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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Ethics panel finds no violation in Turner lobbying, says actions show need for tougher rules"

Updating this ILB post from April 25, the House Statutory Ethics Committee meet yesterday, one week after its first meeting, to announce its decision on the Rep. Eric Turner matter. The AP had this story - some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS — An ethics panel cleared House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner of wrongdoing Wednesday for fighting a measure that would have cost him millions of dollars in profits, but it urged lawmakers to strengthen the disclosure rules for public officials.

Turner lobbied behind closed doors against a proposed five-year construction ban that would have stalled development of multiple projects he is invested in through Mainstreet Property Group. Mainstreet Property documents obtained by The Associated Press show Turner had more than $4 million in profits on the line through his ownership stake in the company.

In a letter to Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, the House Ethics Committee said Turner's actions exposed a weakness in the system.

"While the committee does not find that a technical violation has occurred, we are concerned that Representative Turner's actions have not achieved the highest spirit of transparency. Remaining questions about his conduct, while he is in compliance with our rules, give us concern that our rules do not require enough disclosure," the committee wrote. * * *

The ethics investigation is the first internal review of a House member in nearly two decades. Bosma called for the investigation last month following reports that Turner lobbied against the construction ban in private meetings of the House Republican caucus during the final two days of the 2014 legislative session.

Indiana's ethics laws bar lawmakers from taking formal actions to benefit themselves, such as casting specific votes, but also encourage lawmakers to offer their "expertise" in debates.

Turner thanked the ethics panel in a statement for "clearing" him and said he was clearly offering his perspective on the nursing home industry, not pressuring lawmakers.

"I offered my expertise on the nursing home moratorium in caucus because I have been involved in the industry as a passive investor in senior care real estate for many years," he said in the statement.

The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Clyde Kersey, of Terre Haute, said Turner has exposed holes in an ethics code that has not been changed in roughly 20 years.

"I think this whole thing brought out the fact that we need to make some changes, make things more transparent and call for full disclosure," he said.

For instance Turner listed on his latest economic disclosure form that he is invested in Mainstreet Capital Partners but did not note that company's connection to Mainstreet Property Group. A Mainstreet Property Group document obtained by the AP shows that Turner owns half of Mainstreet Capital Partners, which owns 76 percent of Mainstreet Property Group.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Turner stopped listing the names of nursing home companies he was invested in through another company, T3 Investments, in 2006. Turner's wrote in testimony submitted to the ethics panel that he did not believe he needed to disclose those connections.

House Ethics Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said the committee would meet in the coming months and look to have recommendations ready before lawmakers return for their 2015 session in January.

"I expect a full review of all the rules, the code of ethics, as well as the statute," he said.

In the Indianapolis Star, Tony Cook and Barb Berggoetz have this story. Some quotes:
After the meeting, Turner’s attorney, Toby McClamroch, called the committee’s report “an exoneration.”

“All of the evidence that was submitted to the committee supports the idea he complied in every way with the code of ethics of the House and the rules of the House,” he said.

If the legislature would like to look at changes in the House code of ethics that Turner would be “more than happy to help” with that process, McClamroch said.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a government accountability group, said the case exposed serious flaws in Indiana’s ethics rules.

“We should be disgusted that this kind of self-serving behavior isn’t against the rules,” she said. “While it’s disappointing that Rep. Turner will emerge from all this without even a slap on the wrist, it’s good to know that there are some people inside the building who think that the rules are too lax and are willing to work on reform.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 1, 2014 08:47 AM
Posted to Indiana Government