John Swallow corporate donors fail to report contributions

Posted at 5:55 PM, May 22, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah's Attorney General accepted money from a number of businesses that have faced federal or state investigations for fraudulent business practices, and a FOX 13 investigation found at least 14 corporate donors who don't show up in the Lt. Governor's online database of corporations who have contributed to political campaigns in Utah.

John Swallow's campaign raised nearly $1.3 million dollars in his quest to replace his boss, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. 40 percent of the money came from Shurtleff's Political Action Committee, Utah's Prosperity, and from the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Of the remaining money, $134,000 came from companies in what is commonly called the "Get Rich Quick" industry. They are the types of businesses that promise riches to people who will pay for training in real estate or online businesses.

FOX 13's investigation found that a majority of the "Get Rich Quick" companies did not report their donations to the Lt. Governor's office. Of the 19 such corporations we identified, only five were listed among corporate donors on the Lt. Governor's financial disclosure website.

One of the companies that did follow the filing guidelines, Professional Marketing Group, listed a $5,000 donation that was not reported on the Swallow campaign's filing.

Four of those businesses are now under investigation by the FTC and the New York and Florida Attorneys General: Corporate Tax Network, 1-800-ACCOUNTANT, Manhattan Professional Group and 5410 Inc.

Each gave Swallow's campaign $5,000 with 1-800-ACCOUNTANT chipping in another $2,500 for a Swallow campaign event, the Wasatch Shotgun Blast.

The complaint lists them as part of a group of companies that have "bilked" customers out of "more than $200 million" since 2008.

The complaint was first filed in January of 2013, with an amended filing in April. That's after the campaign, but the companies involved have a long history of consumer complaints.

Such complaints are common in the "Get Rich Quick" industry with the FTC issuing warnings that it's replete with scams.

State Senator Todd Weiler, R-Davis County, says the donations point to a problem with electing the state attorney general.

"I'm concerned about the types of businesses that feel inclined to make large donations only to the attorney general at the exclusion of other government officials like the governor or state legislature, auditor or state treasurer or what not," Weiler said.

Weiler has proposed changing Utah's Constitution to appoint rather than elect the attorney general in order to avoid potential conflicts.

The director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, Kirk Jowers, also says the combination of a prosecutor running for statewide office with no donation limits creates too much opportunity for abuse.

Jowers points out that the big money donors tend to be drawn to higher profile races like those for governor or U.S. Senate, "...if you're really set on running a big dollar campaign, you've got to be careful because the normal dollars don't come. It's the dollars from the companies that are really on the edge."

Swallow campaign advisor Jason Powers of Guidant Strategies responded to FOX 13's investigation with a written statement:

"The campaign took care to review contributions to ensure there were no open issues with the State to avoid any conflicts of interest. The campaign also informed donors of requirements for reporting donations. The campaign worked to go beyond Utah law to ensure there were no conflicts and every contribution was legal."