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Gov.: Utah needs ethics reforms

Herbert

By MICHELLE L. PRICE
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert said last week that the state clearly needs to institute some kind of ethics reforms, but he added that people ought to wait for the results of a federal investigation into allegations facing Utah’s new attorney general.

A Utah businessman facing fraud charges has accused Attorney General John Swallow of brokering a deal to pay people connected to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to quash a federal investigation.

Hebert said at a news conference Thursday that he was asked about the allegations surrounding Swallow and a recent call by the Utah Republican Party for ethics reforms.

“The situation with the attorney general certainly raises concerns on many different levels,” Herbert said, adding that he’s concerned people have been too quick to judge Swallow before all the facts are in.

St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson alleges Swallow set up a deal in 2010 for him to pay $600,000 to people connected to Reid to make a federal probe into his software business disappear.

Swallow, who at the time was the chief deputy attorney general, denies the allegations. He says he only offered to connect Johnson with a lobbying firm.

Reid’s office denies any involvement.

Utah Democrats have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations.

On Wednesday, the chairman of Utah’s Republican Party said it’s clear that at minimum, Swallow made mistakes. Chairman Thomas Wright also called for ethics reforms such as a cap on campaign contributions, a ban on gifts to public officials and the creation of an independent ethics commission, among other suggestions.

Herbert, a fellow Republican, said he would need to look at the details of the proposals, but said the state could take steps to bring more openness and transparency to government.

The governor said he would like to see the Legislature pass a bill this year barring employees of the attorney general’s office from taking on outside work, a policy that’s already in place in the governor’s office.

He also said he supports stronger campaign disclosure laws that make it clear to the public who is funding elections and campaign advertisements.

“I think that the people who hide behind anonymity do a disservice to the process,” he said.

Herbert said the state should create a commission to review ethics complaints made against those working in the governor’s office or attorney general’s office.

But he did not make it clear if he would ask the Legislature to create such a commission and wouldn’t go so far as to call for an ethics investigation of Swallow. It’s better to wait and see whether if the attorney general is charged with a crime, Herbert said.

“I think the fact that somebody being investigated does not mean that they’re guilty or maybe that there’s even an investigation warranted,” he said.

Herbert urged caution and noted that Swallow asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City to investigate the allegations made against him.

“I’d like to see what the facts are before we make any rush to judgment or jump to conclusions. That being said, I do think that there’s a need for some reform.”

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