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Money dominates race for Utah attorney general

Some say Republican Swallow’s lopsided, record haul of $1.2M may lead to conflict of interest.

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Swallow said his experience in working with Shurtleff in fighting the Affordable Care Act (better known as "Obamacare"), increasing the size of the litigation team on public-lands issues and tapping $171 million in settlement money from a national mortgage fraud lawsuit to target predatory practices make him ready to take on the job.

"There’s a lot we’ve been doing and there’s a lot on the table," Swallow said. "And we can do more."

At a glance

Dee Smith

Party » Democrat

Age » 44

Family » Married 19 years. Four children

Occupation » Weber County’s attorney

Education » Bachelor’s degree in history, Weber State University; law degree, University of Utah

John Swallow

Party » Republican

Age » 49

Family » Married 27 years. Five children

Occupation » Chief deputy attorney general

Education » Bachelor’s in psychology, law degree, Brigham Young University

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Flood of cash » The race between the two major party candidates — and Libertarian candidate Andrew McCullough — has largely been dominated by the topic of money.

Swallow has raised more than $1.2 million, according to the most recent financial disclosure, and a whopping 20 times what Smith has raised, while McCullough has mustered only about $2,700. Swallow’s take is the most money ever raised in an attorney general’s race. For comparison, the attorney general’s race in Colorado between Republican John Suthers and Democrat Stan Garnett had a total of about $1 million raised between both.

Swallow doesn’t apologize for the lopsided sums.

"You never know when you’re running a race how much you’re going to need," Swallow said. "Dee didn’t call me and say, ‘I’ve raised $47,000, can you slow things down a little bit?’ He didn’t call me and say, ‘I’m out of the race and you don’t have to worry about anything.’ So what I’ve done is raise all I can to win."

But University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank said it’s tricky to amass that kind of money in an attorney general’s race because the very people or institutions giving money could be the subject of investigations later.

"We don’t usually see those kinds of totals in part because they have to be careful to raise money and not raise the issue of having a conflict of interest down the road," Burbank said. "That’s the risk and, for an attorney general, there are real questions there about how much money you take in and from who you take that money from."

The stark contrast of the campaigns was visible at a town hall in Price, where Smith brought in a few blue yards signs and a handful of fliers to give out to about 50 people who showed up to hear candidates running for federal, state and local offices.

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A few tables away, Swallow’s campaign was giving away doughnuts, embroidered T-shirts with a Halloween theme — the ubiquitous swallow logo shaped more like the bat from "Batman."

Swallow has television and radio ads. Smith posted an ad this week on Facebook soliciting donations from supporters in hopes to raise enough to get it on television.

That disparity is tough to overcome.

"It’s a significant disadvantage when you consider it’s one of the less-visible races and doesn’t attract a lot of attention," Burbank said. "And $1.2 million is a huge advantage."

Swallow’s path » Swallow bounced around when he was young — born in California, then living in Utah and having a short stint in Alaska before a stretch in Nevada. The 49-year-old has been in Utah for the past 28 years.

He initially wanted to be a baseball player before reality set in.

"I was a shortstop and a pitcher," he said. "But I was never a good enough hitter."

Politics didn’t come until he finished law school, and that’s when he thought he’d make a run at the state Legislature.

He spent six years in the state Capitol and had two unsuccessful runs for Congress against U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, worked with Swallow during his time in the Legislature and said he endorsed him for attorney general because he believed he was interested in seeking solutions to problems.

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