Thursday, May 26, 2005

"Fueling the Hell-Fire Flames of Bigotry"

As Indiana moves one step closer to constitionalizing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, our legislators may want to ponder the words State Representative Senfronia Thompson shared with her colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives concerning a proposal to amend the Texas Constitution to ban same sex marriages. She didn't make a difference in the outcome there, but her words so eloquently boil the issue down to the bigotry it represents, which is very similar to the proposed constutional amendment approved by the Indiana General Assembly at the urging of Eric Miller and Advance America. Read Representative Thompson's poignant comments as paraphrased in a recent column written by Molly Ivins:

"I have been a member of this august body for three decades, and today is one of the all-time low points. We are going in the wrong direction, in the direction of hate and fear and discrimination. Members, we all know what this is about; this is the politics of divisiveness at it's worst, a wedge issue that is meant to divide. Members, this is a distraction from the real things we need to be working on. At the end of this session, this Legislature, this leadership will not be able to deliver the people of Texas fundamental and fair answers to the pressing issues of our day. Let's look at what this amendment does not do: It does not give one Texas citizen meaningful tax relief. It does not reform or fully fund our education system. It does not restore one child to CHIP [Children's Health Insurance Program] who was cut from health insurance last session. It does not put one dime into raising Texas' Third World access to health care. It does not do one thing to care for or protect one elderly person or one child in this state. In fact, it does not even do anything to protect one marriage. Members, this bill is about hate and fear and discrimination. . . . When I was a small girl, white folks used to talk about 'protecting the institution of marriage' as well. What they meant was if people of my color tried to marry people of Mr. Chisum's color, you'd often find the people of my color hanging from a tree. . . . Fifty years ago, white folks thought interracial marriages were 'a threat to the institution of marriage.' Members, I'm a Christian and a proud Christian. I read the good book and do my best to live by it. I have never read the verse where it says, 'Gay people can't marry.' I have never read the verse where it says, 'Thou shalt discriminate against those not like me.' I have never read the verse where it says, 'Let's base our public policy on hate and fear and discrimination.' Christianity to me is love and hope and faith and forgiveness -- not hate and discrimination. I have served in this body a lot of years, and I have seen a lot of promises broken. . . . So . . . now that blacks and women have equal rights, you turn your hatred to homosexuals, and you still use your misguided reading of the Bible to justify your hatred. You want to pass this ridiculous amendment so you can go home and brag -- brag about what? Declare that you saved the people of Texas from what? Persons of the same sex cannot get married in this state now. Texas law does not now recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, religious unions, domestic partnerships, contractual arrangements or Christian blessings entered into in this state -- or anywhere else on this planet Earth. If you want to make your hateful political statements then that is one thing -- but the Chisum amendment does real harm. It repeals the contracts that many single people have paid thousands of dollars to purchase to obtain medical powers of attorney, powers of attorney, hospital visitation, joint ownership and support agreements. You have lost your way. This is obscene. . . . I thought we would be debating economic development, property tax relief, protecting seniors' pensions and stem cell research to save lives of Texans who are waiting for a more abundant life. Instead we are wasting this body's time with this political stunt that is nothing more than constitutionalizing discrimination. The prejudices exhibited by members of this body disgust me. Last week, Republicans used a political wedge issue to pull kids -- sweet little vulnerable kids -- out of the homes of loving parents and put them back in a state orphanage just because those parents are gay. That's disgusting. I have listened to the arguments. I have listened to all of the crap. . . . I want you to know that this amendment [is] blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry. "

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sex, Lies and Supreme Court Justices

It's the high court of Indiana, the court our state constitution vests with supreme judicial power. As such the Supreme Court of Indiana is the final interpreter of our state constitution and laws. It gives meaning and effect to the words "all people are created equal." It is our system's check on an over-reaching legislative or executive branch which would deny equality or justice to any among us. Unfortunately, the people who make up this court are susceptible to the same prejudices of any other person and can fail to live up to the high ideas and ideals embodied in our constitution. At no point in our state's history was this more apparent than a bizarre series of events occurring in October, 1988, which spewed deep-seated bigotry on the high court. What made this sad chapter in Indiana history so unusual was the fact that the perpetrators and the victim were all justices of the Supreme Court. As I stated in my earlier post, "Why Inequality Exists Under Our Current Law?", judges "[s]ometimes . . . act fairly and in the spirit of our constitution; other times they act out of self-interest and personal prejudice." And noone demonstrated the latter more than former Supreme Court Justice Alfred Pivarnik when he would accuse none other than the Court's Chief Justice of being a drunken, pot-smoking queer.

Our state's Supreme Court is made up of just five justices. They are chosen by the Governor from among three candidates selected by the seven-member Judicial Nominating Commission each time a vacancy occurs. Three members of the commission are chosen by the Governor, the state's attorneys elect three members, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or his designee serves as the commission's chairman and seventh member. Once appointed by the Governor, the justices face the voters in a retention election once every ten years. The commission also chooses from among the five justices the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who serves a term of five years and may be re-appointed to successive five-year terms by the commission. Our current Chief Justice, Randall Shepard, was first appointed to the Court at the age of 38 in 1985 by former-Governor Robert Orr. The Commission tapped Shepard just two years later to become Chief Justice, replacing Richard Givan, and he has held the position continuously since March, 1997.

Justice Alfred Pivarnik, the son of a pipefitter, was born in Valparaiso, Indiana in 1925 at the height of the Ku Klux Klan's reign over Indiana politics and government. Pivarnik, a decorated veteran of World War II, served as Porter County Prosecutor and circuit judge before his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1977 by former Indiana Governor Otis Bowen. Ironically, Pivarnik was the first justice appointed to the Court under the newly adopted "nonpolitical merit system." Prior to this time the justices had been elected by the state's voters. At the time of his appointment, no black, woman or Jew had ever held a permanent seat on the Court. Most of the justices elected under the old system were typically from the rural areas of the state and adopted a very conservative judicial philosophy. Pivarnik adopted the same conservative judicial philosophy of his earlier elected brethren. As the noted journalist Joseph T. Hallinan wrote in the Indianapolis Star at the time, Pivarnik fervently believed that [c]hanging the law was the legislature's business, not the court's . . . [f]or judges to make public policy through their decisions, he felt, was not only wrong, it was an erosion of democracy." According to Hallinan, "family and religion" were very important to Pivarnik.

Randall Shepard could not have been more different than Pivarnik. Their similarities ended with their affiliation with the Republican Party. Shepard, a native of Evansville, is an Ivy-leaguer. After attending Princeton University, he headed off to Yale Law School where he counted among his friends and classmates, Bill and Hillary Clinton. After earning a law degree and spending some more time with post-graduate studies out East, he returned to his roots in Evansville. He became a trial court judge in 1980 where he served until his family's close friend Governor Robert Orr, also of Evansville, appointed the young bachelor to the Supreme Court.

Shepard's predecessor, Richard Givan, had served longer than any other Chief Justice. Prior to Shepard's appointment, Givan had offered to step down as Chief Justice in 1984 if the Judicial Nominating Commission would appoint his like-minded friend as his successor. The Commission thought otherwise after interviewing Justice Pivarnik for the coveted position. According to Hallinan's reporting in the Indianapolis Star one commission member asked Pivarnik what he intended to do to get more women and blacks on the bench. Pivarnik is reported to have answered, "Why, there's no need to do anything. Anybody can apply: it's open." Pivarnik's sentiment mirrored that of Givan, who was heard on many occasions to respond to similar questions that he was a Quaker and that noone was more of a minority than him. The Commission felt the same way about Pivarnik's appointment as he felt about getting more blacks and women on the bench. It informed Givan that it did not intend to act on the appointment of his replacement, meaning that the Court's most senior justice, Donald Hunter, would ascend to the position by default rather than Pivarnik. Givan then withdrew his resignation and served another three years. When he did step down from the position, the Commission chose Shepard over Pivarnik for the post, embittering Pivarnik.

Upon assuming his new position, Shepard almost immediately set the Court on a new course. He raised the profile of the Court and emphasized basing important constitutional decisions on Indiana's constitution rather than always deferring to the federal constitution. Shepard argued that the rights set out in Indiana's Bill of Rights were more expansive than those provided in the federal constitution, and that it was the role of the Court to "breathe life" into them. The Court took a less harsh view of the rights of civil litigants and criminal defendants, both of which only further angered Pivarnik. Eventually reaching a boiling point, Pivarnik seized on a television station's reporting on Indiana's changing court system to tell the "real" story about Shepard according to Joseph Hallinan.

During Shepard's nomination proceedings before the Commission, allegations were brought by several people that Shepard had been a heavy drinker, smoked marijuana and made homosexual advances towards other men while serving as a trial court judge. Then-Chief Justice, Givan became privy to the accusations as a member of the Commission. Givan disclosed the accounts to Pivarnik. According to Hallinan's account in the Indianapolis Star Pivarnik with the assistance of other unnamed persons hired a private investigator, who began rummaging through Shepard's discarded garbage and interviewing old acquaitances of Shepard's in Evansville. Armed with what he claimed was solid proof, Pivarnik made his move on Shepard just ten days before Shepard was to stand for a retention election before the state's voters. Pivarnik appeared in an on-camera interview conducted by WTHR reporter Tom Cochrun during which he leveled the scandalous charges against Shepard and further charged that Governor Orr had initiated a cover up of Shepard's alleged wrongdoings to secure his appointment. After the allegations aired, Givan publicly supported Pivarnik's airing of his colleague's dirty laundry, noting that the Supreme Court would have problems if Shepard was retained, and that the witnesses against Shepard appeared credible to him.

Governor Orr saw Pivarnik's charges for what they were: "Pure vengeance." According to a close aide to Governor Orr at the time, Governor Orr believed it was irrelevant whether Shepard was a homosexual; the only relevant issue to Orr was whether Shepard had broken the law. Orr sought to confront Pivarnik face to face to discuss his charges, but Pivarnik dodged him. After Orr and his staff mounted a successful counter-attack and Shepard appeared publicly to deny the charges, Pivarnik held a press conference to show his "smoking gun" evidence. As it turned out Pivarnik's evidence was more dud than smoking gun. The public was unimpressed. A few days later the voters of Indiana voted to retain Shepard with 62% of the vote, a larger retention than Pivarnik had received a few years earlier.

What makes this chapter of Indiana history so disturbing is the fact that both Pivarnik and Givan as members of the state's high court believed that homosexuality should be a disqualification to service on the Court. Pivarnik said, "I know I subject myself to severe criticism for that, but it's something I believe." Although Shepard got married after assuming his current position, talk of his sexual orientation persisted. In Pivarnik's mind there wasn't any question about it--Shepard was a homosexual. He was often heard to say to ask any man on the street in Shepard's hometown--"people from Evansville wouldn't say there was any question about it." Pivarnik and Givan were convinced that if the voters believed Shepard was a homosexual, they would not retain him. Fortunately, the voters thought otherwise. As much as this sad tale revealed the two's bigotry toward homosexuals, it also revealed the extent to which judges can warp our judicial system and the fundamental notion embodied in our constitution that all persons are created equal. It also demonstrates just how far we have left to go to achieve true equality in our state and in our nation for all people. Pivarnik retired from the Court in 1990 due to failing health and has since died. Givan did not step down until 1995. Though they are no longer a part of our high court, a dark stain has remained in their path, waiting to be cleansed by justices who respect and believe in the principle of equality set down in our constitution.

The editor pays tribute to Joseph T. Hallinan for his in-depth and inciteful reporting on the events reported in this story. A former Indianapolis Star reporter, the highly respected Hallinan now works as a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal. The Indianapolis Star could sure use a reporter or two of his quality on their staff today.

Friday, May 20, 2005

"In Burton Brothers Eric Trusts"

Whenever Eric Miller needs a voice of support for one of Advance America's legislative agenda items, he can count on the Burton brothers. Of course, I'm speaking of State Representative Woody Burton and his older brother, Congressman Dan Burton. They are Miller and Advance America's biggest mouth pieces when it comes to any "pro-family" or "pro-church" measure these voices of moral righteousness assure us we can't live without. To show their appreciation to the Burton brothers, the Advance America website features both of them in videos you can view for free when you pay a visit to the site. The Burton brothers have much in common with Miller--hypocrisy being at the top of the list.

Representative Woody Burton was the leading champion several years ago of Advance America's Defense of Marriage Act for Indiana. The measure, which was enacted in 1997, prohibits same sex marriages in Indiana or the recognition of same sex marriages entered into in other states. While being interviewed about the legislation by Adam Shapiro, a former reporter for WXIN Fox news in Indianapolis, a homophobic Burton equated homosexuality to beastiality. Mr. Shapiro, an openly gay man, was not amused.

The Woody video on Miller's website touts one of Advance America's latest legislative causes, the establishment of a special license plate with the phrase "In God We Trust." Woody laments in the video interview conducted by Miller that his bill didn't have a chance for the past three years, but now that the Republicans are in control, his bill got a hearing, passed out of committee and passed the House with only three dissenting votes. Woody names all three dissenting Democrats for good measure. The Republican-controlled Senate didn't seem to think Woody's bill was so important. The bill died in the Senate without a hearing. Woody is not deterred however. With the assistance of Miller and the supposedly non-partisan Advance America, Woody is now circulating petitions to submit to the BMV qualifying "In God We Trust" as a special license plate. To help their cause Indianapolis Star reporter Debbye Butler recently wrote a sympathetic piece noting the support Miller and his purported non-profit organization are giving to the cause. According to Butler's article "Miller [planned to] send an e-mail to thousands of invididuals and churches across the state, describing the license plate and giving them access to petitions they can download from his Web site." Our tax-subsidized dollars hard at work and being well spent. Butler's article even directed readers to Advance America's web site address to download a petition to circulate for the cause. The article quotes Miller as saying, "Representative Burton got the bill through the House, and it should have been heard at the Senate, where it would have passed overwhelmingly." Miller added, "Unfortunately, since it didn't get past committee to a vote, the next-best opportunity to have this plate is to get the signatures of individuals who commit to buying one." The article quotes a supporter of the license plate, Edna Prosser of Greenwood, saying "I say to anyone opposed to the plate, 'Please allow me my rights as I allow you yours." For some reason I suspect Edna really didn't mean what she said, and I don't think Woody would want it that way either.

In another video on Advance America's website, Miller turns to Woody's more well-known brother, Congressman Dan Burton for support. In the interview Dan notes that he and Eric go way back to when he was a state legislator, and that Eric is a "remarkable leader." And nobody knows more about "remarkable" than Dan. Dan told us for years that he was a "pro-family" legislator, and if you didn't believe him just ask Eric. We of course now know what a hypocrite Dan is. Like D.C. Stephenson this voice of moral righteousness also impregnated a State House secretary while supporting Miller's "pro-family" agenda as a state legislator. Dan, who once called President Clinton a "scumbag" because of his extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky, admitted in 1998 to the extra-marital affair which produced a child. In Burton's words, "There was a relationship many years ago from which a child was produced. I am the father. With my wife's knowledge, I have fulfilled my responsibilities as the father. In an effort to protect the privacy of those involved, it was decided years ago among all parties that this matter would remain private." The 15-year old illegitimate son had not received a single visit from his father at the time of his admission. So much for his assertion that he had fulfilled his responsibilities as a father. His brother Woody said he didn't even know about his newfound nephew until the public admission, which Burton only made on the eve of a Vanity Fair article exposing this defender of "family values" as the hypocrite he is.

Now you know why "In Burton Brothers Eric Trusts". God save us all.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Miller Enriched by Self-Dealing at Advance America

Like D.C. Stephenson used the KKK in the 1920s to personally enrich himself, Advance Indiana can report that Eric Miller has used Advance America’s non-profit status to personally enrich himself through inflated six-figure salaries, legal retainers for his law firm and other acts of self-dealing. Between 1998 and 2003 Miller pocketed more than $1 million in tax-subsidized dollars for his salary, legal fees and other benefits from the organization he founded. Miller served as the organization’s executive director continuously over the past twenty-five years, stepping down in 2004 to mount his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for Governor. The period analyzed covers but a small period of Miller’s tenure at the helm of the organization, suggesting that he has personally benefited far more than the million dollars he parlayed for himself during this six-year period. Equally disturbing is Advance Indiana's discovery that Miller’s private law firm shared the tax-exempt organization’s pricey office space and utilized the organization’s employee services throughout this period.

As the organization’s executive director, Miller was paid $621,168 in salary during the period of 1998 through 2003, averaging $103,528 in annual pay. A survey conducted by Towers Perrin of 376 nonprofit organizations at the same time Miller was earning an annual salary of $109,085 found that the average annual salary for the top executive of an organization with an annual budget of less than $1 million was $78,500, over $30,000 below Miller’s annual pay. Beginning in 2002, the organization also began making substantial contributions to Miller’s benefits plan to offset reductions in his annual salary. In 2002, the organization contributed $11,000 to Miller’s benefits plan, and it chipped in another $14,000 in 2003, upping Miller’s personal take $25,000 during the 2-year period.

The organization leases an automobile utilized by Miller. According to Advance America’s tax returns the organization spent $63,201 in automobile expenses during the period of 1998 through 2003. During this same period, the organization spent $97,536 for office parking, presumably including parking for Miller. In some years the organization spent as much as $20,000 for employee parking. Downtown parking typically costs about $150.00 per month. The amount shelled out by the organization for parking would have been enough to furnish parking for 11 employees, well above the small staff employed by Advance America.

Federal tax regulations require non-profit organizations to disclose the identity and amount of any employee or independent contractor of the organization who is annually paid $50,000 or more. Other than Miller’s law firm, the organization reported no independent contractors earning $50,000 or more from 1998 to 2003. In addition to Miller, it paid just two employees $50,000 or more during the reported period. In 2001 the organization paid Rick Terry $53,987 to serve as its Director of Development. The organization replaced Terry with Larry Woods for the same position in 2002 and paid him $64,262.

In addition to serving as the organization’s executive director, Miller is a principal of the law firm he founded, Miller Waters Martin & Hall. According to the firm’s web site, , the firm’s areas of practice are personal injury law and general practice. The firm’s website indicates that four other attorneys practice at the firm in addition to Miller, including James E. Waters, Duane C. Martin, Steven R. Hall and Stephen H. Shroyer. The offices for Advance America and the law firm are located in the same suite of offices located at the same mailing address at 101 West Ohio Street, Suite #660, Indianapolis. In a blatant act of self-dealing during the period of 1998 to 2003, Advance America paid Miller’s law firm nearly $300,000 for legal consulting services. Prior to 1998 Advance America typically paid no more than $2,000 a year for legal services; however, these expenditures shot up in 2001 when the organization paid Miller’s law firm $64,500 for legal services. That amount nearly doubled in 2002 to $116,500. In 2003 the organization paid Miller’s law firm $115,500 for legal services. Miller has pocketed as much as one-third of the organization’s annual reported revenues for his salary and legal fees.

The type of legal work being conducted by Miller’s law firm on behalf of the organization is not specified in its tax returns; however, such large legal payments for an organization with an annual budget well below $1 million as Advance America is particularly troubling. Miller was already being compensated as a full-time executive director. Is Miller’s law firm also being paid for legal work performed by Miller? Is the firm being compensated for lobbying work performed by Miller or other attorneys at the firm? Other than Miller, the firm does not register as a compensated or employer lobbyist in Indiana. It is doubtful that the payments can be attributed to lobbying work since the organization purports to have annual lobbying expenditures well below $50,000. The payments clearly raise more questions than they answer.

The reality is that it is difficult to separate Miller’s private law practice from the organization’s operations. According to the tax returns filed by Advance America, Miller’s law firm shares office space leased by the organization and vice versa. In addition, Miller’s law firm also sometimes shares the organization’s employee services. The office space shared by Advance America and Miller’s five-man law firm are conveniently located just one block from the State House. Because of its prime location, Advance America spent $451,988 for its leased space from 1998 through 2003. According to the tax returns for this period, the organization received only $59,103 in reimbursed expenses, with no reimbursed expenses reported for 2003. This raises the question of whether Miller’s firm paid its fair share for the rent and the use of employee services.

The payment of these large legal consulting fees to Miller’s law firm, along with the sharing of office space and employee services, raise serious questions about whether these are good faith transactions taking place at arm’s length, and whether they are in the best interests of the tax-exempt organization. The board of directors and officers for the organization who must approve these transactions have remained constant between 1998 and 2003. In addition to Miller, they include the following individuals, all men: Dr. Robert Taylor of Indianapolis, the organization’s current president; Pastor David Miller of Mishawaka; Dr. Warren Dafoe of Indianapolis, its secretary-treasurer; Dr. Clinton Branine of Greenwood; Dr. DeWayne Felber of Indianapolis; Dr. Collins Green of Muncie; Dr. Bud Steadman of South Bend; and Dr. Roger Voegtlin of Chesterton. The board members have essentially been hand-picked by the organization’s founder, Eric Miller. Although the organization’s contributors make up its members, the membership at large does not participate in the selection of the organization’s board members and officers. Advance America is not legally required to disclose to the public the identity of its members, and it does not voluntarily disclose this information to the public.

Advance Indiana’s analysis of Advance America’s organization raises some very troubling issues. One thing is clear: the organization’s founder and top executive has used the tax-subsidized organization to personally enrich himself tremendously. If the organization expects the public to continue subsidizing its activities, it owes the public a truly independent audit of its activities to determine the appropriateness of the inter-woven relationship between Miller and his private law practice and the fairness of the transactions conducted by and between Miller and his law firm from the standpoint of the organization. The questions raised by this analysis are further evidence that a federal investigation of the organization is in order to determine whether it is indeed entitled to its tax-exempt status. Advance Indiana thinks that a purely political organization like Advance America should never be granted tax-exempt status. Only a federal investigation can resolve this question.

Governor Rebuffs Miller: Won't Allow Discrimination in State Government

Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, yesterday dealt a blow to Eric Miller's and Advance America's advocacy of legalized discrimination against Indiana citizens based upon their sexual orientation when he issued the Administration's first EEO Policy Statement, which specifically prohibits discrimination in state hiring, firing and promotion based upon a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The policy reads in part that "sexual orientation and gender identity shall not be a consideration in decisions concerning hiring, development, advancement, and termination of civilian employees." The policy statement continues, "Further, we will strive to maintain a working environment free of sexual harassment and intimidation." The policy statement also encourages more "progressive affirmative action in state employment."

The only disappointing aspect of the policy is its exclusion of non-civilian employees, such as military personnel serving in the state's guard units. A federal statute signed into law by former President Clinton, known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell" allows discrimination in the military based upon a person's sexual orientation. Since its enactment, the number of military personnel discharged because of their sexual orientation has grown substantially.

Former Governor Frank O'Bannon had adopted a similar EEO policy, which was reaffirmed by former Governor Joe Kernan upon his succession to office. Governor Daniels had adopted a similar policy for his gubernatorial campaign committee while he was seeking the office last year. Daniels downplayed his position at the time because of the heated battle he had to wage against Eric Miller for the Republican nomination. Daniels met secretly with a handfull of gays and lesbians to assure them he opposed discrimination against gays and lesbians after winning the Republican nomination. Publication of the meeting, however, set off a firestorm with Miller and his Advance America organization. Miller and his minions threatened to withhold their support of Daniels if he did not support their position opposing the extension of civil rights protections to persons based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity. Daniels had been earlier criticized by many civil rights advocates, including me, for failing to issue a statement earlier. He attributed the need to deal with pressing legislative issues as the reason for the delay. His staff also maintained that the non-discrimination policy adopted by the Kernan administration had remained in full force and effect upon his taking office.

Governor Daniels should be applauded for standing up to Miller and Advance America on this critical issue. Since Governor Daniels obviously agrees with the need for this type of civil rights protection for state employees, he should agree that similar protections should be afforded to all Indiana citizens. It is the hope of Advance Indiana that Daniels will not in the future buckle under to pressure from Miller and his organization. He showed true leadership in adopting his Administration's EEO Policy Statement, knowing that he would come under fire from Miller and Advance America.

Daniel's approval of this policy can only be viewed as a major setback to Miller and Advance America. This comes on the heels of two big victories for his organization. Advance America and Miller successfully advocated the passage of SJR 7 during the past legislative session, which would amend the Indiana Constitution to specifically ban same sex marriages and civil unions. He also succeeded in defeating the adoption of a new civil rights ordinance for the City of Indianapolis, which would have extended civil rights protections to gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. Miller, a Republican who exerts tremendous influence over Indiana Republican politics, can only be viewed as weakened when the state's highest ranking Republican rebuffs his agenda. It also demonstrates bipartisanship on the critical issue of civil rights. And that is a victory that all Hoosiers can celebrate.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Advance America's Tax Returns Misleading and Deceptive

An analysis conducted by Advance Indiana of the tax returns filed by Eric Miller’s Advance America organization since 1998 reveal that the organization attributes but a small fraction of its activities to lobbying despite its strong lobbying presence at the Indiana State House. Between the period of 1998 through 2003, Advance America attributed as little as three percent (3%) and no more than seven percent (7%) of its annual expenses to lobbying activities. As discussed in a previous post, Advance America has developed a very sophisticated direct and grassroots lobbying effort to influence legislation in Indiana. Its activities are centered almost entirely around its efforts to advance a conservative, religious legislative agenda, even though it describes itself as a nonpartisan, educational organization. The lobbying expenditures reported in the organization’s tax returns are misleading, if not deceiving. If the organization had been fairly reporting the extent of its lobbying activities throughout this period, the organization and its manager would have been subject to an excise tax penalty and ultimately, the revocation of its tax-exempt status.

As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, Advance America is permitted to engage in lobbying activities so long as it does not devote a “substantial part” of its activities to influence legislation. Tax-exempt organizations which engage in limited lobbying activities are permitted to make an election whereby their lobbying activities are governed by expenditure tests in lieu of being subject to the 501(c)(3) “substantial part” test. Advance America has made the so-called 501(h) election. This election applies a sliding scale of permissible “lobbying nontaxable amounts”, which include both total and grass roots lobbying. These amounts are deemed insubstantial, and expenditures under the nontaxable amount are considered “excess lobbying expenditures.” Organizations that make the 501(h) election will lose their tax-exempt status only if the amounts spent on lobbying normally exceed 150% of either of the grassroots or total nontaxable amounts over a four-year period. If Advance America did not make the 501(h) election, there is absolutely no doubt that it would be deemed an “action” organization and, therefore, not entitled to tax-exempt status.

