Friday, July 11, 2014

Indiana Ethics Law Becomes The Laughing Stock Of The Country

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels permitted a Barnes & Thornburg attorney who represented Tony Bennett in the state ethics complaint that resulted in him admitting to violations of the law and paying a $5,000 fine so it should come as no surprise that it's full of holes. One hole in that law is a provision that allows a state official to use state resources for campaign purposes as long as the official has adopted a formal policy, which Bennett's office had failed to do. Not surprisingly, that interpretation of our ethics law by our Inspector General is making Indiana the laughing stock of the country. Talking Points Memo writes:
Indiana elected officials are allowed to use state-owned property for political purposes, state authorities decided Thursday, as long as they have drafted a formal policy permitting it.
The Times of Northwest Indiana reported on the decision after the state ethics commission approved an inspector general's recommendation.
As part of an investigation, the inspector general concluded that a statewide-elected official "could not use state materials, funds, property, personnel, facilities, or equipment to engage in political activity unless there was a policy or regulation that expressly permitted him to do so."
In other words, as the Times reported, if the official did draft a policy that expressly permitted the use of state property for political purposes, then it would be allowed. The state ethics commission then approved the inspector general's report Thursday, the Times reported, effectively making its conclusion state policy for seven officials.
The offices covered by the rule, according to the newspaper, are: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer and state superintendent.
The case that resulted in the conclusion involved former Indiana education commissioner Tony Bennett (pictured), who the inspector general concluded had used state software to track his political calendars, received political emails through his state email account and held political meetings at state facilities.
Bennett's activity was prohibited because he signed an agreement that had explicitly forbidden it, according to the Times. But if he had not signed it, and instead authorized himself to engage in political activity using state property, it would have been allowed.
Instead, Bennett was fined $5,000 for violating the ethics policy that he signed.
Those same attorneys at Barnes & Thornburg also wrote the weak ethics law that Mayor Greg Ballard enacted after he was elected mayor. Don't kid yourselves, folks. Corruption in Indiana is every bit as bad as it is in neighboring Illinois, if not worse. The state ethics commission also told INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff that he could go ahead and negotiate a new job with an INDOT contractor with whom he has personally signed contracts for the agency. The news media has overlooked the fact that the engineering firm where Woodruff wants to work, RQAW, had been suspended for faulty design work on a bridge in Gary that had to be rebuilt. Woodruff personally participated in the decision that lifted that suspension, thereby allowing RQAW to begin bidding on INDOT contracts. Woodruff has been under investigation for more than a year by the Inspector General for his role in I-69 land sales involving his family members. The commission approved a screening process that supposedly will prevent Woodruff from participating in decisions involving RQAW.

This isn't directly related to the state ethics law, but it's further proof that INDOT is operated for the benefit of campaign contributors and not the state's taxpayers. WRTV's Kary Kenney discloses the one-sided agreement that INDOT has with Indiana Logo Sign that allows the company to pocket 90% of the advertising fees charged to businesses whose names appear on those blue interstate highway signs that alert you to their presence at specific exits along the state's interstate highways. The state's share under the contract is only $464,000. Virtually every other state that Kenney contacted had programs that primarily benefited the state, not the private contractor, causing the state to lose millions of dollars annually. A spokesman for INDOT, Will Wingfield, defended the one-sided agreement. INDOT has so far refused to turn over financial documents that would show just exactly how much William Drew's Indiana Logo Signs is making off his sweetheart contract every year. I would be curious to know whether anyone besides Drew owns a financial interest in Indiana Logo Signs. The original contract with Drew's company dates back to the administration of Gov. Robert Orr decades ago. Drew has made several thousand dollars in campaign contributions to Gov. Mike Pence's campaign committee among many others over the years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The state ethics laws in this state apparently mean whatever the IG says they mean! The citizens of the Hoosier state need to rise up and take our state back from the looters and moochers that comprise the leadership of both political parties in Indiana! As a life long and active Republican I say that me must go on a crusade to purge the state party of all the apparchicks in their ranks! Ironaclly State Senator John Waterman who lost his primary this year actually blew the whistle on Troy Woodruff's crap at INDOT! I may not have always agreed with John but the gas bag that beat him in the primary needs to go!