Well just how many state lawmakers are on Ersal Ozdemir's payroll? Advance Indiana exclusively reported to you that State Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon) has been on Ersal Ozdemir's payroll as his attorney of record in contentious litigation Ozdemir is engaged with a former business partner, Jason Ellis, who alleges Ozdemir defrauded him out of his 20% interest in his construction and real estate development business. Despite that conflict of interest, Rep. Steuerwald supported and voted for legislation authorizing the public financing of a new stadium for Ozdemir's Indy Eleven minor league soccer stadium when it came for a vote before the House last year. Steuerwald reversed course and abstained when the legislation came before the House this year following Advance Indiana's report of his conflict of interest. Even more disturbing is a very cavalier disclosure today by House Speaker Brian Bosma that he too has performed legal work for Ozdemir, prompting him to join Steuerwald in abstaining from a vote on the passage of HB 1273.
The troubling disclosure of Bosma's conflict of interest is tucked away in an online story on the Indianapolis Star's website concerning the passage of HB 1273 on a 73-21 vote this afternoon. "House speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, did not vote on the bill Wednesday, the Star's Mark Alesia and Tony Cook report. "He disclosed after the vote that he had done legal work for the Indy Eleven and has remained neutral." "That work involved trademarks and contract negotiations." "I don't have an (ownership) interest in it," Bosma said. "Honestly, I'm just trying to set the example for others and felt it was appropriate for me to file a letter (with the House ethics committee) and be excused."
He's remained neutral? Hah. This man controls the calendar and all bills heard in committee and called up for vote on the floor. His unilateral action can block a bill from being heard at any point along the way. By not disclosing at the beginning of the legislative session his conflict of interest, he has opened himself up to a heap of criticism that he has helped engineer passage of this bill for his client. This is even more troubling if the legal work he performed for Ozdemir occurred prior to consideration of last year's legislation. More interesting is the fact that Bosma's practice area at his law firm does not traditionally include trademark work. According to the firm's website, Bosma describes his practice area as follows:
With an extensive background in engineering, business, law and government, Mr. Bosma’s practice is concentrated in the areas of complex business and municipal transactions, municipal finance and environmental matters. He chairs the Government Practice Group of Kroger Gardis & Regas, and serves as general or special counsel to dozens of municipalities and business entities throughout the State of Indiana.
An engineering graduate of Purdue University, Mr. Bosma represents both public and private sector clients in real estate and construction projects, public sector joint ventures and Brownfield redevelopment. He has served as lead counsel for more than fifty public and economic development projects ranging from small facilities to major public private utility projects. He is nationally recognized bond counsel and an active member of the Indiana Municipal Lawyers Association and the National Association of Bond Lawyers.His government-related work alone raises all sorts of red flags since he has rarely disclosed a conflict of interest in participating on any matters before the General Assembly. Unlike Steuerwald, Bosma did not actually abstain from the vote; rather, he simply didn't vote on HB 1273. Steuerwald actually stood and requested permission to abstain from voting ahead of the vote, whereupon he was instructed to state the reason in writing for his abstention. Is there any wonder why those of us on the outside looking in see nothing but a public auction taking place over at the State House where financial benefits to lawmakers are regularly traded for favorable consideration of legislation before the General Assembly?
Last month, federal prosecutors in New York indicted the Empire State's long-time Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, on multiple public corruption charges accusing him of accepting legal referral fees from clients with matters pending before the state legislature in exchange for favorable legislative consideration. Silver was accused of failing to disclose the sources of his income on state ethics statements. Indiana's weak ethics laws do not require lawmaker attorneys to disclose clients with matters pending before the legislature. In fact, both Bosma's and Steuerwald's financial disclosure statements claim attorney-client privilege and the rules of professional conduct governing attorney conduct prohibits them from making such disclosures.
UPDATE: A vote yesterday was also taken on HB 1540, the big gaming bill all of the high-powered gaming lobbyists have been working the hallways hard this session to pass. It allows riverboat casinos to become land-based casinos, and it allows live dealers at the state's two racinos at the horse race tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville, effectively turning them from the "slots at the tracks" to full-blown casinos. The recorded roll call vote shows that only one lawmaker present did not participate in the vote. That lawmaker was Mr. Speaker. Does that mean Speaker Bosma is also doing legal work for the powerful gaming interests? The public has the right to know. I understand the Speaker often doesn't vote in Indiana, which I've always found a bit odd, but if the Speaker doesn't explain his non-participation, how would the public know whether he was not voting because he's the presiding officer or because of a conflict of interest. When are the useless State House reporters going to actually start doing their jobs and reporting on the rampant corruption taking place under their noses?