Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show Bill Bennett had much more favor among Daniels and his advisers. In January 2010, when Daniels discovered the board of education had changed the state’s textbook rules to allow Bennett’s book, he quickly asked how soon his advisers could get copies of “The Last Best Hope” in classrooms.
“This is excellent to hear … now someone make my day and tell me that his book is becoming the textbook of choice in our state and I’ll buy beers for everyone,” he wrote in a Jan. 27, 2010, email to then-schools chief Tony Bennett, Bennett’s former chief of staff, Todd Huston, and David Shane, a longtime Daniels colleague, Republican donor and school board member.By this time, the public perception of Bennett, a former education secretary in the Reagan administration, had taken a beating after news reports surfaced that he had a gambling addiction and had lost millions gambling in Las Vegas casinos and elsewhere. The staggering size of his gambling losses turned more than a few heads. What really caught my eye was a discussion in one e-mail where Tony Bennett discusses bringing Bennett in as a speaker for a fundraiser in Jeffersonville last summer. The man Bennett says will take care of flying William Bennett to the fundraiser is the infamous Jerry Slusser, a controversial Las Vegas businessman formerly from Greenwood who was one of Daniels' largest political contributors.
Bill Bennett has a strong national following, dating from his time as Ronald Reagan’s education secretary. And he’s been an incredibly popular figure in Daniels’ circle of education reformers. Last summer, Tony Bennett looked to national donor Jerry Slusser to fly Bennett to a fundraiser in Jeffersonville.
“I just spoke to Bill Bennett, and he would be happy to come to Jeff to do our reception after the golf outing. We will need to get him here and home (he will be in NC prior to our event). I was wondering if we should see if Jerry Slusser can fly him here and back to DC,” the schools chief wrote on June 15, 2012, in an email to his chief fundraiser, Julie Southworth.
She replied that getting Slusser to fly Bill Bennett to the Aug. 14 fundraiser shouldn’t be a problem. Slusser, a Republican donor charged $600,000 by federal regulators for defrauding German investors in the late ‘90s, owns an aviation company.Indiana's campaign finance database does not disclose any contributions Slusser made to Bennett last summer; however, there is a reported in-kind contribution to the Indiana Republican State Party in September for over $7,000, presumably for the use of his private aircraft. Slusser, among other businesses, owns Vitesse Aviation, which leases corporate jets to high-rollers. Convicted Ponzi schemer Tim Durham flew one of Vitesse's jet aircraft that he leased for his personal and business use, and former Gov. Daniels often used his private aircraft for his private travels.
LoBianco's article mentions that fine Slusser was assessed by the Commodity Future Trading Commission, a fine Slusser appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which a panel of judges affirmed in 2004 after the original fine of $10 million had been reduced to $600,000. The federal government failed, however, to timely enforce the fine against Slusser after demanding payment in 2004. After this blog reported on the old fine, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett's office initiated an action to recover the fine, something his predecessors, Republican Susan Brooks and interim U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison,, never bothered to do. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt dismissed the civil complaint against Slusser because the 5-year statute of limitations had run, allowing Slusser to escape any personal responsibility for his misdeeds.
Slusser's name just keeps popping up everywhere. During the IURC scandal that forced the resignation of former IURC Chairman David Lott Hardy, e-mails surfaced discussing meetings Slusser and his daughter had with issues they were interested in discussing, including Leucadia's controversial Rockport coal gasification deal that critics have complained represents corporate cronyism at its worst, particularly given the key role Daniels' former communications manager, Mark Lubbers, has played in lobbying for its approval. The Northwest Indiana Times picked up on the e-mail exchanges that have been ignored by others in the media.
E-mails obtained by The Times show that when a generous campaign contributor and friend of Gov. Mitch Daniels came calling, state regulators knew just who they were dealing with and hoped their effort would be recognized.
In the e-mails, an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission staffer points out the political connections of Indianapolis businessman Jerry Slusser as he scrambles to set up a meeting between Slusser, Commissioner Jim Atterholt and staff at the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO).
IURC staffer Robert Pauley e-mailed David Hadley, MISO vice president of state regulatory relations, on June 29: "This guy is a friend of the Governor's, Mark Lubbers, et al. He also has some times (sic) to Mr. Rosenberg's gasification's proposals."
Lubbers was a reference to Mark Lubbers, Gov. Mitch Daniels former political director. Rosenberg is William Rosenberg, president of Indiana Gasification LLC, which is developing a coal gasification plant in Spencer, Ind.
Slusser has been a prominent Daniels campaign contributor, donating $116,936 to the Mitch for Governor Campaign between 2004 and 2008, according to campaign contribution data at the Indiana Secretary of State's website. Slusser also donated $94,107 to Daniel's political action committee Aiming Higher, which played a key role in returning a Republican majority to the Indiana House in the fall elections.
Slusser did not return phone messages requesting an interview left at the jet charter company he owns, Vitesse Aviation Services, in Greenfield, Ind.
It is standard practice for the IURC to meet with other agencies and people interested in job creation and economic development, said IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath in response to a Times inquiry.
She said that Pauley's characterization of Slusser as a friend of the governor was Pauley's own and not the agency's. The July 14 meeting was initiated by the Indiana Economic Development Corp., McGrath said.The Indiana State House media has been abuzz over efforts to get Justice Mark Massa, a close friend of Lubbers and former chief legal counsel to Gov. Daniels who appointed him to the high court, to recuse himself in a case set to be heard next month concerning the Rockport coal gasification project. While acknowledging his friendship with Lubbers, Massa issued an order refusing to recuse himself, expressing concern that Rockport's opponents could count the number of justices it needed to side with it if he did not participate in the case, two, and that by declining to participate in the case, the end result could be a deadlocked vote, which would equate to a victory for the opponents. When Massa ran unsuccessfully for Marion Co. Prosecutor in 2010 against Democrat Terry Curry, one of his largest campaign contributors was Jerry Slusser, a point of concern raised by this blog since both prosecutor candidates were promising to restore the public's trust in an office that had suffered badly under the leadership of the ethically-challenged Carl Brizzi. Before joining Daniels' gubernatorial staff, Massa worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney under Susan Brooks.