In what is, I am sure, an awkward moment for the Swallow campaign (see my thoughts yesterday on exaggerations in their statements here), John Swallow has been caught on tape offering to arrange a meeting with the Attorney General for a potential donor to the Swallow campaign. City Weekly gets the hat tip for this one:
[A]ccording to a tape-recorded conversation he had with the owner of a telemarketing sales floor, [John Swallow] has another plan he’s been less vocal about—taking the agency that investigates consumer protection complaints away from the jurisdiction of the Governor’s Office and putting it under the control of the Attorney General’s Office.
“Now, this is kind of confidential, but when I’m the attorney general, I will try to restructure it so Consumer Protection is under the AG [office] and the attorney general has more authority over those investigations. In fact—complete authority over that,” Swallow is heard telling telemarketing-business owner Aaron Christner in an April 7 phone conversation.
This is all the more disturbing because Swallow is making this statement to a member of an industry–companies involved in online-business opportunities and Internet marketing–that has collectively donated $82,284 to his campaign.
Listen to an excerpt of the call here.
It gets worse. Swallow, during a call to raise campaign funds, promises to set up a meeting with current Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to resolve the concerns of the potential donor, Aaron Christner, who runs a telemarketing business.
In the taped conversation provided to City Weekly, Christner introduces himself to Swallow by inquiring about a Swallow fundraiser breakfast meeting the coming week and telling him about his company’s legal troubles with Consumer Protection. Not only does Swallow tell Christner that, if elected, he would try to take over consumer investigations from the agency, but that he can also arrange a private meeting with Christner, himself and Shurtleff to possibly help resolve Christner’s legal issues by influencing the assistant attorneys general assigned to prosecute cases on behalf of Consumer Protection .
“If [Shurtleff] understands, then [we’ll] see if we can do something to help out that makes sense,” Swallow tells Christner on the recording, adding, “I know there are always two sides, even to a very thin pancake.”
Thin pancake indeed. I didn’t realize that one had to pay to have one’s legal issues with the state reviewed more favorably by the attorney general’s office
Issues I have with this conversation, then?
- Why is a restructuring of the AG’s office “confidential” but worth mentioning to a member of the affected industry and potential donor during a fundraising call, but not to the public?
- Why is candidate Swallow an offering access to the Attorney General during a fundraising call? If Assistant Attorney General Swallow is going to set up a meeting, it shouldn’t be in a quid pro quo situation.
- Why is Swallow passing judgment on the investigation during a fundraising call? Around 1.43 on the call, Swallow says that the AG’s office tries to work things out for people “who are trying to do things right and make mistakes” by accident. How does Swallow know that? And why is he commenting on it during a fundraising call?
- If there is an investigation, why is Swallow communicating directly with the investigated party, and not with the investigated party’s attorney?
- Is there a quid pro quo being offered here? You donate to the campaign, and I’ll arrange a meeting with the AG to work out your issue?
How about the person recording the call, this Christner. What is his motive for doing so?
Since 2008, Christner has been involved in several entities that work at selling online business opportunity and coaching services. In March 2, 2011, Christner and his business partner, Ryan Jensen, were fined $400,000 in an administrative hearing by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection for telemarketing for three months while their company was not properly bonded or licensed.
Jensen and Christner approached City Weekly earlier this year out of concern that the state’s regulation of the telemarketing industry is unfair and inconsistent. They also objected to the recommendations made to them by owners of other companies in the industry to ingratiate themselves with state politicians through campaign donations.
Christner documented the call he made to Swallow on April 7, 2012, after hearing about a fundraiser breakfast to be held the following week at a Mimi’s Café in Salt Lake County. The fundraiser was not publicized on Swallow’s campaign website and, according to Jensen—who attended the event but did not make a contribution—included a number of players in Utah’s call-center and Internet-business opportunity industry.
Christner says he never had the meeting with Shurtleff and Swallow mentioned in the phone conversation. On April 27, his case was appealed in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court and the fine against his company was reduced to a $2,320 judgment.
Former district Judge Paul Cassell notes to City Weekly that it isn’t uncommon for the attorneys at the AG’s office to communicate with defendants.
However, I don’t know how often the attorneys are also candidates for AG and are making comments like this:
“Utah is so dysfunctional right now,” Swallow says. “Again, the client—the client is the Department of Commerce and Consumer Protection and that is not someone we can control or even influence greatly. It’s because they work for the Governor’s Office.” It’s then Swallow tells Christner that he plans to put Consumer Protection under the Attorney General’s Office when he’s elected.
But “I’m not attorney general yet,” Swallow says.
At which point he will A) have “control” and be able to “influence greatly”, and B) be able to decide whether investigations on donors like Christner should move forward.
Is this the kind of thing we want happening in the Attorney General’s office?
Please read the whole article over at City Weekly and decide for yourself.
- Exaggerated Claims: Swallow at Supreme Court to “ensure” unconstitutionality of Obamacare? (publiusonline.com)
- Digging deeper: Utah’s Attorney General race (fox13now.com)
- Primary to decide GOP attorney general nominee (fox13now.com)