Monday, February 28, 2011

Lobbyists Thumb Nose At Indianapolis' Toothless Lobbying Law

After a little more than a year in effect, lobbyists before Indianapolis' City-County Government have decided there is no reason to bother complying with the registration and reporting requirements of the law because the Ballard administration has hinted it will do nothing to enforce the law. While 76 individuals registered to lobby last year according to the city's website, only 23 people (not counting the person registered by the first name "A" and last name "B") bothered to register this year, and that includes 7 attorneys with the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, representing 30% of the total number of registered lobbyists. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the law firm's proxy that serves as the President of our City-County Council, Ryan Vaughn, is a high paid lobbyist for the firm who authored the lobbying ordinance. Lobbyists for Buckingham Properties, which won approval of a $98 million taxpayer loan and $40 million in public subsidies for its downtown real estate project North of South, did not bother to register to lobby this year despite their intense lobbying activities to win support for the project in recent months. They're probably paying for drinks on the house at Nicky Blaines tonight as they celebrate how easy it is to convince 16 councilors to stuff your taxpayer dollars in their pockets based on a pack of lies while the community endures the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and budgets for basic city services are being slashed.

Making the lobbying law further useless, the Ballard administration is not posting the reports filed by lobbyists last year. "The report requires disclosure of total payments received for each engagement, as well as a description of, and the costs associated with any item of entertainment, food, drink, honoraria, travel expenses, or registration fees given or provided to a city or county official, appointee, or employee," according to the instructions to lobbyists on the city's website. "Between January 1st and 15th of each year, a registered lobbyist, who is primarily employed and receives payment, or who contracts for financial consideration, exceeding $1,000 in any calendar year, shall file an annual report with the Department of Code Enforcement regarding lobbying activity for the prior year," the website instructs lobbyists on their annual reporting requirements.

Yep, the word is out. Ignore the law. There will be no consequences. Even worse, the Indianapolis news media could care less whether the lobbyists comply with the law. The City of Chicago has more transparency than the City of Indianapolis. That's how bad it is. I'm telling you that if you want to conduct business in a city where the politicians are easily bought and bought cheap, and you have no fear of being prosecuted for your crimes, Indianapolis is the place in America to come. Don't mess with Chicago where there is a federal prosecutor looking over your shoulder, and there are two big newspapers competing with one another to dig for corruption constantly. Come to Indianapolis and be as corrupt as your heart desires. You will soon be designated a good civic leader, get plum appointments to boards and commissions, receive community awards and even accolades from a news media that is on the side of the people defrauding the taxpayers. Hell, the politicians in Indianapolis even like the drug dealers. Name another city in America where it gets that good for the morally corrupt at heart.

Hugo Chavez's Favorite American Joins Union Protest At State House

Actor Danny Glover with Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chavez
If organized labor in Indiana went searching for a Hollywood actor with a history of controversial political activism to support their fight against Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled legislature to control public spending, they certainly found their man in Danny Glover. Today, union organizers featured Glover as a speaker at a State House rally. As the Star reports:

As more than 1,000 union laborers and their supporters cheered and waved signs, actor Danny Glover encouraged the crowd assembled at the Statehouse to be strong in their opposition to a series of Republican bills aimed at undermining collective bargaining.

"It's not only your battle, its a battle that's taking place across this country," Glover, who has a history of supporting workers' rights, told the crowd that lined the second and third floor balconies. Glover also recited for the crowd the Langston Hughes poem, "Let America be America Again." . . .

"What is happening right now," Glover said, "the governor and legislators have been elected in various states on a mandate to balance the budget. Now there are many choices that you have in order to balance the budget......But to attack peoples right to collective bargaining, to orchestrate legislation that attempts to create a quote unquote right to work state is an attempt to break the unions and undermine the unions."

Onlookers gushed over Glover crowding around to shake his hand.

"I think Danny is a person that is for the working people," said one attendee, John Lacey, the state Director for Indiana Workers United. "He understands working people's issues."

Yeah, they were gushing over a man whose Hollywood career has been bankrolled to the tune of $18 million by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. That would be the same Chavez who declared President George W. Bush "the devil" while addressing the United Nations, which is not much worse than Glover's denunciation of Bush as "a racist." Chavez said he would welcome to Venezuela prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay for waging a terrorist war against the U.S. He also called Israel "a genocidal and murderous country" and has closely allied himself with our country's sworn enemies, including Iran. Glover was also close friends with former left-wing Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown and forced into exile in South Africa three years ago. For what it's worth, Glover doesn't think much more of President Obama than he did Bush. On Obama's foreign policy, Glover said, "I think the Obama administration has followed the same playbook, to a large extent, almost verbatim, as the Bush administration. I don’t see anything different."

More Public Handouts To Political Insiders The Focus Of Tonight's Council Meeting

Topping tonight's agenda of the Indianapolis City-County Council meeting is another downtown project that will be funded with taxpayer dollars. That would be the North of South project for the Downtown's southside. The local news media has completely abrogated any responsibility to the public to report truthfully on what this project means to you. Essentially, taxpayers are loaning $98 million to the private developer (because no bank would loan them the money for their risky project) for its $155 million mixed use project involving a hotel, apartments, a new YMCA (that the Y admits is not even needed) and office and retail space. Another $40 million cash is being directly and indirectly funneled into the project. Those are facts you will have to go to local blogger Pat Andrew's site to read. Pat is also an at-large candidate for the council in the Democrat primary. She has a better grasp of city finances than the collective intelligence of the entire current council. Democratic Party bosses blocked her from being slated by rigging their rules to ensure someone who is capable of thinking for herself doesn't get elected to the council.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Indianapolis Animal Shelter Turns Into A Killing Field

Former Indianapolis Animal Care & Control Advisory Board Chairman Warren Patitz paints a bleak picture of what is taking place every day at Indianapolis' under-funded animal shelter. The shelter last year alone put to death more than 9,000 cats and dogs brought to the shelter,  a staggering 55% of the 16,666 animals sheltered in 2010. Only 10% of the animals brought to the shelter must be euthanized because of irremediable suffering; the rest are put to death because homes cannot be found for them. Patitz cites figures from a recent survey conducted by students at the School of Public & Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, which found the agency that cares for animals is spending about $225.00 per animal to shelter homeless pets.

Patitz is calling on city councilors to find additional funding for the problem-plagued agency. "IACC is chronically underfunded, understaffed and under performing," Patitz says. "There is no full time veterinarian and the HVAC system does not meet Federal Safety Standards as was determined during the privileged time I had as the IACC board chairman." IACC's current annual budget is about $1.8 million. Patitz believes as little as $1 million a year more could make a big difference. "Taxpayer dollars to the tune of millions of dollars can be committed to professional sports and funding corporate projects, but apparently skeleton-budgeting for any agency where employees work in depressing and near-hopeless conditions to kill homeless animals is acceptable," he says.

