A bill geared toward preventing employees of state offices from moonlighting on the side with political consulting work—like the kind Utah Attorney General John Swallow is alleged to have done for indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson—passed a committee Tuesday. Bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, warned, however, that a bill change would mean the Legislature can’t require state offices to adopt rules stopping such behavior.
Weiler drafted Senate Bill 83 in response to a scandal broken by The Salt Lake Tribune, in which Swallow was alleged to have requested $600,000 from Jeremy Johnson in 2010 to pass onto U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in order to derail a Federal Trade Commission investigation into his Internet marketing company. Johnson gave $300,000 to a third party* allegedly involved in the scandal, but later had $50,000 returned to him.
Swallow denied the money was a bribe but was merely to pay for lobbyists to champion Johnson’s cause. Swallow did receive $23,500 from an intermediary company involved in the Johnson incident, but an interested party said the payment was not related to Johnson’s case and was instead for “consulting” work Swallow did for a separate business project in Nevada.
Regardless of the source of the money, lawmakers like Weiler have been critical of the outside work done by Swallow when he was then the chief deputy of the attorney general's office.
Weiler’s original bill meant to require state offices, like the governor, attorney general, state auditor and treasurer, to adopt rules restricting certain kinds of outside work by its employees.
“I’m aware we have state employees who are citizen farmers and who sell suits on the weekend and things like that, and [restricting] that is really not the target of this bill,” Weiler testified. “The target of this bill is to prohibit political-type consulting and other types of work that might ostensibly conflict with their duties with the state.”
The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate Government Operations committee Tuesday, but Weiler acknowledged that a substitute bill to be presented later would modify the bill. He pointed that out because of an earlier Supreme Court case ruling the Legislature could face legal trouble in requiring another branch of government to adopt administrative rules.
“Instead of having the executive branch making administrative rules and coming into a separation of powers issue, [the bill] will advise them to make a policy,” Weiler testified. Such a modification would make it so state offices would not be bound to make such policies, though Weiler says the issues is still being hammered out as the bill move to the Senate floor for debate.
*An earlier version of this blog incorrectly stated the recipient of the $300,000 payment
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