Saturday, October 16, 2010

Star Trivializes Ryan Vaughn's ACS Conflict Of Interest

Whenever Dennis Ryerson's newspaper is under fire by the blogs for ignoring an important issue that makes the publication look totally incompetent to its readers, he responds by having one of his reporters stick a small item in the a weekly political gossip column and trivialize its substance so he can claim the newspaper covered the issue. That is the case with the Star's treatment of the glaring conflict of interest City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn has with respect to the pending long-term lease agreement Mayor Greg Ballard's administration reached with ACS for the city's parking meter assets that now must obtain council approval. This and other blogs have railed against Vaughn's insistence he has no conflict of interest despite the fact that his law firm represents ACS and state lobbying records indicated he personally lobbied on behalf of the politically-connected firm.

Vaughn ignored the chatter on the blogs over the last several weeks about his conflict of interest, which Ryerson dubbed "noise", until Indianapolis' weekly alternative newspaper, Nuvo, asked him questions about it. Vaughn then declared the lobbying records, which have been available online for more than a year, were in error and that he had never personally lobbied for ACS. Vaughn offered further explanation to the Star about the "error", one that any good lawyer does when he screws up--blame it on an underling. Trivializing the entire matter as nothing more than political gossip, the Star includes the explanation in an item in this weekend's "Behind Closed Doors" column, which was compiled this week by reporters Jon Murray, Chris Sikich, Bill Ruthhart (who just left to go to work for the Chicago Tribune as, believe it or not, a "watchdog" reporter) and Mary Beth Schneider. The item reads:

City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn has rebuffed pressure to abstain from taking part in an upcoming vote on a controversial parking meter lease.

The pressure he's facing makes sense. The Indianapolis power firm where the Republican leader works, Barnes & Thornburg, has lobbied in the past on behalf of Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, the lead vendor in the proposed parking meter deal. The law firm also has connections to Mayor Greg Ballard's administration. [My note: The firm still lobbies for ACS and the firm still provides legal counsel directly for Mayor Ballard's office.]

Still, Vaughn and administration officials insist Barnes & Thornburg's lawyers played no role in the ACS-led team's winning bid for the lucrative proposed parking meter contract. Vaughn says his employment alone isn't a conflict of interest. [The IBJ has indicated the deal could net ACS $1.2 billion. City lobbying records show Joe Loftus of Barnes & Thornburg is registered to lobby the city's Information Services Agency and the Dept. of Public Works on behalf of ACS. Loftus is personally engaged by the Mayor's office to lobby the General Assembly on behalf of Mayor Ballard.]

But last week, Vaughn faced new questions. State records appeared to show he had, despite his assertions to the contrary, personally lobbied on behalf of ACS at the state level, where the company has a contract to modernize the welfare services delivery system.

That's a potentially damning revelation, and it first surfaced after local political bloggers discovered that Vaughn's Executive Branch lobbyist and registration for 2009 included "ACS State and Local Solutions, Inc." as a client. The record listed an array of "related" state agencies and said purchasing was in the subject of the lobbying.

But Vaughn insisted the record was incorrect. He said ACS was included because of a mix-up when a Barnes & Thornburg paralegal entered his online registration that year and "registered me for executive lobbying that I haven't done," he said.

Vaughn said that because of varying rules for executive and legislative lobbying registration, Barnes & Thornburg treats them differently. For legislative registration, the firm lists all of the firm's lobbying clients for each lobbyist, regardless of which ones each lawyer handles [My note: It provides plausible deniability when the feds come knocking at your door.]

For the executive registration, Vaughn said, the firm lists only clients each lawyer "affirmatively represents." Last week, a paralegal in Vaughn's office edited his record for 2009 and removed ACS so that it fit the firm's practice. [My note:  Vaughn means his current version of events since the records don't match his former story.]

An Indiana Department of Administration spokeswoman confirmed that the agency relies on lobbyists and their firms to register their affiliations in the online database and allows them to edit those records. [My note: A legalized practice for permitting destruction of evidence by lobbyist whose teats are caught in the ringer.]

If the parking meter proposal reaches the council next month, some council Democrats and others say Vaughn has no business voting on it.

"I do," Vaughn responded. "There's a certain element of people out there that are sort of form over substance, so they're never going to be happy with the decision I make. My job is to follow the ethics rules and represent my constituents." [My note: Spoken like the graduate of the Carl Brizzi School of Ethics of which Vaughn is.]
You probably won't be surprised to hear my reaction to Vaughn's explanation. Total BULL. I know a little bit about lobbying. I was a registered lobbyist for multiple clients when I worked at Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman from 1993 to 1998. I had responsibility for preparing all of the firm's lobbying registration and activity reports. I was supervised by one of the partners, Bill Moreau, who just coincidentally happens to be one of those registered lawyer-partners at Barnes & Thornburg. Moreau was a real stickler for detail. He insisted I carefully avoid registering attorneys as lobbyists for clients for whom they did not lobby. And he never delegated the registration and reporting responsibilities to a paralegal while I worked there. I guess he's tempered his ways with age.

The trivialized treatment with which the Star is giving this issue is deeply disturbing. I would note the stark contrast in the way the Star is handling the issue when it involves Vaughn than when a similar issue arose with former CCC President Monroe Gray. The Star published numerous stories on Gray's omission of potential conflicts of interest on his economic interest statement and Ryerson wrote several editorials condemning Gray's actions. Now, Gray isn't known for being the sharpest tool in the shed. He wasn't an attorney and at least he had the excused he relied on the advice given to him by the council's attorney, Aaron Haith. Vaughn was out front in pushing an investigation of Gray on the part of the Republican caucus. Vaughn even pressed an attorney-disciplinary complaint against Haith because he performed legal work for Gray's business, in addition to his work as the council's attorney, a complaint later dismissed by the state's attorney disciplinary commission. Real newspapers, like the Chicago Tribune, question whether there is a tie between a legislative leader's official duties and the clients his law firm represents. To the Star and Dennis Ryerson, it's just needless "noise", particularly when it involves a politician with whom you have a "special relationship."


artfuggins said...

I know this is trivial also but what is Ryan Vaughn doing to his eyebrows? Waxing? Tinting? Wearing eye makeup? What is going on with the arch and the change in color?

Gary R. Welsh said...

I haven't noticed anything different other than he's not been wearing glasses lately. I assumed the eyebrows appeared more pronounced because he wasn't wearing glasses. Fellow blogger Debbie Schlussel has some strong opinions on men who have their eyebrows sculpted, or as she refers to them, Guybrows

Marycatherine Barton said...

Two peas in a pod, Vaughn and Rynearson. Neither of them should be in the position they are.

varangianguard said...

I noticed the Vaughn quote too. Now, my between-the-line comments.

"My job is to follow the ethics rules"

Not, to be ethical, per se, just to follow those lame, weak-kneed rules we politicos wrote up to appease the ignorant electorate.

"and represent my constituents"

Which I choose to leave unspecified, since in this case "my constituents" happen to be ACS, and certainly not the buffoons who voted me in ofice.

Political lawyers. Too clever by half, yet too dumb times two.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again. Take a look at Channel 6 News Oct 19, 2010
"Revamped Parking Plan To Be More Flexible Proposal Would Privatize 15,000 Meters" by Rick Hightower
Put some sugar on it and serve the poison to the public at the taxpayers expense.