Legislature rushes to fix conflict with Utah attorney general's power
Politics • Bill aimed at preventing attorney general from investigating himself.
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Legislators moved quickly Thursday to pass a bill taking away from the state attorney general the power to investigate election-law complaints against himself.

The conflict was discovered after the group Alliance For A Better Utah filed a complaint with the lieutenant governor alleging a dozen campaign law violations by Attorney General John Swallow and seeking his potential removal from office.

Under state law, the lieutenant governor would have to review the complaint and, if need be, turn the complaint over to the attorney general's office for a thorough investigation.

Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, said SB289 is narrowly drawn to correct the obvious inconsistency.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously, moving it to the House, which is expected to pass it before the Legislature adjourns tonight.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, sought to take the appointment of the special counsel away from the lieutenant governor and give it to the Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court.

"I just think this makes it a lot cleaner," Dabakis said. "I think it's best we just move away from any controversy, get this person appointed and have this person go about their business."

But his colleagues resisted. Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, argued it's best to keep the Supreme Court out of political fights, and Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, argued that, if the special counsel takes his case to court, the justice could be forced to rule on the work of his appointee.

The Alliance For A Better Utah, a liberal-leaning organization, filed the complaint with the lieutenant governor's office last week, alleging a dozen violations of campaign disclosure laws, including failures to report his management positions or income from several businesses.

If it is found that Swallow broke state campaign law he could be removed from office.

One of the companies Swallow allegedly concealed his interest in was P-Solutions, which received $23,500 in payments for consulting work Swallow says he did on a Nevada cement project for Richard Rawle, the late founder of the payday lender Check City.

The money Swallow was paid came from funds Jeremy Johnson, the founder of I Works, paid to Rawle.

Swallow said he put Johnson in touch with Rawle to hire lobbyists to help Johnson avoid a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit. Johnson said he and Rawle arranged to pay Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., $600,000, which Johnson has called a bribe.

Reid has denied any knowledge of Johnson's case. Johnson and his business partners have since been charged with 86 counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke