Sean Reyes knows there is more to restoring public trust in the office of Utah attorney general than being open about his finances.
But, he said Friday, it’s a good place to start.
The newly appointed attorney general told a group of University of Utah students and state officials that when it comes to mending the trust broken by his predecessor, John Swallow, perception matters almost as much as reality.
That’s why, he said, he has refused to accept political donations for his re-election bid from companies, organizations and individuals who have “a likelihood or potential that we might be investigating.”
“Even the perception of a conflict, to me, is something I want to avoid,” Reyes said. “There are people, businesses and industries that have approached me and I’ve said — and I’ve tried to be very careful about saying it — ‘I’m not passing judgment on you or your business or your industry, but I think it would be healthy’ ” for there to be separation.
Reyes declined to specify to which industries he was referring, but noted several “seem to have more complaints than others, and I just want to stay away where I can.”
Reyes has received several large donations since taking office in late December, including $20,000 from Merit Medical, $10,000 from Clarke Capital Partners and a whopping $100,000 from the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Until this year, RAGA had been a part of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which had contributed $250,000 to Swallow’s bid for attorney general.
When he opposed Swallow in 2012, Reyes’ biggest donors were Sean Fieler, a New York hedge-fund manager, who gave $50,000; Reyes’ former employer, eTAGZ, which kicked in $62,000; construction businessman Don Salazar, who contributed $50,000; and Diamonds by Donna, which hosted a fundraiser, donated gifts and paid for travel totaling more than $33,000.
Democrat Charles Stormont, who is running against Reyes, also attended Friday’s speech and gave his two cents on campaign cash.
“I can really appreciate what Sean had to say about campaign finance transparency and how perception matters,” Stormont said. “But we need to do more than that.”
Stormont filed his first candidate-disclosure form Tuesday, having received a total of just more than $26,000. Janet Miller, of Victoria, Texas, president of the Stormont Corp. and the candidate’s aunt, was his most substantial donor, giving $10,000. She was the only contributor who gave more than $1,000.
But the Democrat vows to go even further and report every donation, no matter how small, “from the $10,000 I received from my aunt to the $2 I got from a gentleman on a fixed income.”