Patitz is referring to the $33.5 million the Ballard administration found to subsidize the Indiana Pacers, and the city's plan to loan $98 million to a private developer to build the North of South project on the southside of Indianapolis' downtown, in addition to nearly $40 million in direct and indirect government subsidies. Patitz notes another $75,000 to $80,000 a year would allow the agency to employ a veterinarian to address deplorable health problems at the shelter. "Animals comes into the Harding St. building healthy and soon become sick because it is a petri dish of disease," Patitz laments. "It might be worth mindful consideration that dignified attention be given to the staffing constraints and conditions at our municipal shelter that budgets $1.8M/yr of tax payer dollars to kill animals."

Bruce White: Billionaire Dad Gave Me Unlimited Budget To Entertain Indy's Elite

White Lodging Executive Barry Cochrum
 It's pretty much a summation of how business gets conducted in Indianapolis. Downtown elites tell us the future of our city rests on public subsidies for projects that benefit only Downtown businesses. Billionaires come to city leaders with hat in hand asking for handouts and city leaders happily oblige by giving them tens of millions of dollars for their private businesses. Billionaire Dean White's White Lodging wanted close to $65 million to build a new J.W. Marriott Hotel downtown to help boost the city's convention business. They hire Barry Cochrum whose father served as president of the City-County Council and as a member of the Capital Improvement Board that oversees the convention center.  Not surprisingly, the city obliged them with every penny their hearts desired for their 1,000-room hotel project. Does the White family thank Indianapolis taxpayers? Absolutely not. They treat the politicians and downtown elites who financed their project with your money to a star-studded gala and a free night's accommodation for the grand opening of the luxury hotel.

White Lodging's Bruce White
 Last weekend's gala featured entertainment by diva Diana Ross. Mayor Greg Ballard was there, along with a host of downtown elites, a/k/a "Rent-A-Civic Leaders", who are renowned for engaging in blatant self-dealing all while being touted to you by the local news media for being great, unselfish civic leaders.  "My dad gave me an unlimited budget (for the party) tonight, and I have managed to exceed that," the Star's Cathy Kightlinger quotes Bruce White of White Lodging telling the downtown elite attendees at last weekend's gala.

Cocktails and artful-looking hors d'oeuvres were plentiful, as were the city's civic and social leaders.

Among those spotted were Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and his wife, Winnie; Emmis Communications Chairman, President and CEO Jeff Smulyan and his wife, Heather; Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission Commissioner Carolene Mays-Medley and her husband, Fred; and Indianapolis Downtown President Tamara Zahn and her husband, Tim Wade.

Carolene Mays with husband Fred
Kightlinger avoided the mistake she made in last Sunday's edition of the Star telling how the Whites had given a free night's accommodation at the hotel to the "city's civic and social leaders." Tell me I'm not surprised IURC Commissioner Carolene Mays was in attendance. It's a passing joke that her appointment to the IURC is nothing more than a proxy for her uncle, Bill Mays, and Ice Miller's Lacy Johnson, both of whom have business ties to utilities with matters before the commission and who brought you the 300 East nightclub in the Julia Carson Government Center. She certainly wasn't appointed to the commission by Gov. Daniels because she was uniquely qualified to serve as a former legislator and employee of one of her uncle's businesses. The Star's website included a photo of another former CIB member, Craig Huse, as another person in attendance at the gala. Someone flying back from Florida last week before the gala e-mailed me to say another person on the flight had been overheard bragging about how she had cut her Florida vacation short so she could get back to Indianapolis in time for the J.W. Marriott gala to which she had been invited. The airline passenger overheard bragging was identified as Ice Miller's Melissa Proffitt-Reese, who has accompanied Mayor Ballard on several of his overseas junkets. And of course it goes without saying that Tamara Zahn, who gets paid a six-figure salary with your tax dollars to run Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., was at the party.

Mayor Greg Ballard promised to put an end to country club politics after he won his upset victory over former Mayor Bart Peterson four years ago. He hasn't stopped running backwards from that commitment since the day he made it. He has accepted more than $50,000 in free country club memberships, travel, meals, gifts and entertainment during his first four years in office, none of which I'm betting he paid income taxes on. It's okay. He doesn't have anything to worry about. It's an accepted way of conducting business in Indianapolis. Both federal and state prosecutors in Indianapolis refuse to prosecute self-dealing and corrupt influence matters that other prosecutors across America prosecute every day. It's no wonder why guys like Bruce White feel no compunction about rubbing in our faces the graft they spread around to the politicians and downtown elites in consideration for the tens of millions of tax dollars they hand out to the greedy billionaires, particularly when they can count on the Indianapolis media to pat them on the back for doing so.

Emanuel Transition Member Quits Over Ethics Flap

Rahm Emanuel has not even officially taken over as Chicago's next mayor before his incoming administration has been hit with its first ethics flap. Emanuel announced on Wednesday eight people he was naming to a transition team to work with outgoing Mayor Richard Daley's administration. Yesterday, one of the eight, former State Rep. Judy Erwin, was forced to resign from the transition team after the Chicago Tribune discovered she had been forced out of her state job last year and fined by the state ethics commission earlier this month for her misconduct. While serving as the executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, a $191,000 a year position, an investigation learned that Erwin performed campaign work for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, used state resources on the campaign and performed other campaign-related work for Democratic candidates. The ethics report filed on February 15 fined Erwin $4,000 and barred her from future employment with the state of Illinois. Apparently Erwin didn't think the ethics flap would be an issue when she stood by Rahm on Wednesday at the announcement she was being named to his transition team. Oddly, Emanuel's campaign claimed Erwin had been vetted, even though the ethical investigation against her was the worst kept secret in Illinois politics.

A top member of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's transition team abruptly resigned after the Tribune inquired about recent findings that she violated state ethics rules by using taxpayer resources for political purposes while serving as executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Judy Erwin, a former state lawmaker who also co-chaired Emanuel's mayoral campaign, stepped down from her high-level state job last summer, was fined and promised to never seek a state job after conceding that she conducted political business on state time, according to a newly filed ethics report.

Erwin admitted using her office e-mail and phone while working on a campaign committee for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, using staff resources to plan her trip to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and engaging in campaign fundraising activity while on the job, the state's Executive Ethics Commission ruled in a decision filed Feb. 16.

The state report went largely unnoticed, however, and Erwin told the Tribune she had not informed Emanuel of the findings before Friday, when the newspaper began its inquiries. She had been named to Emanuel's seven-member transition team just a day earlier.

Erwin's quick departure represents an early embarrassment for an incoming administration that gained a decisive victory last week after campaigning on themes that included bringing further ethics reforms to a city long known for its history of government corruption.

On Saturday, Emanuel spokesman Ben LaBolt said that no decision had been made on whether to replace Erwin on the transition team.

"Judy Erwin is a friend of Rahm's with a wealth of experience and he'll continue to consult her public policy knowledge," LaBolt said in a statement issued late Friday.

LaBolt said members of the transition team had been vetted. But he said the mayor-elect's team had not seen the Executive Ethics Commission report, which was filed days before the mayoral election. Earlier this month, Erwin also was named a managing director of ASGK Public Strategies, the former public affairs consulting firm of David Axelrod, who worked with then-chief of staff Emanuel in the Obama White House.

The ethics commission said Erwin cooperated with the investigation by the executive inspector general, reimbursed the state, agreed to pay a $4,000 fine and promised to never work for the state again. She resigned Aug. 15.
When I worked for the Illinois legislature back in the 1980s, Erwin worked as the press secretary for former Indiana Senate President Phil Rock. For someone who had a reputation for being savvy in media relations, she sure managed to embarrass her friend on the heels of his big mayoral victory this past week. "In an interview with the Tribune, Erwin said she got careless while she was very busy at work, cooperated with investigators and hoped her 30 years of history in state government would outweigh the ruling," the Tribute reported. "She said neither Emanuel nor his campaign was aware of the issue before Friday." It's hard to believe nobody knew about the ethics investigation that prompted her abrupt departure from her state job last year or had notice the publicly-available ethics report issued earlier this month. Matters like that don't remain a secret in state government, particularly when it involves someone as high profile as Erwin is.

The fact Emanuel could care less about her past transgressions until the media made a big deal of it should come as no surprise. The Tribune's John Kass has written a lot in the past about how Emanuel illegally utilized city workers to work on the city's dime during his first run for political office as a U.S. Representative representing Chicago. In Illinois, Democrats have a tradition of using government workers to do political work on their behalf. In the case of Erwin, she was even having staff at the Board of Higher Education assist her in fundraising for a state representative that chaired the committee overseeing higher education. "The atmosphere for IBHE employees must have been heavily colored by Ms. Erwin's political activity on the job," the ethics board said. It found "particularly troubling" her explanation that she made a campaign contribution to a state representative who was the chairman of the higher education appropriations committee: "This suggests that she was responding to a real or imagined pay to play incentive within state government."

I suspect if the news media would have done the type of investigative reporting they subjected Sarah Palin to during the 2008 campaign, they would have uncovered multiple examples of government workers in Illinois like Erwin using their state offices and work hours to assist Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Erwin was not only close to Emanuel, but she had also worked for David Axelrod, Obama's media guru. It is particularly disappointing that the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's Office in Chicago has given a complete pass to the multiple examples of illegal conduct involving both Emanuel and Obama, while going after their flunky former Gov. Rod Blagojevich with a vengeance. His office covered up how political fixer Tony Rezko was stuffing money in Obama's pocket at the same time he was engaged in pay-to-play shenanigans with Blagojevich. Fitzgerald's prosecutors also prevented evidence of Emanuel's and Obama's involvement in the appointment of Obama's senate successor from seeing the light of day. Blagojevich's lawyers are now fighting to get that evidence in, including recorded phone conversations, in his retrial on public corruption charges by Fitzgerald's office--evidence the government's lawyers successfully suppressed in his last trial. It will be interesting to see if any prosecutor brings charges against Erwin for her admitted crimes.

Daniels Tells House Dems To Get Out Of Hot Tub And Get Back To Work

Gov. Mitch Daniels was on fire this morning during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox Sunday. Gov. Daniels once again cleared up any doubts he objected to the House Democratic caucus walking out on the business of the Indiana House of Representatives and fleeing to a hotel in Champaign, Illinois. Daniels reiterated his view that now was not the time for the House Republicans to push right to work legislation in Indiana, but after that issue was removed from the table, he sees the "ultimatum" the Democrats issued on a whole host of other issues "from a hot tub over there" unacceptable and undemocratic. He said he hoped the Democratic lawmakers would "get out of the hot tub" and come back to work at the State House.

Daniels defended remarks he recently made suggesting government workers were part of a "privileged elite." He didn't back down on that view when pressed by Wallace, suggesting government workers make more on average than the taxpayers who pay their salaries when benefits are included. He pointed to a study indicating teachers in Indiana make on average 22% more than the average taxpayers in Indiana.

While Wallace acknowledged Daniels success at turning at $600 million state deficit into a $370 million surplus, he reminded him that when he took over as OMB director during the presidency of George W. Bush he inherited a $230 billion surplus that turned into a $400 billion deficit by the time he left the administration. Daniels defended his record, saying events of 9/11 made the deficit spending unavoidable. Wallace pressed him on the new prescription drug entitlement for seniors the administration approved while he was OMB director and its role in adding to the deficit. Daniels insisted he should be judged in his role as Indiana's chief executive than his role as OMB director where he was part of "a supporting cast with no vote."

Daniels reiterated his view that federal budgets will never become balanced unless social security is on the table. As he has in the past, he touts a bifurcated approach that protects benefits of older workers, while changing the rules for younger workers to means test future benefits and raise the retirement age for eligibility. He also wants to give younger workers a greater say on investing and choosing their retirement benefits, including vouchers to purchase their own health care. Daniels continued to defer any final decision on a presidential bid while sounding increasingly like a presidential candidate.

I'm going to be curious to see what Democratic lawmakers' reaction is to Gov. Daniels hot tub comments. I'm also becoming increasingly convinced that Indiana Democrats are coordinating their attack on Daniels in Indiana with the Obama campaign machine run out of Chicago by David Axelrod in preparation for the 2012 presidential race. They want to create a complete train wreck at the State House this year to deprive Daniels of any legislative victories that might benefit his presidential campaign should he ultimately decide to run or join the ticket as a running mate for another candidate.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Obama's Right To Work Zone

The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel highlights the sheer hypocrisy in President Barack Obama turning his union thug friends loose to harass and protest against Republican governors and legislators in the Midwest for having the audacity to attempt to constrain the reach of employees' collective bargaining rights when he presides over one of the largest right to work zones in the country--namely, most federal employees. Strassel reminds us it was President Jimmy Carter and a Democratic-controlled Congress that severely constrained federal employees' workplace rights.

The union horde is spreading, from Madison to Indianapolis to a state capital near you. And yet the Democratic and union bigwigs engineering the outrage haven't directed their angry multitudes at what is arguably the most "hostile workplace" in the nation: Washington, D.C.

It will no doubt surprise you to learn that President Obama, the great patron of the working man, also happens to be the great CEO of one of the least union-friendly shop floors in the nation.

This is, after all, the president who has berated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, calling the very idea an "assault on unions." This is also the president who has sicced his political arm, Organizing for America, on Madison, allowing the group to fill buses and plan rallies. Ah, but it's easy to throw rocks when you live in a stone (White) house.

Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a "right to work zone." Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

Scott Walker, eat your heart out.

For this enormous flexibility in managing his work force, Mr. Obama can thank his own party. In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, backed by a Democratic Congress, passed the Civil Service Reform Act. Washington had already established its General Schedule (GS) classification and pay system for workers. The 1978 bill went further, focused as it was on worker accountability and performance. It severely proscribed the issues over which employees could bargain, as well as prohibited compulsory union support.

Democrats weren't then (and aren't now) about to let their federal employees dictate pay. The GS system, as well as the president and Congress, sees to that. Nor were they about to let workers touch health-care or retirement plans. Unions are instead limited to bargaining over personnel employment practices such as whether employees are allowed to wear beards, or whether the government must pay to clean uniforms. These demands matter, though they are hardly the sort to break the federal bank.

Which is precisely the point. Washington politicians may not know much, but they know power—in particular, the art of keeping it. Even Carter Democrats understood the difference between being in electoral debt to the unions, and being outright owned by them. And as Gov. Walker will attest, allowing unions to collectively bargain over pay and benefits is allowing them the keys to the statehouse . . .
Strassel notes that Wisconsin school teachers through their collective bargaining agreement dictates that schools purchase their health insurance plans through union-controlled plans that cost considerably more than could be procured from private health insurers. Indiana's teachers union has similarly steered business to union-affiliated companies by exercising broad collective bargaining rights. As we've seen this past year, the affiliate organization wasn't always exercising their fiduciary obligation to their members in a manner that served their interests well. In Washington, the Democrats in Congress have primarily used federal authority to enhance the rights of union members over private employers through such legislative machinations as the Davis-Bacon Act, which forces employers who work on government-funded public works projects to pay their employees the prevailing union wage. Unlike President Obama, states cannot simply print more money and run deficits year after year. Most states constitutionally mandate a balanced budget.

"If the president is so worried about Wisconsin's 'assault,' why has he never taken up federal bargaining rights?," Strassel asks. "If the Badger State's current system is the gold standard, why has he not replicated it?" She continues. "If it is so important that all parties "sit at the table"—as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently lectured Wisconsin—how dare Mr. Obama unilaterally declare a federal pay freeze? (Honestly, the union-busting gall!)" I wouldn't encourage Obama to act if I were Strassel. If his leadership to date is any indication, he just hasn't gotten around to those agenda items.

Indiana Equality Proves Again Why They Don't Represent LGBT Interests

Indiana Equality purports to represent the interests of Indiana's LGBT community. It's past track record of helpful support has been spotty at best and downright harmful at times, such as when its paid lobbyist urged former House Speaker Pat Bauer a few years ago to go ahead and let the marriage discrimination amendment pass the House and be sent to voters for consideration at a public referendum in order not to hurt the Democrats' chances of holding control of the House by blocking it. In the video above, IE's President Rick Sutton stands with organized labor at a State House rally this week and equates the fight for LGBT civil rights equality to the fight organized labor has against Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled legislature over collective bargaining issues. By dragging IE into a fight that is not that of the LGBT organization, the group has only further alienated those who might otherwise want to help with their agenda, particularly members of its own community who do not share big labor's agenda on these matters in any way, shape or form. The organization's is essentially a closed organization. Its board and officers are all self-appointed; members of the community at-large are denied membership in the organization due to the fear of these handful of self-appointed persons that they will lose control of what is a very ineffective and poorly-funded and staffed organization. Some LGBT folks have aptly dubbed the organization Indiana Inequality because of its closed shop and its questionable advocacy on behalf of its community. Hat tip to Wilson Allen for posting the video clip on YouTube to expose how IE once again took an action against the interests of the very people it claims to represent.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Who Is Paying For Indiana Democratic Lawmakers' Out-Of-State Travel?

When a reporter for WTHR-TV questioned Indiana Democratic lawmakers holed up in a Champaign, Illinois hotel this week in order to shut down the business of the Indiana House of Representatives about who was paying for their out-of-state travel, the reporter was told the Indiana Democratic Party was picking up the tab. A tip I received suggested labor union lobbyists may have pledged money to the state party to cover the cost of the lawmakers' hotel rooms. The problem with that arrangement as I pointed out in a post earlier this week is that a new Indiana law that took effect with the start of this legislative session expressly prohibits lobbyists from paying for out-of-state travel expenses of lawmakers. By Wednesday night after I raised the issue, some Democratic lawmakers were changing their tune on who was picking up the tab for their hotel rooms. Today, the Indiana Democratic Party sent out an e-mail solicitation for contributions to help pay the cost of the legislators' out-of-state travel. The solicitation emphatically declared that "Taxpayers aren't footing the bill":

The Indiana Democratic Party has committed financial resources to enable our lawmakers to continue fighting for working Hoosiers without involving any public dollars. There’s no reason everyone should pay for GOP obstinacy.

Still, this fight isn’t a cheap one, and we sure could use your help.

If you support Democrats standing up for the middle class, and you can afford to bolster our efforts, please consider making a contribution today so that we can maintain our strong commitment to working Hoosiers.

The Governor and his Republican lawmakers have drawn a clear line in the sand: it’s our way or the highway.

Democrats chose the highway. In the end, it’ll also be the high road.

We can’t afford to let Republicans run our state into the ground by stomping all over our rights and workers.

Please stand with us as we stand up to an agenda that’s wrong for Indiana.

P.S. Your contribution of just $25 would be a huge help as we keep up the fight. Please click here to use our secure, easy online donation form. Thank you for your support!
Some concerned lobbyists thought it a bit odd the party had committed funds up front to pay for the lawmakers' out-of-state jaunt given how cash-strapped it became after last year's election debacle. If the Democratic lawmakers are indeed trying to circumvent the ban on lobbyists paying for their out-of-state travel by washing payments from the labor unions through the Democratic Party, contribution records of the party organization would confirm that. Violation of the ban is a Class D felony. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has authority to investigate and prosecute violations of the law. Perhaps the Indiana Democratic Party is trying to generate a mix of contributions to muddy the waters if an investigation were to take place.

Ironically, this latest solicitation by the state party appears to be an effort to skirt another new law pushed by former House Speaker Pat Bauer that prohibits lawmakers and candidates for state office from soliciting, accepting or engaging in fundraising activities while the legislature is in session. While IC 3-9-2-12's prohibition applies to current legislators and statewide officeholders and candidates for legislative or statewide office, the solicitation by the Indiana Democratic Party is being made for the direct benefit of Democratic lawmakers to offset the cost of them pursuing their legislative agenda while holed up in the Land of Lincoln. The fundraising effort violates the spirit, if not the express language of the statute since state party committees are not covered by it. If the state party didn't pick up the tab, it is unlikely the lawmakers would pay the tab out of their own personal funds; rather, they would tap into their campaign accounts to pay for their travel. It looks to me like it's a matter deserving of an investigation, but I won't hold my breath waiting for this Attorney General to investigate it.

