Lawsuit dismissal ends prosecution of former Utah AG Swallow
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow declared himself vindicated Friday after five years of corruption allegations with the dismissal of a Federal Election Commission lawsuit alleging that he and an imprisoned businessman illegally funneled donations to the campaigns of Sen. Mike Lee and others.
Swallow, who was acquitted last year in state court of influence-peddling charges, said the ruling that federal election commissioners overreached authority to prosecute him showed the case against him and Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson was “political and nothing more.”
“This marks the last action by the government against me and we have won at every turn,” Swallow said in an email hailing U.S. District Judge Dee Benson’s 10-page decision.
“I was wrongly accused, wrongly charged, constitutionally acquitted, cleared by the Utah State Bar of any ethical violations,” Swallow said, “and now the FEC case has been dismissed.”
Benson ruled that Congress makes election laws, and that the election commission “went too far” in adopting rules imposing liability on “secondary actors” making campaign contributions.
The judge compared the allegations to a basketball player earning an “assist” for passing to another player who makes a basket, although “the player who made the assist cannot fairly be considered to be the person who made the basket.”
The commission alleged that Swallow helped Johnson skirt individual contribution limits by distributing money to friends and employees to donate to campaigns of politicians including former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Commission attorney Sana Chaudhry argued last month that the campaign limit rule was part of the FEC’s broad authority to regulate elections.
Allen Dickerson, legal director of the Virginia-based Institute for Free Speech, said Friday, that, “unelected commissioners” can’t supplant Congress to punish conduct they deem inappropriate.
Johnson is serving a federal prison sentence after being convicted in 2016 of lying to banks.
The businessman denies the Federal Election Commission allegations against him, but that case is on hold while he appeals his criminal conviction, his attorney Karra Porter said. While it isn’t clear how the Swallow ruling might affect Johnson’s case, Porter said she’s encouraged by the judge’s careful weighing of the law.
The FEC action could have left Swallow facing thousands of dollars in fines.
Swallow resigned as Utah’s top lawman in 2013 amid allegations of bribery and corruption that emerged soon after he took office.
A jury found him not guilty of nine crimes, including bribery, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering.
He and his lawyer, Scott Williams, said they will press forward with a lawsuit seeking reimbursement from the state for legal costs.
Williams estimated the cost in the millions of dollars.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas.