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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Work ethic: Lawmakers do too little to fix tarnished image"

Niki Kelly reported in the Sunday Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

INDIANAPOLIS – Tucked in a 2015 legislative ethics reform bill was a provision creating the Office of Legislative Ethics.

John Robert “Bob” Rudolph was tapped to serve as the chief counsel, but after one full year, it is unclear what exactly he or the office does.

There are no public statistics kept on issues that are researched. No formal or informal opinions are issued or maintained, though verbal opinions appear to be released often. There is no transparency in terms of records, meetings or minutes.

“The relationship is one of being a counselor, so there is attorney-client privilege attached,” said George Angelone, head of the Legislative Services Agency.

Rudolph makes $119,000 but also has other duties, such as bill drafting. The ethics responsibilities were simply absorbed into the office.

One of Rudolph’s main ethics-related jobs is to put on an annual ethics seminar that legislators are required to attend. He also responds to questions from legislators about whether they have a conflict on a particular bill or issue. And he can answer questions on how to appropriately fill out the statement of economic interest.

“He has the role of a counselor – not an enforcer,” Angelone said.

“We are carrying out the legislative directive, and we do our best to provide the services the legislature needs,” he said.

Rudolph did not speak to the Journal Gazette.

Creation of the office was just one facet of a larger bill pushed by House Speaker Brian Bosma after an ethics scandal involving former member Eric Turner. He privately lobbied against a nursing home bill that would have financially hurt a business run by him and his family.

The measure required lawmakers to disclose more information about their personal financial interests and the lobbying activities of their family members. And it closed several loopholes that allowed state employees to take lucrative jobs with businesses they regulate or to whom they award contracts.

It became clear then that both the House and Senate had their own ethics rules – some of which were more stringent than others.

The story continues with details of the operations of the Senate ethics committee.

Also on Sunday, the Journal Gazette published a strong editorial headed "Work ethic: Lawmakers do too little to fix tarnished image." Some quotes:

For putting a positive spin on an embarrassing ethical mess, it’s tough to top the Indiana General Assembly. The House GOP caucus closed the 2015 session hailing a “historic step for Indiana ethics reform.”

But the ethics bill lawmakers approved looks to be little more than an effort to cover over and move on after a member’s brazen abuse of power.

As The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly reported Sunday, the newly established Office of Legislative Ethics is as opaque as the troublesome caucus proceedings that precipitated it: No formal or informal opinions issued or maintained. No public records, meetings or minutes.

What House Speaker Brian Bosma promised was much more. In announcing that Robert “Bob” Rudolph would serve as chief counsel for the office, Bosma said he knew that Rudolph’s work “will help bring more transparency and bolster the public’s trust in the legislative process.”

But a government office without clear purpose or well-defined operations does little to bolster public trust. With no real evidence of the office’s work, it’s tough to believe the ethical comportment of the General Assembly has changed since former Speaker Pro Tem P. Eric Turner privately lobbied lawmakers to kill a proposed ban on nursing home construction that would have hurt Mainstreet Property Group, his family’s business. * * *

Just this month a lawmaker unabashedly admitted he had “let it be known to any and every person that I worked with, whether that be lobbyists in the hallways, people in Legislative Services Agency, (or) people in the business community” that he was looking for a job. That’s precisely the self-interest and abuse of power that leads to troubling conflicts and bad legislation.

The vast majority of lawmakers remember their role as a public servant, but a sense of entitlement by only one member can harm the entire institution.

If legislative leaders truly want to raise the General Assembly in the public’s esteem, they’ll put more substance behind the Office of Legislative Ethics. Kentucky, which endured its own legislative scandal, has a good model to follow, continually reminding lawmakers what constitutes a conflict of interest and pointing out examples where they occur.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 27, 2016 11:20 AM
Posted to Indiana Government