SALT LAKE CITY - A bill that would appoint special counsel to investigate an election complaint against Utah Attorney General John Swallow made its way through the Utah State Legislature on Thursday.
Senate Bill 289 unanimously passed through a committee early Thursday afternoon, then made it through the Senate less than three hours later. By 7:30, it had passed the House. Now it goes to Governor Herbert's desk for signing.
The bill addresses a conflict in the law that requires the Utah Attorney General to investigate election complaints -- even if the attorney general is the subject of that complaint. The discrepancy in the law was discovered after the progressive think tank Alliance for a Better Utah filed a complaint with the Lt. Governor's Office against Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
“If we determine a special investigation is necessary, the statute requires the State Elections Office to refer complaints to the Attorney General’s Office, and further mandates that the Attorney General’s Office investigate,” Director of Elections Mark Thomas said in a statement issued late Wednesday.
“Under the current law, we have no choice but to turn the complaint over to the Attorney General’s Office, even when the Attorney General is the subject of the complaint. We hope the Legislature will consider addressing the statutory language to resolve this conflict before the end of their General Session.”
Speaking to reporters in his office late Wednesday, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said the bill would carve an exception into the law when the attorney general is the subject of a complaint and would be retroactive to include the pending complaint against John Swallow.
Alliance for a Better Utah alleges that Swallow violated elections laws by not reporting side businesses and income, as well as misuse of campaign money. An indicted St. George businessman has also accused Swallow of offering to broker a deal to bribe lawmakers to make a fraud investigation go away.
The attorney general is also the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Niederhauser told reporters that legislative legal counsel has identified a number of problems with the law they are reviewing, but that those would come after this bill clears the session.
"Let's make sure we deal with the conflict at this point," he said.
Niederhauser said House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, is supportive of the bill and the governor's office has been consulted on the language of SB 289.
"I think it will address the issue," said sponsor Sen. Peter Knudsen, R-Brigham City, the assistant majority whip. "I feel good about the bill."