Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita gave his former campaign manager a $100,000, no-bid state contract to pursue two voting equipment companies blamed for widespread problems in the May primary.
Indianapolis attorney Tom John initiated the state investigation into one of the firms -- Indianapolis-based Microvote General Corp. -- in May, while John was a member of the Indiana Election Commission. He resigned his commission post three days later and accepted the legal contract two weeks after that.
John is a member of a relatively new law firm, Lewis & Wilkins, LLP. That firm created quite a stir over a year ago when members of that firm were awarded a seven-figure legal contract with the Indiana Attorney General's office shortly after its two principal partners, who had limited legal experience, left the Attorney General's office to form the new firm. Based on the deal John negotiated with ES&S on behalf of the Secretary of State's office, the taxpayers were shortchanged. In that deal, the Secretary of State let ES&S off with a slap on the hand. ES&S agreed to kick in $245,000 into a special state election fund and provide training videos and posters to counties. It did not, however, have to admit to election law violations it clearly committed as part of this settlement. John is still pursing the matter with MicroVote on behalf of the state.
Pearson thinks the John contract smells. He announced today that he will bar no-bid contracts from being awarded by the Secretary of State's office to friends if he is elected. "We will use the expertise of the Attorney General’s office and the staff of the Indiana Election Division to represent our office in legal proceedings and to save valuable tax dollars," Pearson said. Pearson said he will not accept contributions from people doing business with the Secretary of State's office, noting that Rokita had accepted contributions from a major vendor doing work for Rokita's office. It's important to point out that he did not rule out no-bid contracts altogether, only no-bid contracts for friends. He also promises to advertise contract opportunties online and increase ethics training for Secretary of State employees.
It is unfortunate that Rokita entered into this sweetheart deal with John. The Secretary of State's office has attorneys on its staff, and he could have utilized attorneys in the Attorney General's office to assist with a contract as well. The fact is that John was not uniquely qualified to do this work simply because he sat on the Elections Commission. The fact that he had served on the Commission when these issues arose, however, should have disqualified him from accepting paid legal work bearing on the same subject matter as his state appointment. Unfortunately, the state's revolving door law doesn't apply to people like John who serve on state commissions.