Amidst the scandal surrounding AG John Swallow, Senator Todd Weiler (Republican, Woods Cross), is bringing forward a proposal that would alter the way Utah elects our Attorney General. Rather than the office being elected by the people, Weiler is suggesting that our Attorney General be appointed. But is this really the best way to go?
Only a handful of states currently appoint their Attorney General’s. While the process varies, a good portion of them are appointed by the Governor of that particular state.
In Utah, the subject is especially relevant, given that newly-elected Attorney General John Swallow is currently under investigation by the FBI, and has been accused of facilitating a bribe, election fraud, and offering prosecutorial protection in return for campaign contributions.
“The discussion is: As an elected official in a statewide race, we’re asking these candidates to run around and ask people for political donations,” Weiler said. “If someone was appointed, we’d take that entirely out of the process. We wouldn’t have the chief law enforcement officer asking people for money.” – via sltrib.com
Given the situation, we applaud Senator Weiler for taking the initiative to start the conversation and the discussion of the best method to approach the problem. However, with the current events unfolding in Utah, we have to wonder if changing the AG’s office to an appointment would have any success de-politicizing it. After all, the Governor is most definitely a partisan and political position, and it should also be noted that the Lieutenant Governor is also under investigation by the FBI, after he was accused by a county attorney of interfering with a Child Protective Services investigation in order to help out a friend.
If the Governor were responsible for appointing the AG, that would suggest he would also have the power to fire the AG. What sort of conflicts of interest could that create? Would Utah’s top-prosecuter be able to fully represent the interests of the people of Utah if he is also beholden to the wishes of an elected official who is worried about his next election? By that same note, if Utah’s Chief Justice or Supreme Court were to appoint the Attorney General, would that not naturally create a conflict of interest when the Attorney General is inevitably arguing a case before the court?
The discussion is worth having, but we should be wary of believing that changing the position from elected to appointed will do much to eliminate the political nature of the office.
We would hope that a major part of the discussion would be the option of ethics and campaign reform laws. The legislature passed some ethics bills during the 2013 general session, but Utah still has some of the most lax campaign laws nationwide. If we’re concerned that the Attorney General (or any other office for that matter) is too beholden to big money and doners, and since Utah’s election laws currently allow for unlimited fundraising, why not simply institute a cap? Ban any statewide campaign from raising more than, say, $50,000 for their race. The excess money that flows into Utah’s elections could be taken down some, and candidates would no longer have to make pledges to major donors to get them to sign $100,000 checks.
Would that solve everything? Perhaps. Or perhaps there’s a better way to handle this. We’re just glad that the discussion is being had, and hope that ALL options are on the table.