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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "AP Exclusive: Turner had more than $4M at stake in nursing home fight, has made millions more"; plus ILB resources

Updating this ILB post from April 14th, Tom LoBianco of the AP reports late this afternoon:

During much of the debate during the 2014 session, it appeared [Rep. Eric] Turner's son, developer Zeke Turner, had the most to lose if the five-year moratorium was enacted. But a financial document obtained by The Associated Press shows that Eric Turner had as much or more at stake because he owns 38 percent of Mainstreet Property Group, which builds nursing homes in Indiana and other states.

The information is included in a private offering from a subsidiary of Mainstreet Property Group looking to raise money for a proposed nursing home in Bloomington. The document refers to Eric Turner as a 50 percent owner of Mainstreet Capital Partners, which owns nearly 76.5 percent of Mainstreet Property Group.

Turner has consistently denied any wrongdoing. He issued a statement Thursday saying the moratorium would have had "no significant effect" on his business because investments in new facilities would simply have moved to other states. He acknowledged, as he has previously, that he holds an ownership stake in Mainstreet but did not disclose the amount.

"Consistent with the House Code of Ethics, I provided my particular expertise during discussions in caucus and disclosed I am an investor in an entity that invests in Mainstreet Property Group," Turner said. * * *

In a press release sent during the middle of the legislative fight, Mainstreet argued that five projects underway would be blocked by the ban. According to another Mainstreet financial document, two of the projects — in Lafayette and Terre Haute — were expected to net Mainstreet $5.4 million and $4.8 million, respectively.

In the case of those two facilities, Eric Turner stood to lose nearly $3.9 million if the ban had passed.

The Cicero Republican kept his distance from the issue in public, recusing himself from votes and abstaining from comment in hearings, including one where his son testified. But he lobbied other House Republicans in private meetings during the last two days of the legislative session and was successful in helping killing the legislation, several Republicans who were in those meetings told the AP.

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said earlier this week that he knew of Turner's interest in the nursing home industry.

"Eric and I are friends and have had a lot of private conversations, so I'm aware of what's going on in Eric's life, yes," Brown said.

He didn't answer directly when asked if he had any concerns about Eric Turner taking actions in caucus that could reap him millions of dollars. Instead he offered a concern many lawmakers have: that stricter ethics rules could violate the spirit of Indiana's part-time Legislature, which brings in elected officials who are not full-time politicians.

Although most lawmakers have careers outside the Statehouse, ethics rules bar them from taking direct actions in the General Assembly that would directly benefit them or their family.

It's unlikely that Turner's actions violated that rule because his discussions occurred during private meetings of the House Republican caucus, which is not considered an official forum.

ILB Resources: The House announced today that its "Statutory Committee on Ethics" will meet next Wed., April 23, at 2 PM in Room 404 of the Statehouse. No word on whether it will be videocast.

Intrigued at why it was designated the "Statutory Committee," I found this statute, IC 2-2.1-3. Sec. 5 of this law creates the legislative ethics committees. Sec. 6, from 1974, requires each committee "to recommend a code of ethics for their respective houses by not later than 30 days after the first session day of each legislative session." (I linked to the House code in this earlier post; BTW, the Senate does not appear to have a Code of Ethics.)

Sec. 7 sets out other powers and duties of the committees, including:

(1) may receive and hear any complaint which alleges a breach of any privilege of the appropriate house, misconduct of any member or any violation of the respective code of ethics,
regardless of when the breach, misconduct, or violation is alleged to have occurred;
(2) may obtain information with respect to any complaint filed pursuant to this section and to that end may compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses, and the production of pertinent books and papers;
(3) may recommend whatever sanction is appropriate with respect to a particular member as will best maintain in the minds of the public a good opinion of the conduct and character of members of the general assembly;
(4) may recommend legislation to the general assembly relating to the conduct and ethics of members of the general assembly ....
The ILB has obtained and is posting a prescient 2006 Indiana Law Review article on legislative ethics, authored by Ed Feigenbaum. The title: "Legislative Ethics in Indiana: A Matter of Perception - And Perception Matters." It begins:
Few things are as critical to the effective and efficient performance of a democracy as the understanding by public officials that public service is a public trust. The system can only function properly if those responsible for legislating, implementing, and adjudicating our laws are motivated by public service, rather than by self-interest.

In a state such as Indiana, where service in the General Assembly is a parttime responsibility, this altruistic motivation becomes even more important as lawmakers must insulate—or separate—themselves from assorted outside influences that might adversely affect their ability to make impartial decisions and vote on matters without having their motives questioned over the perception or reality of those actions.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 17, 2014 06:08 PM
Posted to Indiana Government