Under the “substantial part” test, if a substantial part of an organization’s activities involve attempting to influence legislation, it is considered an “action” organization. IRS regulations will regard an organization as attempting to influence legislation if it does the following: contacts, or urges the public to contact, members of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation; or advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation. Advance America engages in all of these activities. IRS regulations further provide that an organization will be considered an “action” organization if it has the following two characteristics: its main or primary objective or objectives (as distinguished from its incidental or secondary objectives) may be attained only by legislation or a defeat of proposed legislation; and it advocates, or campaigns for, the attainment of such main or primary objective or objectives as distinguished from engaging in non-partisan analysis, study or research and making the results thereof available to the public. Without the pursuit of its right wing religious legislative agenda, Adavance America could not achieve its objectives. Under either of these tests provided in the IRS regulations, Advance America would be considered an “action” organization; however, since it has made a 501(h) election, full and honest disclosure of expenditures by the organization is necessary to determine the organization’s tax-exempt status. By allowing organization’s like Advance America to make the 501(h) election, the organization can use the election as a loophole by simply under-reporting its actual lobbying activities. That is precisely what our analysis has found.

Between the period 1998 through 2003, Advance America reported annual revenues ranging from a low of $653,321 in 1998 to a high of $886,549 in 2000. During this same period, the organization reported annual expenditures ranging from a low of $655,400 in 2003 to a high of $865,238 in 2000. Of those expenditures, Advance America attributed as little as 3% and no more than 7% of its expenditures to lobbying expenditures, whether in the form of direct or grassroots lobbying. Under IRS regulations, Advance America can spend no more than $100,000 plus 15% of its exempt purpose expenditures on lobbying in excess of $500,000. The share of its grass roots lobbying expenditures cannot exceed $25,000 plus 3.75% of its exempt purpose expenditures in excess of $500,000. In none of the years reported did Advance America’s lobbying expenditures exceed its nontaxable lobbying amount. It in fact reported substantial excess nontaxable lobbying expenditures for this period. The tax returns filed by the organization for this period showed the following lobbying expenditures:

Year Direct Grassroots Total Exp.
1998 $15,055 $31,844 $46,899
1999 $22,603 $29,572 $52,175
2000 $13,981 $17,650 $31,631
2001 $26,318 $17,074 $43,392
2002 $22,374 $15,596 $37,970
2003 $13,097 $11,940 $25,037

The organization’s tax returns leave one with the impression that it devotes very little of its activities to influence legislation, notwithstanding its vast lobbying activities in Indiana. By any objective standard, it is inconceivable that the organization’s actual lobbying expenditures for this period could be so insignificant.

With each tax return, the organization is required to provide a “clear and concise” statement of its exempt purpose achievements for the tax year being reported. This is to include the number of clients served and publications issued, or discuss those achievements that are not measurable. Advance America’s returns state that the organization’s primary exempt purpose is education. The returns list only two ways the organization achieves its exempt purposes: seminars and education and lobbying; no further information is provided about how it achieves its exempt purposes, seemingly short of the disclosure detail required under IRS regulations.

IRS regulations require 501(c)(3) organizations to detail how their exempt funds are spent during the tax year being reported. Tax-exempt organization accounting practices separate spending into three areas: (a) program services, which are activities that directly achieve or promote the organization’s tax-exempt mission; (b) fundraising, which includes money spent in efforts to attract or process donations and grants; and (c) administrative, which includes staff salaries, office maintenance and other expenses that are incurred even in the absence of tax-exempt activities. Advance America’s spending in these three areas for the time period of 1998 through 2003 is as follows:

Year Program Fundraising Administrative
1998 $71,654 $0 $762,521
1999 $110,802 $0 $681,795
2000 $311,257 $ 26,044 $527,937
2001 $178,792 $107,233 $544,596
2002 $344,486 $ 87,998 $335,416
2003 $355,015 $ 70,581 $229,867

It is remarkable that Advance America reported only $71,654 in program services expenditures in 1998 compared to $762,521 in administrative expenditures. Program Services, which includes lobbying expenditures, soared after 1998 reaching a high in 2003 at $355,015. During this same period, expenditures attributable to administrative costs dropped precipitously from $762,521 in 1998 to $229,867. The organization spent nothing in fundraising during 1998 and 1999 according to its tax returns; however, it spent nearly $200,000 on fundraising during the four-year period of 2000 to 2003. The accounting differences over this period are extremely unusual, particularly since the organization’s activities and management remained constant during this period.

It should be observed that the relative efficiency of a tax-exempt organization is often determined by comparing the proportion of total expenses that is spent on program services, which should be high, to the proportion spent on fundraising, which should be low. The Council of Better Business Bureaus “Standards for Charitable Solicitations” states, “reasonable use of funds requires that, a) at least 50% of total income from all sources be spent on programs and activities directly related to the organization’s purposes; b) at least 50% of public contributions be spent on programs and activities described in solicitations, in accordance with donor expectations; c) fundraising costs not exceed 35% of related contributions; and d) total fundraising and administrative costs not exceed 50% of total income.” In 1998, the organization spent just 11% of its reported revenues on program services and only 14% in 1999, falling well below the BBB’s standard. Thereafter, the organization’s reported program service expenditures increased, eventually reaching the magical number of 50% of its reported revenues in 2003. Its administrative expenses represented 91% of the organization’s administrative expenses in 1998, but by 2003, administrative expenses represented just 35% of its total expenditures. Fundraising expenditures were well within the BBB’s standard for the period analyzed.

With virtually little change in the organization’s operations and management during this period, serious questions are raised by this analysis of the organization’s accounting practices. The organization’s tax returns were prepared by the Indianapolis certified public accounting firm of Clark & Leucht, P.C. The books of the organization were always reported as being in the care of Eric Miller, who was executive director at all times covered by this analysis. Under penalties of perjury some of the tax returns were signed by Eric Miller, while others were signed by the organization’s secretary-treasurer, Dr. Warren Dafoe of Indianapolis. In each of the tax years analyzed the organization obtained an extension of time to file its annual return.

A complete and thorough audit and investigation of Advance America’s organization is the only way the public can be satisfied that Advance America has not unlawfully abused its tax-exempt status. Advance America’s tax-exempt status is a privilege, not a right. The taxpayers have a right to know that its government is not subsidizing, directly or indirectly, any organization whose substantial activities are directed toward influencing legislation, or the election or defeat of particular candidates. Advance Indiana’s analysis of Advance America’s activities demonstrates that the organization’s only purpose is to advance its right wing religious legislative agenda in violation of it 501(c)(3) charter. Fairness and justice require that its charter be revoked.

