A.G. Sean Reyes won’t run for reelection after questionable spending and Ballard friendship

He becomes the third consecutive Utah attorney general to leave office tarnished by scandal.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, burdened in recent weeks with scandals involving his friend Tim Ballard, luxury campaign travel and his nonprofit’s practices, will not seek reelection in 2024, sources told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Reyes is expected to make his announcement in a video to be released Friday afternoon, according to sources who declined to be named for this story because they were not authorized to discuss the event.

Spokespeople for Reyes did not respond to messages from The Tribune late Thursday night.

In stepping away, Reyes — who was appointed attorney general in 2013 on the heels of a scandal that saw his two predecessors charged with, but never convicted of, multiple felonies — becomes the third consecutive Utah attorney general to leave office tarnished by scandal.

It marks a dramatic slide for Reyes, who in September — after Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, revealed he would not seek reelection — posted on social media that he would not run for the Senate seat, instead opting to run for another term as attorney general and throwing his support behind Ballard.

Embracing then backing away from Ballard

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, pose for a photo at the group's "Share Our Light" gala in Salt Lake City in 2016. Sources say Reyes will not seek reelection.

In the days and weeks that followed, Ballard, the founder of the anti-child-trafficking nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad and the focal point of the movie “Sound of Freedom,” was accused of sexual assault by multiple women, which led to his ouster from OUR and resulted in a series of lawsuits and a criminal investigation.

Reyes, who had a decadelong friendship with Ballard, participated in child-rescue operations, helped raise money for OUR and made the battle against child trafficking a focal point of his administration. He was credited as an associate producer on “Sound of Freedom,” eventually withdrew his support for Ballard’s potential Senate candidacy and said the “shocking” allegations should be thoroughly investigated.

It wasn’t enough.

The Utah Legislature initiated a sweeping audit of Reyes’ office, including his relationship with Ballard. Reporting by The Tribune also highlighted dozens of campaign-funded trips over the span of three years and questionable fundraising practices at his nonprofit, the Liberate All Value All Foundation.

Reyes is now named as a defendant in one of the lawsuits against Ballard. It alleges he went to bat for his friend to try to silence an OUR critic.

One Republican senator, Mike McKell of Spanish Fork, suggested that the attorney general should be appointed by the governor — a move that Gov. Spencer Cox, McKell’s brother-in-law, said he supported.

In addition, three weeks ago, former Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown announced he was forming an exploratory committee, with former Gov. Gary Herbert, who had initially appointed Reyes as attorney general, as its chair, to consider a bid for the office.

Thursday afternoon, Herbert tweeted that he had “spoken with countless community leaders. The support [for Brown] has been overwhelming. With this support, the committee will be making an exciting announcement during the coming week.”

On Thursday, the Deseret News published internal polling provided by the Reyes campaign that showed the incumbent leading Brown 40% to 18% in a head-to-head matchup.

Reyes’ time as attorney general

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney General Sean Reyes talks about filling lawsuits against social media companies to protect young people during a news conference at the Capitol in January 2023. Source say Reyes will not seek reelection.

During his tenure, Reyes made combating human trafficking a top priority, helped establish the SafeUT phone app, where teens can report threats or get mental health help, and sued social media companies that he said were targeting and harming children.

His office defended Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, its restrictive abortion law, its ban on transgender girls playing high school sports, and sued over the establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Reyes joined his fellow Republican attorneys general in litigation that sought to overturn rules that allowed retirement plan investors to consider a company’s environment, social or governance policy; that sought to ban the abortion drug mifepristone; and that attempted to overturn a Democratic climate change policy.

After the 2020 election, Reyes traveled to Nevada — on his own time, according to the office — to investigate unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud that supporters of President Donald Trump believed cost the Republican incumbent the election.

Last month, Reyes was elected by his peers as the chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association.

Reyes’ rise

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sean Reyes is sworn in as attorney general by Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant at the Utah Capitol in December 2013. Sources say Reyes will not seek reelection.

Herbert appointed Reyes to office in December 2013, filling a seat left vacant after then-Attorney General John Swallow resigned amid a series of investigations into an alleged pay-for-play scheme with prominent donors.

A Utah House investigation, which could have served as a precursor to an impeachment proceeding, stated that Swallow had hung a “for sale” sign on the door of the attorney general’s office. Swallow was charged with multiple felony counts but was acquitted at trial. His immediate predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, was charged separately, but prosecutors dropped that case.

Reyes came into office vowing to restore trust and integrity to the office.

“This is not going to happen in one month or even one year,” he said at the time. “Some of the cultural changes may take several years. But make no mistake: It will begin today.”

Reyes won additional terms in 2014, 2016 and 2020, beating his Democratic opponents by at least 27-point margins.