Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ethics Commission Gives Thumbs Up To Agency Heads' Participation In Fundraisers

The state ethics commission took a step backwards in a recently-issued opinion which says the heads of state agencies may attend political fundraisers, as long as they aren't organizing the event. State law prohibits state employees from engaging in political activities, including soliciting political contributions, while on duty or acting in an official capacity. As the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's Niki Kelly reports, the state ethics commission was asked to consider at its March meeting whether a state agency head violated the law simply by attending a fundraiser. She explains the panel's answer:

In the end, the members agreed that going to fundraisers isn’t a problem so long as they are just “one in a crowd.”

The official opinion reflects that discussion by saying, “the commission is of the opinion that mere attendance to a political fundraising event by an agency appointing authority on their personal time would not necessarily be contrary to the restrictions set forth in … the political activity rule.

“However, the commission recognizes that each situation is unique and under certain circumstances, the attendance of an agency appointing authority to a political fundraising event could potentially result in a violation of any portion of the political activity rule.”

Kelly spoke to two Daniels' administration officials about the ruling. One, the BMV's Ron Stiver, says he attends fundraisers on his own time. Another, the IEDC's Nathan Feltman, says he doesn't attend fundraisers. "He said his agency has to deal with both Republican and Democratic local officials on job-creation deals, so he tries to stay out of politics," Kelly writes.

Based upon my own experience as a former lobbyist, I think it's best if decision-makers at state agencies stay away from political fundraisers. Having attended fundraisers in the past for gubernatorial candidates, I can tell you that governors of both parties specifically have agency heads attend these fundraisers so that big contributors can have access to them. Inevitably, contributors will raise matters which they have pending before an agency with these officials. It can become very awkward for an ethical official. The unethical, however, will accept the invitation to help out one of his boss' political contributors. By telling these officials it's okay to attend fundraisers, the state ethics commission is only inviting trouble.


Anonymous said...

You mean thumbs up.

Unknown said...

Inspector General David Thomas giving an opinion on ethics is like Bill Clinton giving an opinion on the importance of being faithful to one's spouse. Neither have credibility. Thomas used his former position as Clay County Prosecutor and his current position of Inspector General to go after people who made accusations against his Republican friends. David Thomas was one of the worst appointments Daniels has made.