Saturday, February 09, 2013

Council President's Campaign Committee Accepted Illegal Contribution

According to the campaign finance disclosure statement filed last month for the 2012 reporting period by City-County Council President Maggie Lewis' campaign committee, the largest single contributor to her campaign was a Chicago-based nonprofit foundation, Universal Agape Foundation, which contributed $3,250 on November 2, 2012. The Illinois Attorney General's charitable database records identifies the foundation as a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization, which is prohibited under IRS regulations from contributing to political campaigns, or engaging in any partisan campaign activities for that matter.

Michael Sutton
Curiosity led us to wonder why a Chicago-based foundation would be contributing such a large sum of money to our City-County Council President's campaign committee. Further investigation reveals that the foundation's founder is a gentleman by the name of Michael Sutton, who also just happens to be the president of a Chicago-based minority-owned business that counts on compulsory MBE set-asides in government contracting for its success. Sutton owns Infrastructure Engineering, Inc., which also has an office in Indianapolis. He lists the business office of his engineering company as the business address for his tax-exempt foundation. Infrastructure Engineering has received MBE set-aside contracts for work at the Indianapolis International Airport, and it designed and developed the Lafayette Road bike trail lanes for the City of Indianapolis. The company is rumored to have as one of its aims performing work on the proposed metropolitan mass transit authority backed by Mayor Greg Ballard and supported by Lewis that would hike local income taxes 20% to initiate the development of a multi-billion dollar mass transit system that would expand mass transit into neighboring suburban communities.

Lewis' campaign report shows she raised nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions in a non-election year and spent a little more than $16,000, leaving $32,726 in cash on hand at the end of 2012. Her largest contributions primarily came from city contractors and developers. Axis Architecture gave her committee $2,000 and Sen. Greg Taylor's campaign committee kicked in $2,500 (more on that below). She received $2,000 from Faegre, Baker & Daniels, $2,500 from Citizens for Excellence in Government PAC and $1,000 each from J.P. Morgan Chase PAC, Freedom Political Action Committee, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and former Mayor Bart Peterson. Lewis paid Herd Strategies more than $5,700 for services last year and reimbursed herself for more than $2,500 in unspecified expenses.

While we're on the subject of ethics. Eyebrows are being raised by an ordinance authored by Councilor Lewis that would replace the Indianapolis Parks Foundation board with the Central Indiana Community Foundation board as the entity responsible for reviewing and making recommendations for about $1 million in crime prevention grants doled out by the city annually. Lewis earns a living as the executive director of the Dove Recovery House, which received its first $100,000 crime prevention grant this past year despite the fact that the nonprofit serves no role in crime prevention. Critics saw the grant award as a way for the Ballard administration to buy support from Lewis on its initiatives. The CICF's board includes two Barnes & Thornburg partners, Alan Levin and William Moreau, as well as Cindy Simon Skojdt, daughter of the late Mel Simon, lobbyist Greg Hahn and Faegre Baker & Daniels director Joseph Smith, Jr. Lewis' Dove Recovery House also happens to be a partner of CICF, which should pretty much lock up a recommendation of grant funding for Lewis' employer.

The crime prevention grant is not the only conflict that has arisen from Lewis' service as the council's president. There is an appearance that she curries favor with the board that oversees the Dove Recovery House through her work on the council. Lewis appointed Lena Hackett, who served on the Dove's board of trustees when Lewis first started as its executive director, to the Metropolitan Development Commission. State Sen. Greg Taylor, another Dove board member, lobbied the City-County Council heavily to pass controversial TIF measures this past year, including a major expansion of the downtown TIF district, which Lewis supported. Taylor's employer, Gonzales, Saggio and Harlan, which claims to be the largest minority-owned law firm, has been the beneficiary of minority set-aside legal contracts for work on municipal bond issues and will be seeking a role in any new bonds issued by the expanded TIF areas.

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