June 24, 2017

From drip to fire-hose: ten days of focus on Swallow and Shurtleff

It’s hard not to wonder what kind of service Utah has been getting from its attorney general’s office for the last twelve years. With the news coming fast and furious from every news outlet in Utah, it’s becoming more and more unclear whether Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow didn’t spend more time focused on self-aggrandizement and less on actually enforcing the law.

In fact, it’s hard not to wonder if they were at times protecting the very people they were tasked with prosecuting.

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So, in case you’ve missed the flurry of news over the last week, let me explain…no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

  • CAMPAIGN FUNDRAISING DISCREPANCIES: On May 22, a Fox13 investigation finds that Swallow accepted donations from “Get rich quick” companies, including four that didn’t report the donations and have since come under federal investigation.
  • BRIBERY: A secret recording is released where we hear Shurtleff offering $2 million (of someone else’s money) to silence a critic. The “critic” calls it “bizarro” world as Shurtleff, Utah’s top cop, tries to protect one of the people he should have been chasing.
  • COMPLICITY: Swallow is accused of being aware of Shurtleff’s attempted $2 million bribe.
  • SwallowMORE CAMPAIGN FINANCE TROUBLE: On May 25, Fox13 reports that Swallow didn’t report all of the donations with much more accuracy than his donors, either. Swallow’s consultant, Jason Powers, blames the accountant.
  • SINKING MORALE: With the pressure growing, the Salt Lake Tribune runs an in depth piece on morale in the AG’s office. The long, and short, of it? It’s not a pleasant place to work these days. Especially disconcerting is the apparent disconnect between Swallow’s appointed deputies and the line staff and attorneys. The growing discontent and inability of the state’s top law enforcement office to fulfill its responsibilities stands alone as an argument for Swallow to take an administrative leave to allow for resolution of the scandal.
  • FOX PROTECTING THE HEN HOUSE? A company that Shurtleff had touted while AG, even as the state’s top consumer protection agency was issuing cease and desist orders, was fined $110,000 for illegally pitching business opportunities. Among the evidence offered at trial? A video of Shurtleff pushing the product.
  • AND MORE CAMPAIGN FINANCE ISSUES: If pushing questionable products wasn’t enough, allegations emerge that Shurtleff may have tried to help donors hide their contributions to his political war-chest by buying copies of his book. “Jenson says that Shurtleff said that the donation caps for federal races were a problem for donors who wanted to give more to his senate race, and repeatedly suggested that Jenson buy $250,000 worth of copies of the book.”
  • CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: Swallow turns out to be much closer to indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who says Swallow tried to help him bribe Senator Harry Reid, according to court filings. Even after he took office as Assistant Attorney General, Swallow played a role in Johnson’s ventures such as iWorks and others, including a payday loan marketing plan and a Cash for Gold project.
  • SILENCING THE PRESS: Allegations emerge that Shurtleff has been trying to stifle his own critics in the press over the years. One publication lost all access to Shurtleff’s office, while the Salt Lake Tribune received several visits from Shurtleff and his press officer.
  • NOSE DEEP IN THE GET RICH QUICK INDUSTRY: And this just in: most of the donations to Swallow and Shurtleff (62% of $1.9 million from 2008-2012) came from the multilevel marketing companies that face a high level of government scrutiny because of their propensity to look like pyramid schemes.

Nearly 62 percent of Shurtleff’s $1.9 million in donations from 2008 through 2012 came from individuals or companies with ties to online marketing, multilevel marketing, telemarketing, financial coaching, payday loans or alarm companies — all of which frequently draw attention from consumer watchdogs.

Jason Powers claims that the donations were all above-board and appropriately reported–except when the accountants got it wrong, of course.

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If you’re keeping score, we’ve got bribery, campaign finance issues, stifling the press, conflicts of interest, and this is all in the last ten days. 

Did I miss anything?

Oh, yeah: misleading the public…? I guess that’s still open to interpretation, but the evidence is becoming more and more damning by the day.

Where next?

  • IMPEACHMENT COMING? Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart has sent out an email to House members explaining the impeachment process. Utah Political Capital has a copy of the letter.
  • CANDIDATES RUN FROM SWALLOW: Then, four days ago, Mia Love, who recently announced that she was running for the Republican nomination for the Fourth Congressional District, called the allegations against Swallow disappointing, noting that “You’re supposed to be there to serve the people of the state, not your own interests[…]we need to do a better job at making sure we’re not looking out for our own benefits. That’s what we’re looking out for, you  now, doing the job and focusing on people.”
  • LEGISLATORS ATTACK: Later that day, Rep. Paul Ray called for Swallow to step down. Ray is the first Utah legislator to call for Swallow’s resignation. “I think the evidence is overwhelming from the stories we’ve seen and similar stories from different individuals. … He’s pretty much put the state in the position where we’re frozen in the attorney general’s office.”  Swallow’s spokesman said that resignation was not on the table. After all, Swallow had spent $1.5 million to get elected and faces virtually no options if he resigns–why would he leave without a fight?
  • AND ATTACK: With the June caucus meeting fast approaching, Utah House Republicans have set aside the entire June 19 meeting to discuss impeachment. Rep. Dan McCay said “We spoke informally to several members in the body. Everyone is concerned and wants to do the right thing for the state, and everyone is taking this issue very seriously,” he said. “This is not something we’re going to approach haphazardly.” In response, Swallow’s spokesman blamed the media.
  • AND ATTACK: Ray would be just the first, but Rep. Spencer Cox’s blog post on Friday summed up the feelings of many: “The drip-drip-drip of reported scandal and corruption coming out of the embattled Attorney General’s Office has turned into a full-blown fire hose.” He spells out what the purpose of impeachment, what it  impeachment means, and why he both wants Swallow’s resignation and a serious discussion about impeachment to begin. It’s a well written piece, and if you click through to nothing else in this post, click through to Cox’s post.
  • English: Photograph of Mark Shurtleff

    English: Photograph of Mark Shurtleff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    BLOWBACK FOR SHURTLEFF? Shurtleff, having recently begun a million dollar a year job at the D.C. law firm of Troutman Sanders, “resigned” his new job due to a “grueling” schedule. No one believes him, but that’s the story he’s telling people.

The firm’s Washington, D.C., office announced it had hired Shurtleff in December, after the Utah attorney general opted not to seek re-election. He testified before Congress on immigration reform in April.

But recently the firm removed his profile and also news releases mentioning Shurtleff from the firm’s website, prompting speculation that they had parted ways.

A spokeswoman for Troutman Sanders said the firm does not comment on personnel matters.


About Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas. He is active on social media, Republican politics, and has been named to PoliticIt’s list of the “Top-50 Utah Political Opinion Leaders” on Twitter. You can reach him directly at dan.burton@gmail.com

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