Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ballard's Statement Of Economic Interest Lacking In Transparency

Mayor Greg Ballard has filed his 2010 statement of economic interest and it's still lacking in transparency like his 2009 statement, even if it may meet the technical requirements of the Ethics Code. “This is the end of Republican country-club politics,” he proclaimed on his stunning upset win over Mayor Bart Peterson in the November 2007 municipal election. That proclamation, however, did not preclude him from accepting free country club memberships. Like his 2009 statement of economic interest, Ballard discloses that he continues to accept free country club memberships to Highland and Woodstock, as well as a free membership to the Columbia Club, but he does not place a dollar value on those free memberships. According to an Indianapolis Star story last year commenting on Ballard's statement of economic interest, Woodstock sells memberships for a cost between $2,500 and $9,000, while Highland offers memberships for as high as $16,000. Members pay $1,500 to join the Columbia Club, plus monthly fees of approximately $150.

Ballard often accepts free tickets to Colts, Pacers and Indians games, the Indianapolis 500, concerts and other paid events. Although the value of these free tickets reaches well into the thousands of dollars each year, Ballard places no value on them. Ballard is allowed to accept gifts under the City's Ethics Code, but he is only required to disclose the value of any gift he receives that is worth more than $100 from anyone doing business with the City. City employees and appointees, who have far less power than the mayor, are prohibited from accepting gifts with a value of more than $25 from anyone doing business with the city-county government. Ballard's statements says he has not accepted any gift of more than $100 from a person doing business with the City. Apparently he doesn't see the Colts and Pacers leases with the CIB as a business undertaking. I can't think of any other business that hauls away more public money than these two sports franchises. "I use these tickets because I am an ardent supporter of our sports teams," he declares on his statement.

Ballard also discloses free Super Bowl tickets he received from the 2012 Super Bowl Committee, but he places no value on the tickets. Did the Super Bowl Committee also purchase his plane tickets, his hotel and other travel charges related to his trip to the Super Bowl? He accepted free tickets to the Final Four game in Detroit courtesy of the Indiana Sports Corporation where someone picked his pocket, but like the Super Bowl tickets, he doesn't place a value on them. It makes you wonder whose pockets are really being picked. Ballard took two international trips to Brazil and Europe last year courtesy of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee with wife Winnie in tow, but again he places no value on the trips. He insists those trips were related to economic development, and the Ethics Code exempts those trips from disclosure.

Ballard disclosed two free Globe bicycles he received from the Reginald Jones McMiracle Event that he valued at $400. Maybe the value of a single Globe bicycle is $400, but two? I don't think so. At least not according to the prices for different models I found on the Internet.  He got a rain barrel from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful worth $110. And he got some CDs, hat and T-shirts from the Bob & Tom Show he valued at $220.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reportedly accepted free tickets to 80 events over the past 5 years for which he did not pay or report as gifts that may have been worth as much as $50,000 according to one conservative estimate as as much $100,000. A criminal investigation has been launched against the Los Angeles mayor to determine if he broke any laws. The city's ethics ordinance required the mayor to report gifts and who gave them, and limits the value of tickets he can accept to $420 from any one source in a year. Indianapolis places no limit on the amount the mayor may accept from one source, and he only has to disclose it if it comes from someone doing business with the city. Free tickets are exempt under L.A.'s ethics ordinance from those reporting requirements, however, if the mayor conducts official business or has a "ceremonial" role at the events. Mayor Villaraigosa is often seen sitting court side at L.A. Lakers games just like Ballard can be seen sitting in court side seats at Pacers games often. There is heightened concern in the case of Ballard's acceptance of these free tickets because he is considering offering the Pacers as much as an additional $18 million a year in public subsidies to cover the operating and maintenance costs on Conseco Fieldhouse. The team already gets free rent on the arena and gets to keep all of the game and non-game event revenues it collects. Ballard bragged recently that the Pacers allowed him to sit in their war room during the NBA draft, his greatest sports experience he said.

Based on anecdotal accounts of the number of free events Ballard has attended since taking office in January 2008, it is quite possible the value of those gifts could add up to as much as $50,000, particularly when you throw in the value of his free club memberships. I highly doubt that he is reporting the value of those gifts on his income tax returns as you or I would have to do; otherwise, he probably couldn't afford to pay his taxes. I think it is absurd that there is such a small limit on the size of gifts city employees may accept, while the mayor and other elected officials, including councilors, can accept gifts valued well into the thousands of dollars when they are the ones exercising the real power. Ballard promised to enact a strong ethics ordinance when he was a candidate for mayor, but the ethics ordinance he signed into law leaves much to be desired and he's the biggest beneficiary of that weak law.


Downtown Indy said...

I think he mean 'invisibility' when he said 'transparency.'

Gary R. Welsh said...

Yeah, the Indianapolis Monthly dubbed him "The Invisible Mayor."

Paul K. Ogden said...

Great report.

I bet you anything that the Mayor is not reporting the value of those gifts on his tax returns. That could be a big problem with the IRS.