Wednesday, February 23, 2011

House Democrats May Be Violating New Indiana Lobby Law

Indiana's House Democratic lawmakers abandoned their constitutional duty as elected members of the Indiana General Assembly this week to shut down the business of the House of Representatives in an effort to kill legislation affecting public employees, public education and a host of other issues. At least thirty-seven of the House Democratic members are holed up at a motel in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois out of reach of state police who could be dispatched to force their return to their duties at the State House, even though Gov. Mitch Daniels has publicly assured them he will do no such thing to compel their return.

In a WTHR-TV  news report last night, it was reported the Democratic members' out-of-state travel is being financed by the Indiana Democratic Party. Political observers note the cash-strapped condition of the state party still reeling from last year's election losses and wonder where the money is coming from to fund the out-of-state travel expenses of 37 legislators. There is speculation labor unions are funneling money to the state party to finance the out-of-state travel expenses of the lawmakers. That raises the potential for a violation of a new Indiana Lobby Law that prohibits lobbyists from paying for lawmakers' out-of-state travel. The statute in question reads as follows:

IC 2-7-5-9

Lobbyist may not pay for or reimburse for legislative person's travel expenses outside Indiana; exceptions
Effective 11-1-2010.

Sec. 9. (a) This section does not apply to the following:

(1) Expenses associated with travel outside Indiana for any purpose that is paid for by an organization or corporation of which the legislative person or the legislative person's spouse is an officer, member of the board of directors, employee, or independent contractor.

(2) Travel expenses of a legislative person attending a public policy meeting if:

(A) the legislative person's sole purpose for attending the meeting is to serve as a speaker or other key participant in the meeting; and

(B) the speaker of the house of representatives or the

president pro tempore of the senate approves the payment of the travel expenses in writing.

(b) As used in this section, "travel expenses" includes expenses for transportation, lodging, meals, registration fees, and other expenses associated with travel.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (a), a lobbyist may not pay for or reimburse for travel expenses of a legislative person for travel outside Indiana for any purpose.

As added by P.L.58-2010, SEC.27.
This statute just took effect with the start of the new legislative session and many are still not familiar with it. If indeed union lobbyists are funneling money to the state party for the express purpose of paying for the lawmakers' out-of-state travel in an effort to defeat legislation opposed by unions, it adds a whole new twist to the decision of the Democratic lawmakers to abandon their posts and hold up in Illinois as a means of blocking legislation their financial backers oppose. It looks to me like this is a matter of serious concern that should be given the immediate attention of the House Ethics Committee and perhaps an independent investigation by the Indiana Attorney General's Office, which has statutory authority to prosecute violations of the law. Any person who knowingly or intentionally violates the law commits unlawful lobbying, a Class D felony.

UPDATE: WTHR's David MacAnally reported tonight on who was picking up the cost of the House Democrat's out-of-state travel to Illinois to avoid conducting business at the State House. He asked Rep. Ed DeLaney who was paying for his hotel bill. DeLaney said he would pay for it himself if the state party didn't pick up the tab. Last night, WTHR reported Democrats told them the state party was paying for all of the legislator's rooms. Rep. Scott Pelath told the WTHR reporter he planned to pay for his own hotel tab, but he couldn't tell MacAnally how much his room was costing. It's obvious Democrats are concerned about the legal issue I've raised about who is financing their out-of-state travel and the potential violation of Indiana's Lobby Law.

Democrats insist they are conducting their official business while caucusing at the Champaign-Urbana Comfort Suites Inn. Earlier this evening, Bosma sparred in a live interview on WISH-TV with DeLaney chiming in from Illinois. DeLaney accused Republicans of similarly staging walkouts in the past. Bosma fired back that the Republicans stayed in the State House to caucus while awaiting concessions from Democrats to agree to follow House rules and allow them to offer amendments to bills. Bosma said this is the first time in the history of the Indiana legislature that legislators have left the state in order to shut down the work of a legislative chamber and avoid arrest by state police.


Blog Admin said...

I predict that no ethical charges will come from this.

I know state employees who are deathly afraid of violating ethics laws, but it seems like appointed department heads and the politicians always get away without even a slap on the wrist.

artfuggins said...

Lots of speculation and gossip here but no real substance.

Gary R. Welsh said...

That's what Wilson said. Hah.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The Indiana Lobby Registration Commission is in a total state of disarray after its executive director was recently fired. I checked their website the other day to see who was registered to lobby for a particular entity and discovered there was no information on lobbyists registered for this session. So much for transparency in the legislative lobbying world. I guess it's expecting too much to have real-time information for the public's benefit.

TMLutas said...

The lobbyists would be subject to prosecution under IC 2-7-6 and would be subject to jail time and loss of their right to lobby for 10 years.