UPDATE: WISH-TV quotes Democratic State Party Chairman Dan Parker as saying the daily cost to the party to keep the Democratic lamakers in Illinois is $2,500. "Reached by phone in Washington, D.C. Parker said he is paying $2,500 a day. He says he's received online contributions to help pay the cost and may solicit more." Parker was no doubt in Washington getting pointers from Obama's thugs on how to create havoc in Indiana to the maximum extent possible to damage Gov. Mitch Daniels. The purpose of WISH-TV's report was to defend the Democrats from claims by House Speaker Brian Bosma the Democratic walkout is costing taxpayers $90,000 a day. Of course WISH-TV would ask nothing about the potential violation of criminal laws raised if indeed these out-of-state expenditures are being bankrolled by big labor as I suspect. Remember, Jim Shella doesn't believe political corruption exists in Indiana, at least if it involves his friends at the State House.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jonathan Turley Weighs In On Zoeller's Firing Of Jeff Cox

This morning I had a long conversation with former Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox who was fired yesterday by Attorney General Greg Zoeller for satirical comments he had posted on Twitter discussing the showdown between Gov. Scott Walker and the public employees unions in Wisconsin after he was targeted by liberal bloggers at Mother Jones. I noticed well-respected Georgetown University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley had picked up on Cox's firing and had offered his first impression of whether Jeff's firing had violated his constitutionally-protected free speech rights on his blog. Turley thought Cox's case was weak, but he was relying on the facts as reported by the news media, which were very distorted against Jeff. I've contacted Turley on a number of issues in the past and always found him open to discussing them. I urged Jeff to immediately call Turley and give his side of what happened. Thankfully, Turley was willing to listen to Jeff and now sees his case in an entirely different light.

As Jeff has always pointed out, any comments he posted on his blog, Pro Cynic, or elsewhere on the Internet were always done in his spare time and not at work on his government computer. Second, Jeff had disclosed his blog to his superiors at the Attorney General's office and had their consent to publish his personal views, as long as he avoided commenting on state and local issues in Indiana and always did so in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the Attorney General's office. From my own personal observations, Jeff never associated any of his Internet blog posts and comments with his professional duties at the Attorney General's office and he always steered clear of state and local issues.

The most important point, however, is the manner in which the comments in question made by Jeff were taken completely out of context to paint him in a false light. Knowing Jeff's political views, I can assure you he cannot be classified strictly as a conservative Republican. His views on a number of issues diverge from many of the views held by people who consider themselves conservative Republicans. As Jeff notes, he comes from a union household and is not per se hostile to the rights of public employee unions. Jeff also points out his work at the Attorney General's office has nothing to do with collective bargaining issues; he strictly handles eminent domain cases. And we should also not overlook Jeff's recognition as an outstanding lawyer in the Attorney General's office for nearly 10 years.

Taking all of the factors together, Turley now believes Jeff has a potentially strong free speech claim because his comments were made on matters of public concern completely unrelated to his professional work duties. Here's his take:

The connection made in this context to the office was not apparently made by Cox but by Mother Jones magazine. Cox has since closed his blog and regrets causing the controversy. The question is why he was not simply given a warning about such comments and how they reflect upon the office. Now that his name has been associated with the office, he would likely have curtailed or stopped such comments.

There is obviously a great deal of anger over these comments, but the real question is whether a public employee like Cox has any protection for comments made as a private citizen.

In 2006, the Court decided the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, in a close 5-4 decision against a public employee. In this case, Justice Kennedy ruled that the First Amendment does not protect “every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.” However, this was a case where the assistant district attorney was making the comments are part of his duties and the Court ruled that “when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” In this case, Cox made no association with his office. Notably, even in a matter involving statements made in the course of one’s duties, the vote was a close call with Justice Alito deciding the case as the fifth vote.

In Pickering v Board of Education (1968), the Court ordered the reinstatement of a teacher who wrote a letter to a newspaper critical of the local school board. The Court found that a public employee’s statements on a matter of public concern could not be the basis for termination without more of a showing, such as knowing or reckless falsehoods or the statements were of the sort to cause a substantial interference with the ability of the employee to continue to do his job.

I have great problems with the scope of the Garcetti opinion. Yet, Kennedy did note that:

At the same time, the Court has recognized that a citizen who works for the government is nonetheless a citizen. The First Amendment limits the ability of a public employer to leverage the employment relationship to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as private citizens. See Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U. S. 593, 597 (1972) . So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively. See, e.g., Connick, supra, at 147 (“Our responsibility is to ensure that citizens are not deprived of fundamental rights by virtue of working for the government”).

This case would appear to involve matters of public concern and comments made as an individual citizen.
I really appreciate Turley giving Jeff the time and a fair shake with his analysis based on constitutional law principles. It's sure as hell more than he's getting from the national and local news media who have been hell bent on demonizing a person they've never met and know nothing about. If Professor Henry Karlson were still alive, he would have been one of the first persons to jump to Jeff's defense, and he wouldn't have hesitated to condemn Zoeller for his hasty decision to fire a respected decade-long attorney with the office.

Duke's Cozy Relationship With IURC Head Extended To CEO Rogers

The Star's John Russell continues his excellent reporting on the cozy relationship Duke's top executives enjoyed with the IURC commission members and its staff. Today, his latest reporting shows e-mails and meetings that tie Duke CEO James Rogers to the developing scandal. Legal experts are telling Russell the meetings and communications violated ex-parte rules governing communications of parties with officials during IURC administrative matters.

James Rogers, the chairman and chief executive of Duke Energy Corp., wanted a private meeting last February with Indiana's top utility regulator to talk about soaring construction costs at the company's Edwardsport power plant.

So one of his lieutenants -- Duke Vice President James Turner -- sent an e-mail directly to David Lott Hardy, then chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

"Rogers and I would like to have breakfast with you this coming Thursday if you're available," Turner wrote.

The two men juggled their calendars and settled on a time. "Don't tell the [other] utilities I'm being accommodating -- bad for my reputation," Hardy wrote to Turner.

Despite state law that sharply restricts private communication between regulators and company officials on pending cases, Rogers, Turner and another Duke executive met last February for breakfast with Hardy at the Capital Grille, a swanky Downtown restaurant where the menu features eggs Benedict with lobster for $21 and filet mignon hash for $15.

During the meeting, the Duke executives told Hardy that the power plant was facing a $530 million cost overrun -- the second major overrun in less than two years. All told, that would push the price tag up nearly $1 billion more than the IURC originally approved in 2007 . . .

The breakfast meeting at the Capital Grille -- and several others like it -- are now raising serious questions about whether Duke's top executives exerted undue influence on utility regulators to pass along steep overruns to ratepayers to bail out a project plagued by rising costs.

Duke officials called the meetings a "courtesy heads-up," not meant to influence the process.

But e-mails obtained by The Indianapolis Star in recent months show that top executives at the utility and IURC had a long, cozy relationship that went beyond simple courtesies.

Duke officials forced its VP James Turner to resign after the Star disclosed e-mails detailing his inappropriate relationship with IURC officials and the role he played in hiring the commission's top legal counsel Scott Storms. Will these latest disclosures force the giant utility to call on Rogers to resign as well? Russell notes sometimes cryptic message between Duke officials and IURC officials trying to cover their tracks:

A few hours after the breakfast meeting at the Capital Grille, Hardy sent Rogers and Turner an e-mail, with the subject line: "terseness." The e-mail said: "Who ever reports on the meeting might consider a one word characterization and a number where you can be reached."

Turner responded: "Got it."

Duke declined to comment on that mysterious exchange. "I don't want to speculate on what Hardy might have been referring to, and I can't find records of much of a response from us," Protogere said . . .

A few months later, on May 6, Hardy sent Turner a message: "Is there a number where you would get a fax without the world seeing it?"

Turner replied: "My home fax isn't working, so it could be tricky. How about a scan and e-mail?"
Very troubling.

Star Editorial Slams Democratic Walkout

Star editorial writers offer a stinging rebuke today of Indiana Democratic legislators who walked off the job and fled to the Land of Lincoln in order to block legislation their minority caucus opposes.

It becomes harder by the day to take Indiana House Democrats seriously.

First, they went on strike to protest legislation they didn't like -- the so-called right-to-work bill. Then they fled the state, holing up in an Urbana, Ill., hotel, where they continue to draw paychecks courtesy of Indiana taxpayers but do no real work.

And now, after Republicans gave in and agreed to pull the right-to- work legislation from the agenda, House Minority Leader Pat Bauer and his caucus have demanded that as many as 10 other bills be killed. Their demands are so absurd that they even included one bill that the General Assembly already has approved and sent to Gov. Mitch Daniels for his signature.

What's next? Asking Daniels to personally deliver room service?

Whatever arguments House Democrats had going for them, principally that Republicans had sprung the right-to-work legislation on Hoosiers by surprise, they've now squandered . . .

Voters rewarded the GOP with a landslide victory that included a supermajority in the state Senate and 60 seats in the House. Bauer, who decried the reform efforts, was resoundingly dumped as Speaker.

Now, after having been swept into a distinct minority in the Statehouse, those Democrats who remain in office are trying to block through childish antics what they couldn't win through democratic action . . .

If Democrats don't return to work in the next day or two, when key legislative deadlines will expire, they will deserve even worse than a hefty bill for the time and money they've wasted. They also should be turned out of office en masse on Election Day 2012 as voters ensure that this type of fiasco doesn't happen again.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Joe Miller May Have Died From Inhaling Poppers

In an ironic twist in the mysterious death of prominent Indianapolis businessman and philanthropist Joe Miller,Advance Indiana has learned from a Marion County Coroner's Office spokeswoman that an autopsy determined the cause of his death was "asphyxiation due to nitrogen inhalation." Miller had earned a reputation as the world's largest distributor of poppers, a nitrate-based chemical that he manufactured at a plant in Indianapolis and distributed throughout the world in small glass bottles for illicit recreational drug use during sex for the euphoric rush it provided when inhaled by humans. Miller primarily marketed poppers to a gay audience, who purchased them in adult bookstores and gay clubs or over the Internet. Poppers were manufactured in varying forms of alkyl nitrates, including amyl, butyl and isopropyl nitrate compounds. Miller marketed the chemical substance under trade names Rush, Quicksilver and Jungle Juice, among others. Online forensic reports have documented cases of asphyxiation due to nitrogen inhalation in a number of reported suicide and accidental death cases.

Miller was found dead at his luxury condominium in Downtown Indianapolis along the canal last August by one of his personal attorneys at the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg according to one of Miller's friends. Fellow blogger Ruth Holladay first reported his death after learning from a close friend of Miller that he had taken his own life. The Indianapolis Star briefly posted an online story reporting his death and attributing the suspected cause of his death to suicide but pulled the story a short time after it appeared. No other mainstream news organizations in Indianapolis have reported on his death other than a paid obituary that appeared in the Star. Many prominent friends of Miller, including former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, later gathered at the Indianapolis Repertory Theater for a memorial service held in honor of his life. Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, who described himself as a close friend of Miller, spoke at the memorial service as did Sheila Kennedy, a former executive director of the ACLU of Indiana on whose board Miller served before his death. Miller was one of the largest contributors to the Democratic Party and its candidates in recent years, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also contributed generously to organizations that provided services to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, including the Damien Center in Indianapolis, which named its testing center after him.

Friends of Miller, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his popper business had been under investigation by the government and had been raided shortly before his body was discovered. According to one source, federal investigators hauled away computers and other records from his home and businesses. Websites promoting his popper products went dark soon thereafter and businesses that sold his product told customers it was no longer able to stock the product because the government had shut down the manufacturer's business after a raid. To date, no government agency has acknowledged such a raid occurred and no news media reports have confirmed from government sources the raid occurred. A claim filed against the estate opened in the Marion Co. Probate Court by Miller's attorneys, however, confirms work had been performed for him related to an investigation involving his popper business. Attorneys for Barnes & Thornburg, which also opened Miller's estate with the probate court, filed a claim for more than $46,000 for legal services it described as "Pac West Distribution Investigation" that were performed prior to his death. Pac West distributed the popper products Miller's Great Lakes Products company manufactured.

One Miller friend said he had complained to him about financial woes a short time prior to his death, although many believed he had amassed a sizable fortune from his very profitable, if illicit, business. Oddly, the Indianapolis Business Journal received a letter to the editor from Miller just days before his reported suicide that the business newspaper ran after his death without ever mentioning the prominent businessman had died. In the letter, Miller took issue with a story the IBJ had published suggesting the museums on the canal near where he lived failed to generate sufficient foot traffic on the canal. The letter showed no signs of a man in distress; rather, it depicted someone with a positive view of the neighborhood in which he lived. Documents filed by attorneys in his estate case indicate his estate is solvent. A rather odd claim filed against the estate included one filed by the Indiana Historical Society, which claimed Miller had not fulfilled $96,000 of the $120,000 he had pledged to the nonprofit organization. Ruschman Fine Arts filed a $15,000 claim for three pieces of art work it claimed Miller had not paid for. Stephen Cranfill of Bionic Cat filed a $2,800 claim for computer work it had performed for Miller that remained unpaid. The law firm of Wooden & McLaughlin also filed a claim for $2,100 in unpaid legal services it said it had rendered to him to enforce a loan agreement with Lee Alig, who is the CEO of Mansur Real Estate Services.

Miller's very simply-worded and short will left everything to his brother, Charles Miller of Ninevah, Indiana, who he also appointed to serve as his estate's personal representative. Court filings did not indicate an inventory of his estate has been filed as of last week, but it is likely most of his estate passed through a trust fund he had established. His downtown condominium, according to records on file with the assessor's office list its owner as the Joseph F. Miller Family Trust. The property is very conservatively assessed at a value of $367,100. One of Miller's friends described the finely appointed home as being equipped with a sophisticated surveillance system and high-tech gadgets straight out of a James Bond movie. The friend said Miller had surveillance cameras outside and throughout the home.

Miller had boasted in the past that he was the largest manufacturer of poppers in the world and spent more money advertising in publications marketed to gay men than any other business. Poppers first became popular among gay men in disco clubs back in the 1970s. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic first hit America's gay population in the early 1980s, a number of medical researchers first believed poppers caused the virus that was killing so many gay men because so many of the disease's victims admitted regularly using poppers. Miller's company had actually promoted the use of poppers by gay men as a healthy way of living. Miller countered the research linking the connection between HIV/AIDS with research he funded with his own resources to prove there was no causal connection. The CDC later agreed poppers didn't cause HIV/AIDS but also believed the recreational use of the drug was a co-factor in causing many of the diseases that commonly affected those infected with the virus, particularly Kaposi's Sarcoma, a rare form of skin cancer that began appearing in many HIV-infected gay men. Medical researchers generally agree that continual use of the chemical substance adversely affects the body's immune system. When combined with other sex-enhancement drugs, such as Viagra, Levitra or Cialis, it can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure causing death. Gay men were warned not to combine the use of the two drugs after many gay men began dying after Viagra first hit the market and became a popular recreation drug. Miller frequently sparred with critics of his product over the years. Most gay publications ceased advertising his products as their controversial use grew.

A high-level IMPD official told Advance Indiana that local police knew nothing about any ongoing investigation of Miller or his businesses. A former police officer with the department told quite a different tale of Miller from days gone by. According to a source who once worked vice for the Indianapolis Police Department, Miller had become a person of interest in an investigation of a male prostitution business known as Rent-A-Man back in the 1970s. The former vice officer said IPD had been investigating a male prostitution ring that had been exploiting young run-away males to provide sex-for-money services to local men, including some prominent Indianapolis businessmen. Miller became a person of interest to IPD after Johnson County officials arrested him on charges of molesting two underage males ages 14 and 15. Although Johnson County officials eventually dropped the charges after the boys' parents refused to let them cooperate in the investigation for fear of the long-term harm the publicity of a trial would cause them, Marion County officials didn't give up. Ann DeLaney, who handled sex crimes for the Marion County Prosecutor's Office refiled charges against Miller.

The former vice officer told how Miller had signed a sworn confession to police during questioning stating that he had been given a job as the grand jury bailiff by former Marion Co. Prosecutor James Kelley (D) in consideration for sexual favors he performed for Kelley. According to the investigator, Miller passed a polygraph exam with flying colors. Kelley had been at odds with IPD's brass at the time because of a special unit he had formed to investigate corruption in the police department, which had been well-documented in a series of Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporting by the Indianapolis Star as documented in one of the reporter's recently-released book, "Deadline: Indianapolis" authored by Dick Cady. Cady interviewed Miller, who he said told him some very interesting stories. Cady recounted that Miller was known as a chicken hawk because of his taste for young boys, and that he was known to sell poppers and marijuana in the gay community during the period in question.

While investigating the death of three gay men who were found in a Hamilton County field shot to the death, Indianapolis homicide investigators learned Miller's boss, Prosecutor James Kelley, had been in attendance at a late-night part of gay men where the three dead men were last seen alive. All three victims were employees of a local gay bar. Police learned Kelley had learned from a friend of the men that the three men were missing and wanted to file a missing person's report. Kelley advised the friend on filing a missing person's report but advised him to leave his name out of it according to Cady's book. Kelley was never implicated in the triple homicide, but when word of Kelley's attendance at the party surfaced in local news media reports, his reputation suffered badly. Indeed, another man employed at the gay bar where the three men worked was found guilty and is still serving a life sentence for the killings.

In addition to his sworn confession, Miller produced to police very damning evidence of his intimate relationship with Kelley, including notes and letters and hotel and airline receipts for the pair's travel together to other cities in the United States and Canada. Police had sought evidence from Miller that Kelley and/or persons in his office were selling grand jury transcripts but Miller would not confirm the allegation. IPD brass later struck a deal not to pursue its investigation of Kelley after he announced he would not be seeking re-election to office in 1978. The lead investigator in the case resigned in protest according to the former vice officer. The charges against Miller were later dropped after he recanted his sworn statement. Miller protested that he had been threatened by police with a lengthy prison sentence if he did not provide dirt to them on Kelley. The former vice officer to this day remains convinced Miller spoke the truth about Kelley and had molested the two young boys in Johnson County.

The former vice officer said Miller obtained the formula for manufacturing poppers from an Eli Lilly employee who spirited it out the back door and assisted Miller in setting up the business. The Lilly employee later lost his job with the pharmaceutical giant after he was charged in the Rent-A-Man male prostitution investigation. Miller later grew the business into a worldwide business with multi-million dollar sales. Although poppers were illegal to sell for human consumption, Miller skirted laws restricting their sale by marketing them as room deodorizers or video head cleaner with a wink and a nod. The chemical compound is sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat certain heart conditions but sales of other prescription drugs like Viagra contain a warning not to combine their use with nitrate drugs prescribed by a physician. Unfortunately, some users of poppers died without knowing that danger.

When news of Miller's death first spread throughout the Indianapolis community, there were rumors linking his death to the murder-suicide that rocked the Barnes & Thornburg law firm. Within the same 24-hour period an attorney with the firm found Miller's body at his home, Dave Frisby killed his wife, also an attorney with the firm, at the Brownsburg home where the couple had resided together before she filed for divorce. Frisby then drove downtown to a parking garage adjacent to the law firm's offices on Meridian Street armed with two handguns, whereupon he began firing shots into the windows of the floor where his deceased wife had worked before turning the gun on himself and plunging to his death to the street below while dozens of shocked pedestrians looked on. Shortly before the tragedy, Frisby had posted on his website a message condemning lawyers at the firm and blaming them for the break-up of his marriage. "The bad lawyers at the Barnes and Thornburg law firm ... do not respect the institution of marriage and corrupted my wife Mary Jane (sex and drugs). Someone (maybe one of their good lawyers) please make them pay. Justice demands the truth out. It's a tragedy." Knowledgeable sources now believe the timng of their deaths and the connections to the firm are merely coincidental.

As intriguing as the entire Miller death mystery is, the even greater mystery is the total media silence on his death. While Indianapolis' mainstream news sources have stumbled all over each other to report every detail it can gather on the Ponzi scheme federal investigators allege prominent Indianapolis businessman Tim Durham operated to defraud more than $200 million out of innocent small-time Ohio investors, including intimate details of his life, the media has reported nothing on the circumstances surrounding an equally prominent Indianapolis businessman engaged in an illicit drug business with a sordid past, who liked Durham, showered generous contributions on many Indiana politicians. Somehow or another I have to believe if there were still old-school investigative newspaper reporters like Dick Cady working today there would have been a lot more reporting on Miller's death and questions raised about his ties to prominent Indiana Democrats and business leaders. A special thanks to Dick Cady for callling my attention to the old Johnson County criminal charges against Miller, which led to the discovery of so much more troubling information about this man. Again, I ask, why the conspiracy of silence?

