- requiring persons who lobby city government to register with the city and report any lobbying expenses they make, including any entertainment or item of value they provide to elected officials and public employees;
- barring lobbyists or other persons with a financial interest from serving on any commission or board that directly affects or deals with their lobbying or financial interests;
- establishing a code of conduct for city employees which bars them from soliciting contributions from individual firms which do business with the city.
- requiring statement of economic interests filed by public officials to be made publicly available online; and
- requiring campaign finance reports be made publicly available online.
Mayor Ballard, himself, has provided little, if any, disclosure to the public about gifts he has accepted as mayor. That contrasts sharply with candidate Ballard's criticism of a former city councilor for refusing to disclose who gave him tickets to the Super Bowl. "Like most citizens, I was not shocked to learn Patrice Abduallah had accepted tickets to the Super Bowl," Ballard said. "What I did find surprising and offensive was his refusal to reveal who paid for the trip. This must change," Ballard stated. "It's time to restore ethics and public accountability to our local government." Despite a pledge to restore ethics and public accountability, Ballard has governed this past year under the guiding principle that anyone wishing to do business with the city-county government must pay to play.
While Ballard raised a relatively paltry sum of campaign contributions during his grassroots, upset win over the entrenched and well-financed two-term mayor, Bart Peterson, in 2007, he raised a cool $1 million during the one-year period following his election, even though he won't stand for re-election until 2011. Ballard told the Indianapolis Star editorial board during a recent interview that he had not yet made up his mind on whether he will seek a second term despite the record-setting pace at which his campaign committee raised money during his first year in office. "We're taking concrete steps to go down that path in case we make that decision because we don't want to get behind," Ballard said. That's another way of saying business as usual.
The $1 million campaign contributions aren't coming from the grassroots supporters who gave to him in 2007. His campaign reported a little more than $2,000 in those unitemized, smaller contributions. "As in most campaigns, many of Ballard's biggest donations came from the city's top law firms, engineering companies and other professional services groups that compete for no-bid city contracts," wrote the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy in a story discussing Ballard's fundraising activities during his first year in office. And that's an understatement. My study of that same campaign finance report led me to conclude that more than 90% of his contributions came from either persons or firms doing business directly or indirectly with city or county government.
As with recent past city administrations, Mayor Ballard raised more than $150,000 from a handful of the city's largest law firms and attorneys working for them which do business with the city or county. Those same law firms and attorneys were awarded more than $2.2 million in legal service contracts during Ballard's first year in office according to records furnished by the City's corporation counsel's office for IndyStat, the mayor's performance evaluation office in city and county government. The most successful firm at winning contracts, Barnes & Thornburg, was also the same law firm which raised more than any other firm for Ballard during his 2007 race, $8,000. The firm kicked in another $12,000 after he won. Another law firm which serves as counsel to the CIB, Bingham McHale, raised more than $30,000 for Ballard's campaign committee last year. Noticeably missing from Ballard's campaign finance reports were attorneys who typically contribute to Republican candidates but don't do work for the city or county.
Engineering and consulting firms and their owners and employees easily gave more than law firms and attorneys gave to Ballard. The report reads like a "Who's Who of Indianapolis Engineers and Consultants." Jansen Spaans' Ibrahim Swidan made $7,250 and was identified on public documents as a provider of future consulting work for the City. David Woo of one of the city's minority-owned business firms, USI, gave $7,500. DLZ Indiana contributed $21,500 in a series of contributions last year, some of which were made just weeks before the City's Department of Public Works announced it was awarding the company a $50 million contract to provide water resources management work for the City. “This program is all about the mayor’s goal to make Indianapolis a better city, to spend our dollars wisely and not duplicate expenditures,” DPW Director David Sherman said in a press released posted on the company's website. “The members of this team have bought into that goal and are calling on the right people to get the job done, ” he added. The work relates to the management and implementation of the City's "combined sewer overflow, septic tank elimination, sanitary sewer, treatment plant and stormwater programs, totaling over $800 million over the next five years, alone." Indianapolis residents learned today that they will be paying 66% higher fees over the next several years to pay for those services and improvements after experiencing a near-doubling of those fees as of last year.
DLZ is no stranger to pay to play politics. The company won multi-million dollar contracts with the Indianapolis Water Company after the Peterson administration purchased the water utility from NiSource in 2002 for $525 million. The firm ranked as one of Peterson's largest campaign contributors, making tens of thousands of dollars in contributions during his eight years in office. Indiana campaign finance online reports indicate the company has showered Indiana politicians up and down the state with tens of thousands more in campaign contributions. The firm recently caught the eye of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, who is investigating pay to play corruption in the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. The Sun-Times reported recently on the pay-to-play probe and how DLZ received its own subpoena for records from the U.S. Attorney:
As part of their "pay-to-play" probe of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, federal investigators are examining state bid proposals and other records from 18 heavyweight engineering and construction companies that made hefty political contributions and got big contracts from the state and from City Hall, records show.Another engineer who gave big to Ballard's campaign was the subject of one of the rare pay-to-play probes conducted in Marion County. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy's report on Ballard's campaign fundraising noted that Willis Connor contributed $17,500 to Ballard last year. Former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman, Ballard's current Public Safety Director, indicted in 1997 Connor, his business partner at American Consulting Engineers, James Wurster, and a former chairman of the Indiana House Ways & Means Committee, State Rep. Sam Turpin, on charges of bribery and unlawful lobbying. While serving in the legislature, ACE retained Turpin's service to help win government work and paid him $52,500 over a period of time at the rate of $1,500 a month. Newman's case against the three fell apart after the trial court dismissed the bribery charges, which the Court of Appeals affirmed on appeal. Turpin wound up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge for using political funds to pay for personal expenses in a plea agreement with Newman. Charges against Connor and Wurster were dismissed. Connor renamed Ace as American Structurepoint after Wurster retired. This is the same firm which has been providing estimates to Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard on the controversial Keystone Avenue roundabout project, the cost for which jumped to $149 million, or at least $60 million more than Brainard originally told the public it would cost. Democrats in Hamilton County have called for an investigation of alleged pay-to-play in connection with that project. The Star recently reported:
In all, the companies have made more than $3.6 million in campaign contributions since the mid-1990s, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis shows.
