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Legislature likely to try to prevent future Swallow scandals

The yearlong public spectacle of the A.G.’s alleged corruption may trigger changes.



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On Friday, Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, released his own ethics bill, which includes contribution caps of $5,000 for statewide races and $2,500 on other races, as well as several other reforms. He seeks to tighten up reporting by requiring candidates to report donations within three days — as opposed to the current 30-day window. He would make it a class B misdemeanor to solicit, receive or give a contribution to a legislator at the Capitol or the surrounding complex.

And it would require any person, corporation or nonprofit making an expenditure in an election to report the spending. That is an attempt to get at so-called "dark money," which flows through nonprofits without any reporting requirements.

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In Swallow’s case, his consultant Jason Powers set up nonprofits that brought in more than $450,000, most of it from payday lenders. He then funneled the money through other PACs and used it to run scathing attacks on Swallow’s opponent, Sean Reyes, and former Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who had sponsored legislation the payday lenders opposed. None of the expenditures had to be reported and the Swallow campaign denied any involvement.

Yet to come » There’s another shoe yet to drop: The House Special Investigative Committee that spent months investigating Swallow’s actions has yet to issue its recommendations on changes to state law.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the bipartisan panel, said there is a list of items that arose during the course of the investigation, and he hopes to have a committee meeting to discuss those in the next few weeks.

"In a broad sense, we will look at: Are the laws we currently have adequate? Do they highlight some problems?" Dunnigan said. "It’s also very possible that we’ll determine that some additional clarification of existing laws is in order, including maybe laws in additional areas we haven’t fully addressed in the past."

Those recommendations, he said, could be minor tweaks or fine-tuning, or they could be "substantive change" to existing laws.

"There is an appetite — I’ve heard from a number of legislators — for some reform," Dunnigan said. "But also little appetite to put a bunch of new laws in place to show we did something. I think there’s a genuine interest to see if we can’t improve the system."

Perhaps the most fundamental, structural change to how the attorney general operates is coming from Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who is proposing an amendment to the Utah Constitution to make it an appointive, rather than elective, office.


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"Unlike the governor and the Legislature, the attorney general gets to decide who gets prosecuted and who gets a pass," Weiler said recently. "It’s a special power. And when you commingle that power with fundraising, it can yield some pretty unhealthy results, which is what we’ve seen unfold over the past year."

The poll conducted for The Tribune earlier this month, however, found that 55 percent of Utahns want the post to remain an elective position.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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