried to craft language to address the most significant abuses without rolling in all possible revisions.

"We wouldn't be able to go to the restroom without a legal adviser," Dunnigan said. "So we purposely tried to catch the things that are the biggest holes we could still address."

A third bill would make it a class A misdemeanor to refuse to comply with a legislative subpoena. The House panel issued numerous subpoenas that were either fought in court or ignored. —

Report coming out

The House Special Investigative Committee is expected to publicly release its final report March 7 on the John Swallow probe.