Friday, May 13, 2005

State GOP Hypocrisy on Non-Profit Partisanship

The Indiana Republican Party telephoned the minister of the First Uniterian Church of South Bend earlier this week to advise her that an informational meeting the church intended to conduct on Social Security issues could jeopardize the church's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status because of its "partisan" nature. According to a South Bend Tribune news report, the Rev. Lisa Doeg received the phone call Monday afternoon a few hours before University of Notre Dame economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci was scheduled to speak at her church about President Bush's proposed reforms to Social Security. The caller complained that Ghilarducci was a partisan Democract, and that her "partisan" presentation might violate the church's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. State Representative Luke Messer, who also serves as executive director of the state GOP, confirmed to the South Bend Tribune that a call was placed to the church's minister, but that no threat was intended by the call. According to Messer the caller stated that "if you're a 501(3)(c), you're not supposed to be involved in partisan activities." Messer told the South Bend Tribune that the caller offered to provide "two or three surrogates" who could discuss Social Security to offer the other point of view.

As Advance Indiana previously reported the highly partisan Advance America organization has blatantly abused its tax-exempt status for more than two decades to advance its far right legislative agenda through the use of an extremely sophisticated, high-tech lobbying enterprise. Representative Messer supported Advance America's proposed constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages and civil unions, and he, like other candidates who support the organization's extremist religious agenda, benefits electorally from the support he receives from Advance America. Representative Messer and the state GOP have never questioned the propriety of Advance America's partisan activities. Unlike Miller, Teresa Ghillarduci has never sought a political office and is one of the state's most recognized scholars on matters of finance. Inviting her to speak at a single informational meeting on Social Security hardly compares to the hundreds of thousands of tax-exempt dollars Advance America spends each year in Indiana to influence legislation. The GOP call to the South Bend church can only be described as an act of intimidation for which Messer and the GOP should be ashamed. If Messer and the state GOP are truly concerned about non-profits engaging in partisan activities, then they should join Advance Indiana's call for a federal investigation of the activities of Advance America and Eric Miller; otherwise, we can only include that Messer and the state GOP are as hypocritical as Eric Miller. I truly hope Messer and the GOP prove me wrong.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Miller and Advance America Abuse Non-Profit Status

An Advance Indiana analysis of Advance America's legislative and lobbying activities reveals wholesale abuse by the organization and its leader, Eric Miller, of the organization's tax exempt status. Advance America is organized as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization under the Internal Revenue Code. As such, if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation, it may not qualify as a 501(c)(3) organization. Further, it is absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Advance America bills itself as a "nonpartisan educational organization", but an analysis of its activites confirms that it is neither nonpartisan or educational. The organization and its full-time lobbyists are intimately involved in both writing legislation and lobbying for or against legislation which advances its far-right religious agenda. To this end, it has developed a vast statewide communications network to disseminate information about its causes to its righteous followers. The organization hosts a seminar annually in the fall prior to the start of the legislative session to discuss its legislative agenda and to instruct its followers on how best to lobby the legislature. This is supposedly the education component of the organization, but it's really no more than a political rally for the faithful to attend, to learn about the organization's legislative agenda and to hear from friendly elected representatives. To keep its members informed, it maintains a 24-hour hotline which its followers can call to get the latest information on legislative action, and it provides updates through faxes, e-mails and mailings. It produces 1-minute, partisan legislative summaries it distributes to more than 50 radio stations around the state. Its Rapid Action Network prompts its followers to contact legislators to express support for the organization's legislative positions. As an example, its Rapid Action Network swamped Indianapolis city council members with e-mails from the organization's followers from around the state urging the council members to vote down Indianapolis' city ordinance extending civil rights protections to gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. The organization holds rallies at the State House like the one it held this spring urging the adoption of the constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages and civil unions. Only favored legislators, typically all Republican, are invited to speak at the organization's events.

One of its most potent weapons in its political lobbying arsenal is its Voting Record Summaries distributed in a voting guide. The organization scores state legislators annually by preparing Voting Record Summaries showing each legislator's support or opposition to its legislative items. The organizations boasts that it mails more than 880,000 voting guides detailing each members' voting records to voters on the eve of a general election. Many legislators, both Republican and Democract, personally oppose Eric Miller and his legislative agenda; however, they are so worried about the impact the organization's partisan portrayal of their voting record will have on their election prospects, they vote with the organization as a path of least resistance.

To its credit, the organization does annually register to lobby the Indiana General Assembly as it is legally obliged. Both Miller and Dwight Williams, a former insurance industry lobbyist and current executive director of the organization, register as compensated lobbyists of Advance America. On any day the legislature is in session you can be assured that one or both of its lobbyists will be on the ground plying their trade. While the organization does meet its legal requirement to register and report its lobbying activites, it grossly understates the extent of its lobbying activites in reports it files yearly with the IRS and the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission. I will have more on that in a future post.

According to IRS regulations for 501(c)(3) organizations, influencing legislation includes "action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions or similar items, or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment or similar procedure." An organization, according to the regulations, will also be regarded as influencing legislation "if it contacts, or urges the public to contact members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation." Any fair and independent analysis of Advance America's activities can only conclude that a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation.

The organization's argument that it is a nonpartisan organization rings hollow. Advance America's founder and long-time CEO, Eric Miller, is a registered Republican and a former Republican candidate for Governor. He is very active in Republican Party matters, particularly in lobbying key Republicans to insure that his organization's right wing positions are included as key planks in the state's party platform, such as opposition to same sex marriages and abortions. If you visit Advance America's website, you will find video files of various interviews Miller has conducted with members of the legislature, all of whom are Republican. There are interviews with Senators Jeff Drozda and Brandt Hershman and Representative Woody Burton. There are personal testimonies from Senator Lugar, Congressmen Dan Burton, Mike Pence and Steve Buyer, Representative David Frizzell and former Governor Otis Bowen, all Republicans, praising the virtues of the organization and its founder and lobbyist in chief, Eric Miller. At public events, such as State House rallies, the organization only invites political candidates who support its positions to speak. This practice is a clear violation of the IRS rules requiring equal participation. Miller, himself a former candidate, makes little effort to distinguish his own political ambitions from that of his tax-exempt organization. Organization events often include banners with his name emboldened as much as the organization's name. As a candidate for Governor, Miller alone was permitted to tap into the organization's database to mine for volunteers and contributors. Miller and his organization insist that they are merely engaging in permissible voter education efforts and not political campaign activity. Any fair and balanced analysis of the activites of, and the information disseminated by the organization shows that it consistently portrays legislation in a very bias manner based upon its far right religious views, which evidence its true intent: to favor one candidate over another; oppose a candidate in some manner; or have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, all of which constitute prohibited participation or intervention in violation of IRS regulations.

