Today, the previous two Utah Attorneys General were arrested on charges of corruption, interfering with a witness, obstruction of justice and a variety of campaign reporting violations. Quickly, those who dislike Utah or our system jumped to call for a number of changes to campaign laws or to make political hay out of the situation.
Thankfully, the investigation into the Swallow and Shurtleff scandal has been handled well, by the GOP dominated Legislature, a bipartisan effort by the Salt Lake and Davis County District Attorneys and the Utah State Department of Public Safety. The same cannot be said of the US Department of Justice, which clearly failed to find the missing emails, destroyed hard drives and the misstated personal relationships and earnings of John Swallow.
This is a good day for Utah and Utah politics. We are cleaning up a mess left in the wake of two individuals who like to ride the edge of what was legal and appear to have gone over the edge on more than one occasion. We are doing this internally and much has already been done to restore the public’s trust in both the office of the AG and hopefully in our state justice system which is going after these two people.
Here’s where I find it humorous. Many, primarily Democrats, are calling for a number of changes.
- “The challenge is there are no contribution limits in Utah. Utah is one of only 3 states without limitations.”
- “The problem is our one party system.”
- “It’s those corrupt Republicans.”
These statements are not only silly, but factually incorrect and would not have prevented or stopped in any way the behavior we are cleaning up today.
Let’s start with the last and work our way back.
“It’s those corrupt Republicans.”
First, it is true that both Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow are Republicans. However, the actions they are charged with are not partisan in nature. They include misreporting information on their financial disclosures, interfering with a witness, and obstruction charges. All of these could be leveled against a Democrat as much as a Republican. In fact, they have. The most corrupt gubernatorial administration in Utah’s history was that of Democrat Governor Maw in the 1940’s.
“The problem is our one party system.”
There is something to this one in that without a healthy two-party system; digging for all of the dirt needed in a good mudslinging campaign in a general election could potentially keep a corrupt person out of office.
Of course, the opposite is also true; a corrupt individual would simply out spend and/or manufacture what was needed to combat or win in such a dirty campaign. One need only look at Illinois, which is a strong national Democrat state but has a fairly healthy tw0-party state government. Despite this and dirty campaign tactics, Illinois is widely known as the most corrupt state in our country.
“The Challenge is there are no contribution limits in Utah. Utah is one of only 3 states without limitations.”
This particular argument is the most convincing, but none the less just as false.
Remember the charges include misrepresenting campaign contributions. Even with no limits, Shurtleff and Swallow chose to hide certain contributions, knowing it might look suspicious to the media, their opponents or the public at large. Utah has a lot of disclosure laws to ensure we know where all of the money comes from and where it is spent in any campaign.
Back to our Illinois example: Illinois has a great deal of contribution limits, and yet, corrupt individuals find ways around it. They give the max and then hide that they gave money to friends, family, or employees to make additional contributions. Candidates hide it by taking cash and paying personal expenses etc.
This happens at the federal and state level in Illinois and other places throughout our country. No ethics laws or campaigns limits have stopped this. Sadly, this has been proven many times in other corruption cases. In fact, if you are not on the up and up, contribution limits are just another hurdle to be overcome and encourages bad behavior.
The challenge here is that we, as a whole, fail to see or address the real underlying cause of this corruption, and it has been allowed to fester.
We seem to think there is one cause, one silver bullet that will fix it all. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The truth is this challenge is a systematic issue with our voting population. It cannot and will not be solved with one simple solution that makes us feel better, just as a placebo can fake us out medically, when the sickness continues to spread in our bodies.
A large portion of our voting population is woefully undereducated when we step into the ballot box. Another large segment simply chooses not to engage and vote at all.
We care more about Dancing with the Stars, and it headlines our news and online social media networks far longer than our policy makers do. Little of what we teach in civics classes today seems to stick and multiple generations have created a downward spiral where we are apathetic and disconnected from those we choose to represent us.
We don’t hold enough of our officials to any level of accountability based on the results of their votes or non votes, let alone the high level we talk about only during scandals. Too few are engaged enough to make a large difference and those who are engaged are labeled as extremists, or ignored by their “friends” who would rather talk about Dancing with the Stars.
Certainly, the court system will manage this matter, but remember without a few of those “friends” who annoy us because they talk politics or the “friends” who are extremists, even this would not make headlines today.
Shurtleff and Swallow will held to account for their actions, but will we hold ourselves accountable for our own lack of engagement? Or will we just blame someone else?
Will we rise above being low information voters or will we wait for someone else to do this oversight work for us and continue to simply complain about politics. There is an opportunity here for us to reject the idea of a silver bullet and really address the issues we face, will we take it, or go back to Dancing with the Stars?