A member of the Utah Legislature may have become the most credible witness to Attorney General John Swallow’s pay-to-play fundraising tactics. Senator Curtis S. Bramble (Republican, Provo) says he was surprised by the attitude of a corporate donor he encountered at a Swallow fundraiser last year.
“There is nothing necessarily evil or untoward about having a fundraiser,” Bramble told UPC. “That’s part of our political landscape. It just surprised me that a company would be so cavalier about saying, ‘Well, if there is a problem with the law we go to the attorney general without going to the legislature.’”
Until now, allegations of influence peddling against Swallow have come from sources with checkered pasts, like Jeremy Johnson, Marc Jensen and Brian Kitts. The Salt Lake Tribune has written, “Three Utah businessmen have said that Swallow, as a fundraiser for Shurtleff in 2009, had suggested that a donation to Shurtleff’s campaign would win them special consideration if complaints arose about their operations to the attorney general’s office.”
But now Senator Bramble, who is a CPA and former senate majority leader, describes an encounter he had with some top executives of Vivint, Inc., a Utah County-based company engaged in the door-to-door sales of home security systems, automation and solar power systems across the United States. The incident occurred during the 9th Annual “Wasatch Shotgun Blast” held at Browning Arms headquarters in Morgan, Utah on August 21, 2012. The annual fundraiser was started by former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and has since been taken over by his successor, John Swallow. Swallow’s flyer for the event, sent to prospective donors, advertised attendees receiving free firearms from Browning, steaks, a shooting competition, music, raffle prizes and more.
Shurtleff spoke at the affair, and Senator Bramble was an invited guest. Other attendees became “sponsors,” paying $20,000 to be listed as platinum levels, $10,000 for gold, $5,000 for silver, and $2,500 for individuals to “join the team fighting to protect our freedom.”
Senator Bramble said when he arrived he noticed Vivint was there, a company headquarted in his district. “I was curious.” Bramble tells us. “I went over and introduced myself to them and said, ‘My name is Curt, who are you guys?’”
Not disclosing his status as a senator, Bramble says he asked the company representatives, “Gosh, why would Vivint be here with the attorney general’s fundraiser?”
“Their response was, ‘Well if we have problems with state laws, we need to have an attorney general who knows our business and that is friendly to us.’”
“Well hold it, if you have a problem with a state law why don’t you talk to a state legislator and get the law changed?” Bramble replied.
“And this guy looked at me and said, ‘We have no use for state legislatures, they are useless. If we have the attorney general we don’t need state legislators.”
Bramble tells UPC he was stunned, given rumors that float around about “fire insurance” and “pay-to-play.”
“I then proceeded to extend my hand and say, ‘Let me introduce myself. My name is Curt Bramble, president pro-tem of the Utah Senate. Vivint’s headquarters are in my district. Thank you very much, I’m one of the legislators you have no use for, have a wonderful day.’”
A Vivint spokesperson declined naming their participants at the event, and would not set up an interview.
It was Mitt Romney who cut the ribbon on Vivint’s new headquarters (then named APX) in December, 2009. “A lot of politicians and economists will come together to talk about how to create jobs,” Romney said at the ceremony. “I wish they were here instead, seeing how jobs are actually created—not just talking about it, not just wondering how government can make things happen, but seeing how jobs are actually created in the private sector by real businesses.”
Most of the jobs Vivint creates are part time, and mostly for LDS college students—preferably return missionaries who are skilled at door approaches—who can spend their springs and summers selling home alarm systems, home automation and solar power systems.
Over the years, Vivint has been investigated for alleged sleazy sales tactics. The FTC issued a public warning urging caution that:
“during the spring and summer months, home security or alarm companies hire traveling sales agents to go door-to-door, making unsolicited cold calls’ on homeowners. In some cases the sales people use high pressure or deceptive sales tactics to get potential customers to buy expensive and sometimes substandard systems or equipment they don’t need.”
Since then, Vivint claims to have beefed up its customer service department and now clears all complaints.
Nine months ago, the publicly traded company Blackstone Capital Partners acquired Vivint for over $2 billion.
Also at Swallow’s Wasatch Shotgun Blast fundraiser were what Fox 13 News reported were “Get Rich Quick” companies, who failed to report their donations in connection with the event. The Utah station said the telemarketing company 1-800-ACCOUNTING donated $2,500 in connection with the Wasatch Shotgun Blast. The New York and Florida Attorneys General have both brought fraud charges against 1-800-ACCOUNTING, although Mr. Swallow has declined to do so.
In 2009, about two months before Shurtleff dropped out of the United States Senate race, the incumbent, Senator Bob Bennett, criticized the upcoming 6th Annual Wasatch Shotgun Blast fundraiser as an attempt to skirt federal law. “It appears that there has been commingling, and if there has been it’s illegal,” Bennett told The Associated Press. Shurtleff campaign spokesman (and now Swallow campaign manager) Jason Powers told The Salt Lake Tribune the Bennett accusation was a sign of desperation.
“Shurtleff has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars in his PAC for Utah’s Future this year, with huge donations from frequent backers of the attorney general, including companies like The Tax Club, Dreamworks Mortgage, MSL Holdings and Infusion Media, all of which gave $25,000 or more,” the Trib reported. “Shurtleff’s invitation to the Shotgun Blast says that the money donated to the state PAC will be used for “non-election purposes, such as occasional charitable donations, or other purposes permitted by law.”
But in 2010, the US Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court overturned sections of the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that had prohibited corporate and union political expenditures in political campaigns. Now corporations and unions can donate to campaigns, not directly but through traditional PACs and Super PACs.
Attorney General Swallow declined to comment on the story told by Senator Bramble.