Advance America is a political action committe and, as such, should be so organized and regulated. By impermissibly organizing as a tax-exempt organization, Advance America is evading our campaign finance laws and obtaining a tax benefit to which it is not entitled. Advance America does not have to disclose the source and amounts of its contributors as such, and it does not voluntarily reveal to the public any information about the source of its funds. It should. Its contributors are able to influence the legislative process and campaigns and, at the same time, receive a tax deduction for their contributions. Legally made political contributions, on the other hand, are not tax deductible. The organization claims that it has more than 3,800 churches across the state participating in its organization. Are these tax-exempt churches contributing funds to what is clearly a political organization in violation of IRS rules? Miller and Advance America owe the public a lot of answers to questions like these. I believe it is time for the IRS and our U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, Susan Brookes, to investigate Miller and Advance America's blatant abuse of its tax-exempt status to promote its partisan, political agenda. If you agree, let it be known. Write to the IRS, the U.S. Attorney's office, and your legislator and let them know you think Advance America should be investigated for abusing its 501(c)(3) status. That is the only way we're going to make it happen--pressure the people who can find out what is really going on over at Advance America.

Monday, May 09, 2005

D.C. Stephenson-Meet Advance America and Eric Miller

A single organization in this state has recently mobilized all of its efforts to one cause--discrimination of gay, lesbian and trangendered Hoosiers. That organization calls itself Advance America and is led by Eric Miller. The similarities of this organization and its leader to the Ku Klux Klan and D.C. Stephenson are frightening. Anyone committed to ending discrimination against all persons in Indiana must be prepared to challenge this organization and its leader head on. I will endeavor to make sure everyone knows what this organization and its leader are really about.

Advance America was originally founded by Eric Miller and a few of his far right religious followers in 1980 as Citizens Concerned for the Constitution, the same year Miller was admitted to practice law in Indiana. Miller has served as its executive director and registered lobbyist for many years. Miller stepped down as executive director to run for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2004. Current Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels resoundingly defeated him in the Indiana Republican primary.

Advance America's website touts itself as the "largest pro-family, pro-church, pro-private and home school and pro-tax reform organization" in Indiana. It boasts a membership of over 42,000 families, 1,600 businesses and over 3,800 churches around the state. According to its website it is "a nonpartisan, tax-exempt, educational organization and as such does not endorse any candidate or political party." Its purported mission is "to [inform] and [educate] the citizens of Indiana as to how their government works and what they can do to make a difference on issues of importance to them." When the Ku Klux Klan first obtained its charter to operate in Indiana it purported to be a "purely benevolent and eleemosynary" (i.e. compassion, mercy) and a "patriotic fraternal order." Don't be fooled by Advance America's description. As I will explain, Advance America is not a nonpartisan organization, and it is not an educational organization. It is purely a political organization. It advocates and promotes far right religious public policies and aids in the election of candidates who support its agenda. The agenda it is currently advocating is a rip-off of the KKK's Americanization agenda from 1925.

Advance America's website ( displays the voting records of all Indiana House and Senate members on legislation it advocates for or against. Its hot button issue during the 2005 legislative session was SJR 7, a proposed constitutional amendment which provides that marriage in Indiana consists only of the union of one man and one woman. It further provides that Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. This constitutional amendment passed the Indiana Senate and House overwhelmingly. It must be approved by the next successive session of the General Assembly and then voted on by the state's voters before it becomes a part of the Indiana Constitution. Indiana already has a Defense of Marriage Law banning same sex marriage, a proposal advanced by Advance America several years ago. The amendment is completely unnecessary and goes even further by banning same sex unions and any other legal incident of marriage enjoyed by spouses of heterosexual marriages. If adopted, it would become the first amendment approved which would constitutionalize discrimination against a class of persons. Most recently, Advance America and Eric Miller bombarded Indianapolis city council members with e-mails, letter and telephone calls and successfully defeated the adoption of a new civil rights ordinance for the City, which would have barred discrimination in employment and housing against persons based upon their sexual orientation. In 1925, the KKK used the legislative process to discriminate against Catholics and immigrants. Today, Advance America uses the legislative process to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Other legislative agenda items of Advance America have included: the mandatory display of the American flag in all public schools and require students to recite the pledge of allegiance; provide tax credits to parents who send their children to Christian schools; require that the motto "In God We Trust" be placed in all public schools; expanding tax-exempt status of churches; and opposition to expanded gambling activities in Indiana among others. Indiana's Constitution specifically bars the use of public funds for the benefit of a religious institution. Nonetheless, Advance American uses its own tax exempt status to push provisions which clearly violate this prohibition. If you look at the Ku Klux Klan's "Americanization" agenda from 1925, it is difficult to distinguish from Advance America's legislative agenda. Like D.C. Stephenson, its leader is politically ambitious. Eric Miller unsuccessfully sought the Governor's office in 2004. Despite its nonpartisan, tax exempt status, Miller utilized Advance America's grassroots organization and fundraising base to launch his own political campaign.

Like D.C. Stephenson Eric Miller is a hypocrite. While Miller fervently devotes his efforts to banning same sex marriages and civil unions based on the false belief that it represents an assault on families in Indiana, actions he has taken in his own personal life raise serious questions about his commitment to family. Miller's first marriage ended in divorce. A few years ago he married for the second time. Miller has produced no children from either marriage even though he argues that God reserves marriage for heterosexual couples because they can procreate and insure the survival of the human race. Does Eric Miller and his followers actually believe that committed relationships between gays and lesbians are a threat to heterosexual marriages given that more than 50% of them end in divorce? Why doesn't his organization devote its effort to saving heterosexual marriages? Does he discuss the harm heterosexual divorces causes to Indiana families?

The fact is that Eric Miller and Advance America are all about fomenting hatred of gays and lesbians in order to advance their narrow view of moral righteousness. Miller is a high tech re-incarnation of D.C. Stephenson. Since it is no longer fashionable to discriminate against Jews, Catholics and African-Americans, Miller and his organization must turn their hatred on gays and lesbians. The danger he and his organization pose to this state cannot be underestimated. If we are to succeed in ending discrimination in Indiana, we must expose Miller and Advance America for what it truly is--Advance Hate. Only then will we be able to change hearts and minds and end the influence of this dangerous organization.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Those Who Cannot Remember The Past Are Condemned to Repeat It

The famous Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, observed after World War II that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Santayana noted that closed, autocractic societies decay while open societies thrive. The latest efforts in Indiana by religious zealots to foment hostilities towards gays and lesbians is not something new to our state. The worst example occured in the 1920s. During this era the Ku Klux Klan reigned supreme over Indiana politics, controlling the legislature, the Governor's office and many other lucrative offices. This era was marked by a depressed economy, prohibition, immigration, dissolutionment and reaction according to a noted historian on nativism, John Higham. Moral righteousness reached its all-time high in Indiana as the Ku Klux Klan expanded its reach over the state. Higham said, "Never before had a single society gathered up so many hatreds or given vent to an inwardness so thoroughly."

