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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ind. Gov't. - "Secretive investment group sought Indiana marijuana business" [Updated]

That is the headline to Tony Cook's lengthy Indianapolis Star story this Sunday. Today's story, which follows on a Sunday, March 28th story by reporter Cook that was headed "What smells about Indiana's vaping law? Could it be marijuana?" (ILB quotes here), begins:

Some of Indiana’s most influential lobbyists and political operatives joined a secretive investment company that several partners say has worked for years to cash in on the potential legalization of marijuana in Indiana.

The company, Hoosier Emerging Technologies, was created in late 2012 and is registered to Jim Purucker, one of the state's most prominent alcohol and gaming lobbyists. Two investors in the company told IndyStar the primary aim was to influence legislation that would enable it to secure a place in the lucrative marijuana market.

The people Purucker recruited to invest in the company are a veritable who’s-who of top Indiana powerbrokers — Democrats and Republicans — an IndyStar investigation has found. * * *

It does not appear the company and its investors broke any laws. Still, government accountability advocates worry that such a secretive alliance of insiders with undisclosed financial interests in legislation could undermine an already cynical public's faith in state government.

“It’s everything you don’t want in government," said Zachary Baiel, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government.

He and other government watchdogs said the situation reinforces their calls for more transparency and disclosure in state government. * * *

The company was such a closely held secret that leaders of the General Assembly said they were unaware of its existence, even as some with an interest in the company advocated for language that found its way into bills and, in some cases, into law.

That legislation included the state’s controversial vaping law that took effect last year. It effectively made a single Indiana security company, Lafayette-based Mulhaupt’s Inc., the sole gatekeeper of the vaping industry. The regulatory framework established in the vaping law could eventually be used if marijuana was legalized in Indiana, according to two investors who requested anonymity. * * *

The involvement of so many Statehouse influencers made it difficult for some opponents of the vaping legislation to find representation at the Statehouse, said Evan McMahon, whose group Hoosier Vapers fought against the legislation, but was unaware of Hoosier Emerging Technologies until recently.

"In 2015, when this first came up, we tried to find a lobbyist to represent our industry and every single person we talked to said they had a conflict," he said.

At that time, McMahon said, he did not know there was what he described as "a shadow cabal working together for years."

Re the vaping law, from near the end of the lengthy story (ILB emphasis added):
Lawmakers are now in the midst of overhauling that law. Senate Bill 1 would get rid of the security firm requirements and other portions of the law that a federal court found to be an unconstitutional barrier to interstate trade.

The House and Senate passed slightly different versions of the bill and must work out their differences before the 2017 legislative session ends Friday.

But fixing the vaping law is only the beginning of the work lawmakers need to do if they want to restore public faith in the General Assembly, said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a government accountability group.

"We are at a point in time when the public is cynical, and things like this confirms their belief that there is a small group of insiders who inflict their will on the General Assembly and usually with a profit motive behind it," she said. "This is another example of why we need sweeping reform."

The secretive nature of the company was enabled in part because of what some open government experts say is a gap in Indiana's ethics rules. Lobbyists in Indiana do not have to disclose which lawmakers they lobby or any of their communications with those lawmakers. In fact, they are only required to list the general topic of their lobbying, not the specific piece of legislation they are trying to influence.

At least 13 other states require lobbyists to disclose more specific information about their activities, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that advocates for transparency in government.

Lawmakers had an opportunity earlier this year to make interactions between lobbyists and lawmakers more transparent, but took a pass.

Senate Bill 289, authored by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, would have required lobbyists to keep a log of all communication with lawmakers, making their emails, texts and social media correspondence a matter of public record. The bill also would have made it illegal for lawmakers to accept gifts from lobbyists.

The measure never got a hearing.

"If the public needed another reason to have access to their legislator's e-mails, this would be one to add to the ever growing list," said Baiel, president the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. "Public policy should be made in the light of day and on the record. For posterity. If we cannot reconstruct how bills are made, how can we trust the outcomes of the legislation?"

ILB: Public access to legislators' emails with lobbyists was denied by our Supreme Court in its decision nearly a year ago in CAC v. Koch. See followup ILB posts here, here, and here.

[Updated at 1:24 PM] An April 12th tweet ("Wow. We can barely get emails here depending on the branch. In other states they get emails and texts easily.") by @nkellyatJG pointed to this April 8, 2017 story in the Wisconsin State Journal, which begins:

Tensions between Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are evident in personal text messages between the two, newly released under Wisconsin’s open records law, in which they spar over the state’s next budget.

The texts were released by Walker’s office Friday. They came in response to a Wisconsin State Journal request for text messages between Walker and Vos relating to state business between March 29 and March 31.

See also this note from an August 12, 2015 ILB post:
BTW, from Wisconsin stories the ILB reported on earlier in this series, it appears that all communications on legislative drafts in Wisconsin are to be maintained in a drafting file by their legislative agency open to the public after the session.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, April 16, 2017
Posted to GA and APRA | Indiana Government