Saturday, January 25, 2014

Indiana Lobby Protection Commission Hiding Data From The Public

Once upon a time, the Indiana Lobby Registration Protection Commission provided real-time data on its website about which individuals, organizations and businesses were registered to lobby the legislature at any given time, including all compensated lobbyists hired to represent those interests and the subject matter on which they were lobbying. Of course, once upon a time the ILRC was under the control of the Indiana Secretary of State until corrupt lobbyists and lawmakers became concerned that the office was getting too serious about enforcing Indiana's lobby registration and reporting laws, which were already among the weakest in the country. The law was changed to put it under the control of the legislative leaders so the fox could guard the chickens.

If you want to learn anything about who is lobbying whom on what this session, you will find nothing on the ILRC's website other than data from previous years. The most current data is dated July 3, 2013. Gift reports haven't been updated since 2012. This is done intentionally to keep the general public in the dark about what is happening at the State House. If this data had been provided to the public in real time, we wouldn't have had to wait for a report in the IBJ that pay-to-play contractor Ersal Ozdemir had hired a team of lobbyists months ago to lobby state lawmakers this session to subsidize the construction of an $87 million soccer stadium he plans to build for his new professional soccer team, Indy Eleven. [Note: Ozdemir's number one fan is his next door neighbor in a tony Carmel neighborhood, IBJ publisher Mickey Maurer]

Indiana's lobby registration and reporting laws are a joke. Essentially, lobbyists can put down on the forms anything they want without fear of any consequences for lying on the forms, particularly about gifts they provide lawmakers. Most dishonest lobbyists don't fully disclose the extent of the gifts they give to lawmakers, who have a gentleman's agreement with corrupt lawmakers not to disclose them so the lawmaker can avoid reporting them on their financial disclosure forms as well. A few years ago, I uncovered credible evidence that Advance America's Eric Miller was not properly disclosing his lobbying activities on the organization's reports filed with the ILRC. My evidence was bolstered by admissions Miller had made during a recorded interview with a former Star reporter, Brendan O'Shaughnessy, who interviewed Miller about the findings of my investigation of his organization. Miller, of course, is at the forefront of current legislative efforts to place the marriage discrimination amendment, HJR-3, on the state's ballot this year for consideration by voters.

I later filed a complaint against Miller with the ILRC. After several months passed and I heard nothing, I contacted the then-executive director Sarah Nagy and inquired about the status of my complaint. She told me that it couldn't be acted upon because I had only filed one copy, not the five copies that were required, even though there was no such requirement noted at the time to file a complaint. After I provided the additional copies, Nagy told me that the commission met behind closed doors to discuss it at its next regularly-scheduled meeting and informed me that unless I furnished the tape recording O'Shaughnessy had made of his interview with Miller, the ILRC could not act on my complaint. When I contacted O'Shaughnessy, he told me that he destroyed the tape despite me telling him how valuable the statements made on it were to prove Miller's wrongdoing. Inexplicably, O'Shaughnessy had been ordered off the investigative story by his editor, Dennis Ryerson. When I contacted Ryerson, he confirmed the tape had been destroyed and that the newspaper would not participate in providing any evidence to the ILRC against Miller. When I informed Nagy that the Star had destroyed O'Shaughnessy's recorded interview with Miller, I received the following response from her:
The full Commission has reviewed your complaint, along with your supporting materials. There is insufficient showing on your part to merit further investigation. Should you have additional and verifiable evidence, you may re-submit your complaint. At this time, the matter is closed.
It was bad enough that the Commission refused to act on the credible documentary evidence I provided but absolutely shocking that the state's supposed newspaper of record would actually destroy evidence that could be used to prove Miller's violation of the state's lobbying law. A few years later, the ILRC fired Nagy after she had haggled with lobbyists for months over how to interpret a new ethics law the legislature passed in 2010, which accomplished very little other than window dressing.  The law lowered the threshold at which lobbyists are required to report their spending on lawmakers, from $100 to $50, and banned them from taking legislators on out-of-state junkets, both of which unscrupulous lobbyists and lawmakers have no problem skirting. The Attorney Disciplinary Commission later initiated a complaint against Nagy after some of her clients complained that she took money from them for work she never performed, primarily post-conviction relief petitions for criminal defendants. The Supreme Court agreed to a voluntary suspension of her law license in 2012 after Nagy blamed her inaction on client files due to a medical disability.

If you take a look at the people appointed to serve on the commission overseeing the ILRC, it's not surprising that the agency is so ineffective at regulating and enforcing the lobby registration and reporting laws. Current members include two former lawmakers, Sue Scholer and Joe Micon, both from Lafayette, Jan Abbs, a former attorney for the Indiana Senate now working as a corporate attorney in Muncie, and Evansville attorney Terry White. The current part-time executive director of the ILRC is Charles Harris, a former staff attorney for the legislature who was responsible for drafting tax legislation. He left the legislature to accept a job at Ivy Tech as a Vice President of Development and now has a private law practice, in addition to working as the ILRC's part-time director. The commission has a budget of about $280,000 annually for 2 full-time employees and one part-time employee. So if you're not happy about Eric Miller's current actions regarding the advocacy of HJR-3 at the State House, blame the ILRC and the Indianapolis Star.

Below are links to my original research on the lobbying activities of Advance America and Eric Miller:

Advance America's Lobbying Reports Belie The Extent Of Its Lobbying Activities
Advance America's Tax Returns Misleading And Deceptive
Miller's Self-Dealing At Advance America Escalates
Miller And Advance America Abuse Non-Profit Status
Miller Enriched By Self-Dealing At Advance America
Miller Helping Miller
Miller Gloats Over Defeat Of Lobbying Reform
More Miller Self-Dealing To Report
Legality of Advance America's Payment To Miller's Law Firm Questioned
Miller Turns To Pulliam For Help
Miller Speaks Out On Election And His Future, Avoids Accountability


Anonymous said...

Way to research and identify your research as prior how many...with articles posted and not acted upon..oh my...Keep it up sir.

Flogger said...

Great article. The Star on Sunday had an huge article on Exorcism. I guess this is the kind of "Reporting" The Star devotes their dwindling resources to. What next from The Star - Bigfoot in Brown County, or Aliens abducting people along US 41??

You have cleared up for me The Star's lack of critical interest in Miller's Group