The man behind this movement was the infamous David Curtis (D.C.) Stephenson. Stephenson, a native of Texas, made his way to Evansville, Indiana in 1920. He soon took up a fight against the Pope, Jews, blacks and foreigners. He became an active member of the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising quickly to the rank of Grand Dragon, whereupon he moved to Indianapolis. It is reported that Stephenson enlisted as many as 300,000 Hoosiers to the KKK. For $26 a person each member got his standard hood, bed sheet and "naturalization papers." Stephenson quickly became a millionaire, pocketing a substantial part of the membership fees. With his newfound wealth and influence, Stephenson began buying off politicians. He took control of the Marion County Republican Party and expressed his desire to run for the U.S. Senate or President. Stephenson was onced quoted as saying, "I am the law in Indiana."

Stephenson's and the KKK's influence peaked during the 1925 session of the Indiana General Assembly. With total control of state government, the KKK pushed its legislative agenda, which the organization dubbed, "Americanization." The KKK and Stephenson were alarmed by the influx of new immigrants to the state, many of whom were Catholic. The purpose of the Americanization agenda was to make the state as inhospitable to Catholics and other immigrants as much as possible. The legislature led an all out assault on parochial schools, even attempting an out-right ban of them. They sought to mandate that an American flag be flown in every public classroom, and that classroom instruction include Bible study and anti-Catholicism. The KKK let it be known to all politicians in Indiana that you were either for their "Americanization" agenda or against it; there was no middle ground. While their legislative agenda passed the House overwhelmingly, internal feuding between KKK leaders caused the agenda to breakdown in the Senate. The KKK did succeed, however, in passing the Wright Bone Dry Law, which criminalized the consumption of any intoxicating liquor. Violators could be punished by a prison term of up to 2 years and fined $1,000. Anyone convicted of violating the law also had to pay a $25 prosecution fee, a move that enriched many prosecutors throughout the state who vigorously enforced the law against persons whom they disapproved, particularly immigrants and Catholics. The KKK-led legislature celebrated the passage of the Wright Bone Dry Law by engaging in "drunkard debauchery" at the Claypool Hotel according to the Indianapolis News.

Apparently D.C. Stephenson did a little too much partying during the 1925 legislative session. He impregnated a legislative secretary, Marge Oberhauser. A married man, D.C. Stephenson took matters into his own hands. He kidnapped Oberhauser, boarded a train headed to Chicago and poisoned her. Oberhauser was able to escape from Stephenson during a stop in Hammond, Indiana, but she later died from the poisoning a few days later. Before year's end, Stephenson was convicted of her murder in a highly celebrated trial which took place in Noblesville. With the hypocrisy of the organization's leader in full view, the KKK's influence began to wane in Indiana; however, it was not crushed until the Democrats swept the state in the 1932 elections following the start of the depression. The damage to the Republican Party, however, took hold prior to 1932. African-Americans had been monopolized by the Republican Party in Indiana prior to the rise of the KKK; thereafter, African-Americans in Indiana have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. While the KKK was more influential within the Republican Party, it also had many supporter and sympathizers within the state's Democratic Party though obviously not as pervasive as the Republican Party. In the South, the KKK and the Democratic Party acted in tandem throughout this era and thereafter.

I attribute much of this historical perspective to "The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly," by Justin Walsh. This is perhaps the most authoritative book ever written about Indiana politics.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Why Inequality Exists Under Our Current Laws?

If you have never read the Bill of Rights to the Indiana Constitution, you should. The rights afforded therein are clearly broader than the individual rights granted under the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights. The plain textual interpretation of Indiana's Bill of Rights leaves no room for doubt that all citizens are to be treated equally, and that no special privileges or immunities may be conferred upon one class of citizens unless similar privileges or immunities are conferred upon all citizens. Furthermore, the separation of church and state is more distinctly set out in the Indiana Bill of Rights than the federal Bill of Rights. You then might ask that if Indiana's Constitution so clearly protects individuals from any form of discrimination, why does discrimination still exist in Indiana?

Indiana's Constitution is interpreted by judges, some appointed and some elected, and the laws enacted under our constitutional procedures are written by elected state legislators who make up our General Assembly. Judges and legislators bring with them their own personal prejudices while performing their constitutional duties. Sometimes they act fairly and in the spirit of our constitution; other times they act out of self-interest and personal prejudice.

You may be surprised to know that Indiana enacted its own civil rights law several years prior to the enactment of the first U.S. civil rights law in 1964. It protected all citizens from discrimination in employment based upon race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry for any employer with six or more employees. Indiana law similarly prohibits discrimination on any of these basis in housing. Prior to their enactment widespread discrimination against people on these basis were commonplace. The General Assembly has expanded the coverage of these laws over time to include age and disabilities as additional basis of discrimination. Several major cities in Indiana, including Fort Wayne, Lafayette, and Bloomington among others have enacted ordinances extending civil rights protection based upon sexual orientation. In the area of family law, courts have permitted same sex parents to adopt and have applied child support and custody laws similarly to separated same sex parents as opposite sex parents. Courts in Indiana have so far denied matrimonial rights to same sex couples, and the General Assembly has successfully completed the first step in amending the Indiana Constitution to ban same sex marriages and disallow the conferment of any of the benefits of marriage to same sex couples.

As you can see much needs to be done to end discrimination against Indiana citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation. The Indiana Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to be free from discrimination. It is our responsibility to elect judges and representatives who respect our constitution and who enact laws which advance its fundamental principles. Unfortunately, one very well organized religious-based group in Indiana has been very successful at blocking any effort to end discrimination based upon sexual orientation in Indiana. I will tell you everything you need to know about that organization and its leader in a future post. Until the influence of that organization is reigned in by responsible citizens, discrimination will continue to flourish in Indiana.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Why Advance Indiana?

As a God-fearing American I believe whole-heartedly in the concept that all people are created equally, that all people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As best as the intentions of our founders may have been in laying down these sound and well-founded principles, the nature and experience of the human race tells us that some among us will always endeavor to deny these fundamental rights to some of us. African, Irish, Italian, Polish, German, Catholic, Jewish, disabled and female Americans are among the many classes of Americans who have been singled out for discrimination at some point in our history. Slowly, we have changed hearts and minds to end most forms of discrimination in our country and in our state. Sadly, however, a small group of religious zealots have made it their mission in life to deny liberty to persons borne into this world with certain innate characteristics they find objectionable. Based upon their narrow religious views they seek to deny these guaranteed fundamental rights to any person who is gay, lesbian or transgendered, and to use the powers of the state to overtly discriminate against anyone whose sexual orientation they personally find offensive. My purpose in creating this blog is to inform all Hoosiers about: the impact the denial of liberty has on their fellow citizens; who is behind these efforts; and what we can do to thwart their efforts. It is my strong belief that we can only Advance Indiana by promoting a diverse and accepting culture. I hope the readers of this blog are of a like mind and will endeavor to help me achieve these ends.