State of the Debate

Connecting dots: John Swallow and the curse of Dark Money ...

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2014 01:16 pm

The New York Times ran a major article the other day about the scandal that brought down disgraced former Utah Attorney General John Swallow. It wasn't just a parachute journalism job that repeated the amazing work done by Salt Lake Tribune reporters, or one of those big city scribes making us hicks look bad.

No, it was the Utah story as an example — an extreme example, perhaps — of a national political problem called Dark Money.

There's a lot to say:

A Campaign Inquiry in Utah Is the Watchdogs' Worst Case — Nicholas Confessore | The New York Times

"It is the nightmare scenario for those who worry that the modern campaign finance system has opened up new frontiers of political corruption: A candidate colludes with wealthy corporate backers and promises to defend their interests if elected. The companies spend heavily to elect the candidate, but hide the money by funneling it through a nonprofit group. And the main purpose of the nonprofit appears to be getting the candidate elected. ..."

It's Official, Secret Money Corrupts — David Firestone | The New York Times

"Lawmakers of both parties are desperately trying to stop the Internal Revenue Service from interfering with the most powerful political invention that ever fell into their laps: the use of non-profit groups as a source of unlimited and anonymous campaign money. If you want to understand why, consider an investigation now unfolding in Utah, which exposes in remarkable detail how profoundly the non-profit system can be corrupted for the benefit of a single industry and a single politician. ..."

Dark Money probes should not be sidetracked by politics — Salt Lake Tribune Editorial

"When Jason Chaffetz dropped off his filing papers with the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office the other day, he did more than become the favorite to win a fourth term as the 3rd District's member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also emerged as a good bet to head up the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Here's how that could be a good thing.

"Chairman Chaffetz could ease up on the Fox News-friendly investigation of the Internal Revenue Service and start investigating the real problem that the IRS was, or should have been, looking into. ..."

Swallow must be prosecuted — Ogden Standard-Examiner Editorial

" ... It will be a Byzantine effort to prosecute Swallow and some of his minions. But it must be done. A prosecution would also serve to move Utah toward greater campaign finance reform. Our legislators' failure to set simple campaign limits is an embarrassment. The Swallow saga shows what can happen — what can be enabled — in a state that has little respect for campaign finance reform or lobbying reform. ..."

Another Defeat for Transparency — Bryan Schott | Utah Policy

"If you ever needed proof that lobbyists reign supreme on Utah's Capitol Hill, consider what happened on the final day of the 2014 session.

"SB 97, which would have forced lobbyists to disclose how much time they donate to a candidate in the race to fill a mid-term vacancy, ran into all sorts of opposition in the House after sailing through the Senate earlier in the session. Ultimately, it was defeated. ..."

Change the Rules on Secret Money — New York Times Editorial

"In November, when the Internal Revenue Service finally stirred itself to propose a modest crackdown on the abuse of the tax code by political groups, it was immediately attacked by tax-exempt nonprofit groups on the right. That wasn't too surprising; secret donations from conservatives to these groups are the principal reason American politics is now dominated by those with huge bank accounts. ..."

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