More than a third of that -- about $1.3 million -- went to Blagojevich, whose administration gave 11 of the companies $656 million in contracts since 2004.
Mayor Daley took $64,800 from the companies before he put a self-imposed ban on accepting campaign cash from city contractors in the wake of the Hired Truck scandal. Since 2004, 11 of the companies have gotten $183 million in city deals.
This latest window into the continuing Blagojevich investigation comes from a federal subpoena that was served on the Illinois Department of Transportation on Dec. 11 and made public in the wake of a successful open-records lawsuit filed by the watchdog group the Better Government Association.
None of the businesses named in the subpoena has been accused of any wrongdoing. At least one of those companies received a separate subpoena of its own.
"I have responded to the subpoena; 22 boxes have been sent," said Diane French, executive vice president and general counsel for DLZ Illinois, an engineering/design firm.
French declined to say whether the company is working on any state-funded projects in Illinois. She also would not comment on the firm's former lobbyist, John Wyma, a longtime Blagojevich associate identified as "Individual B" in the criminal complaint prosecutors filed when they arrested Blagojevich in December on charges that included the explosive allegation that he'd try to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate to replace President Obama there.
[Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Keith] Clock pointed out in the news release that American Structurepoint, the engineering firm handpicked by Brainard to design the road project, donated $10,000 to Brainard’s campaign committee in 2008. The 2008 annual report filed on Jan. 21, shows two donations of $5,000 made from the firm’s Indianapolis address. The firm and its employees have donated several thousands of dollars in past years as well, documents show.If you wonder why Ballard is so anxious to please the folks who want to raise your taxes to bail out the CIB, just take a look at who made generous contributions to him the past year. Colts' owner Jim Irsay gave $5,000. Simon Property Group, a company in which Pacer owners' Herb and Mel Simon are principals, gave $5,000. Hunt Construction, which has worked on projects like Lucas Oil Stadium, and its related companies, kicked in $4,000. Lucas Oil-related companies chipped in $6,000. Keystone Construction ponied up $28,000. Shiel-Sexton added $1,500 as did Holladay Properties. Turner Construction added $5,000. Anheuser Bush gave $4,000 and Zink Distributing gave many thousands more in contributions. White Lodging, which won the coveted prize of $65 million in taxpayer-assistance for its new convention hotel, gave $2,000. Vision Concepts added another $12,500.
“This appears to be more of the pay to play politics that persist in Hamilton County,” Clock said in the release. “If you take a look at the campaign contributions that these officeholders receive, it’s a list of who’s who of engineering firms that are doing the construction projects here, and Mayor Brainard is no exception."
Other businesses holding city or county contracts were equally as generous. United Water, which holds the contract to manage the City's wastewater treatment operations, gave $10,000. ACS, which provides IT-related services, gave $2,000. CCA, which has a contract to manage Marion County Jail II, gave $2,500. Former Eli Lilly CEO Randy Tobias gave $2,500 to Ballard shortly before he was named as the mayor's choice to run the Indianapolis Airport Authority.
Pay-to-play politics are not new with the Ballard administration. Each of his recent predecessors, including Bart Peterson and Steve Goldsmith, actively shook down businesses and individuals doing business with the city and county to raise millions for their campaign committees. People think our politics are cleaner than Chicago's, but they're just kidding themselves. Unlike Illinois, local politicians have been able to trade government favors for political contributions because neither the U.S. Attorney's Office in Indianapolis or the Marion County Prosecutor's Office will actively pursue investigations of public corruption.
The embarrassing results of Newman's investigation of Sam Turpin more than a decade ago struck little fear in corrupt government officials. Bribery statutes are very difficult to prosecute under state law. Federal prosecutors, in comparison to state prosecutors, have a broader reach of weapons to combat public corruption. Federal prosecutors often rely on federal wire and mail fraud charges based on a theory that the public is being deprived of a right to honest services from their public officials. In some cases, prosecutors will even employ RICO statutes to prove a conspiracy among a variety of government and non-government actors. Yet, Indianapolis has had one political prosecutor after another appointed to the U.S. Attorney's office here which have refused to use the tools at their disposal. Not even unequivocal evidence that a former Lawrence mayor unlawfully turned over the city's water company to political cronies, along with millions in taxpayer dollars and assets, resulting in dramatic water rate increases for the city's residents, was enough to grab the attention of the U.S. Attorney's office here despite a lengthy FBI investigation.
Republican defenders of Mayor Ballard will no doubt launch personal attacks against me and others who seek to hold his feet to the fire for the promises he made during his grassroots campaign for mayor. Sadly, his election-night victory to end governance by country club politics in Indianapolis, along with the bold ethics reform proposals he made during the campaign, wound up shredded on the floor of the Murat ballroom where his supporters celebrated his victory to be swept away by a custodian's broom the next day. Who would have thought that Ballard would continue the pay-to-play tradition with such unbridled enthusiasm? Is it too much to ask of a politician these days to keep his word to the voters?