Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke reported over the weekend that ever since Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was mentioned as a finalist for chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, he has received about $100,000 in campaign contributions from — guess who?
Yep, corporations, some with unsavory pasts, that have been investigated or are regulated by — ta-da — the FTC.
Nothing to see here folks, Reyes campaign adviser Alan Crooks told Gehrke. Just regular contributions from folks who like to attend fundraising events.
We’ve been here before.
Reyes was appointed attorney general by Gov. Gary Herbert after his immediate predecessor, John Swallow, resigned amid the mire of a pay-to-play scandal. Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, were eventually charged with multiple felonies.
While the charges against Shurtleff eventually were dropped and Swallow was cleared by a jury, the evidence of the state’s top law enforcement officers meeting with and taking favors from questionable business types under indictment or investigation — and implications the two attorneys general were reluctant to prosecute businesses that happened to be good campaign contributors — tainted the office.
Reyes’ office hasn’t shown the same pay-to-play atmosphere that landed Shurtleff and Swallow in trouble, but he has been an aggressive fundraiser, unabashedly partisan in his policy decisions and, behind the scenes, lent his name to rumors of possibly seeking higher office.
When Reyes’ name surfaced as possible FTC boss, he was described in some stories as a rising Republican star. That raised this question: What does it take to be a rising GOP star?
Has Reyes’ office scored great victories in defeating organized crime? Has he put forward sweeping justice or prison reforms? Has he demonstrably streamlined his office into a more efficient operation?
“Nope,” “nein” and “nyet.”
What Reyes has done is support tea party ideas (like battling the federal government over control of public lands), show a reluctance to investigate criminal allegations against fellow Republicans and, perhaps most important, become an early Donald Trump backer.
When Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel, son of powerful Utah Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, was accused by his own deputies of choking a man handcuffed in a patrol car, the attorney general’s office didn’t want to take that on. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings was asked to take the case instead.
When allegations that San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, an accountant who also is close to Noel, used his office to manipulate property values to benefit his clients, the attorney general’s office refused to acknowledge any investigation was underway.
Reyes ranks among Utah’s least-transparent elected officials. News organizations have constantly fought with his office to honor Government Records Access and Management Act requests for public records. He has even balked at orders from the State Records Committee to turn over documents deemed public under GRAMA.
In 2015, the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave Reyes’ office its “Black Hole Award” for its lack of transparency.
While Reyes has shown a reluctance to investigate Republicans, environmentalists are fair game.
A top investigator in the attorney general’s office who is assigned to enforce laws on areas under the authority of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration has been described as unreasonably aggressive.
Last year, he arrested 10 nature walkers because they got too close to turf administered by SITLA that has been leased to US Oil Sands for a tar sands mine.