House Democrats May Be Violating New Indiana Lobby Law

Indiana's House Democratic lawmakers abandoned their constitutional duty as elected members of the Indiana General Assembly this week to shut down the business of the House of Representatives in an effort to kill legislation affecting public employees, public education and a host of other issues. At least thirty-seven of the House Democratic members are holed up at a motel in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois out of reach of state police who could be dispatched to force their return to their duties at the State House, even though Gov. Mitch Daniels has publicly assured them he will do no such thing to compel their return.

In a WTHR-TV  news report last night, it was reported the Democratic members' out-of-state travel is being financed by the Indiana Democratic Party. Political observers note the cash-strapped condition of the state party still reeling from last year's election losses and wonder where the money is coming from to fund the out-of-state travel expenses of 37 legislators. There is speculation labor unions are funneling money to the state party to finance the out-of-state travel expenses of the lawmakers. That raises the potential for a violation of a new Indiana Lobby Law that prohibits lobbyists from paying for lawmakers' out-of-state travel. The statute in question reads as follows:

IC 2-7-5-9

Lobbyist may not pay for or reimburse for legislative person's travel expenses outside Indiana; exceptions
Effective 11-1-2010.

Sec. 9. (a) This section does not apply to the following:

(1) Expenses associated with travel outside Indiana for any purpose that is paid for by an organization or corporation of which the legislative person or the legislative person's spouse is an officer, member of the board of directors, employee, or independent contractor.

(2) Travel expenses of a legislative person attending a public policy meeting if:

(A) the legislative person's sole purpose for attending the meeting is to serve as a speaker or other key participant in the meeting; and

(B) the speaker of the house of representatives or the

president pro tempore of the senate approves the payment of the travel expenses in writing.

(b) As used in this section, "travel expenses" includes expenses for transportation, lodging, meals, registration fees, and other expenses associated with travel.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (a), a lobbyist may not pay for or reimburse for travel expenses of a legislative person for travel outside Indiana for any purpose.

As added by P.L.58-2010, SEC.27.
This statute just took effect with the start of the new legislative session and many are still not familiar with it. If indeed union lobbyists are funneling money to the state party for the express purpose of paying for the lawmakers' out-of-state travel in an effort to defeat legislation opposed by unions, it adds a whole new twist to the decision of the Democratic lawmakers to abandon their posts and hold up in Illinois as a means of blocking legislation their financial backers oppose. It looks to me like this is a matter of serious concern that should be given the immediate attention of the House Ethics Committee and perhaps an independent investigation by the Indiana Attorney General's Office, which has statutory authority to prosecute violations of the law. Any person who knowingly or intentionally violates the law commits unlawful lobbying, a Class D felony.

UPDATE: WTHR's David MacAnally reported tonight on who was picking up the cost of the House Democrat's out-of-state travel to Illinois to avoid conducting business at the State House. He asked Rep. Ed DeLaney who was paying for his hotel bill. DeLaney said he would pay for it himself if the state party didn't pick up the tab. Last night, WTHR reported Democrats told them the state party was paying for all of the legislator's rooms. Rep. Scott Pelath told the WTHR reporter he planned to pay for his own hotel tab, but he couldn't tell MacAnally how much his room was costing. It's obvious Democrats are concerned about the legal issue I've raised about who is financing their out-of-state travel and the potential violation of Indiana's Lobby Law.

Democrats insist they are conducting their official business while caucusing at the Champaign-Urbana Comfort Suites Inn. Earlier this evening, Bosma sparred in a live interview on WISH-TV with DeLaney chiming in from Illinois. DeLaney accused Republicans of similarly staging walkouts in the past. Bosma fired back that the Republicans stayed in the State House to caucus while awaiting concessions from Democrats to agree to follow House rules and allow them to offer amendments to bills. Bosma said this is the first time in the history of the Indiana legislature that legislators have left the state in order to shut down the work of a legislative chamber and avoid arrest by state police.

Daniels Backtracks On Support Of Democrats Walkout

Gov. Mitch Daniels now concedes his supportive remarks of House Democrats' decision this week to walk out on their jobs and flee to the Land of Lincoln in an effort to kill right to work legislation were premature after seeing the full list of demands House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) that must be met before his caucus returns to the State House. He now says his words of praise for the move by House Democrats were "careless." Star political columnist Matt Tully tweets this morning:

Gov. Daniels just called. Re: Dem calls to kill other bills, particularly on education: "We're not doing that. Those are my priorities."

Daniels said he was "careless with my words yesterday." When he praised actions by critics he was referring to protesters not House Dems.
Tully notes his own boneheaded mistake in today's column in a another tweet:

I can't believe I referred to Pat Bauer as "Speaker" and not "former Speaker" in today's paper. Sorry. What a bonehead am I.
Easy mistake to make, Matt, given the governor's laudatory comments of his staged walkout yesterday.

Also, House Speaker Brian Bosma warns the House may fine or censure Democratic members who refuse to return to work to conduct business. He also had to threaten to remove union protestors from the House gallery after they booed and otherwise engaged in disruptive behavior during a House session.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More On Obama's Favorite Republican

I'm thinking Lugar will drop his re-election bid before this time rolls around next year.

Bayhs Escape Injury During New Zealand Earthquake

Sen. Evan Bayh and his wife Susan were in Christchurch, New Zealand where the former senator was attending a U.S.-New Zealand trade conference when yesterday's powerful earthquake struck the city, leaving much of it in ruins. Susan was doing what she does best when the earthquake struck--shopping. Bayh told WTHR-TV his wife barely escaped from a collapsing historical building after the shopkeeper "threw her out the door."

House Republicans Repeat Past Mistakes, But House Democrats Turn Into Terrorists

Pat  Bauer
When House Republicans made their case for being returned to power in last year's election after being out of power for four years, there was a lot of talk about fiscal restraint and education reform. There was no talk about a push to enact a right to work law. The issue has drawn thousands of rank-and-file union members to the State House to demonstrate against the anti-union measure. The promise of ground-breaking reforms buoyed by the Republicans' 60 to 40 majority control of the chamber now is at risk. Democrats, predictably, used the hammer they have repeatedly used effectively to their advantage whenever they've been in the minority to bring business to an abrupt halt by walking. At least some of them fled to neighboring Illinois, just as Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers fled their State House in Madison to prevent passage of a law that would curtail collective bargaining rights of public employees.

The House cannot conduct business unless it has at least two-thirds of the members (66) present to constitute a quorum. Democrats fled to Illinois or elsewhere--anywhere but the State House where business must be conducted--all because of Republicans' insistence on pushing the right to work legislation passed out of committee only last week as the deadline for passing bills out of the first house reached a close. Worse for the Republicans is Gov. Daniels' refusal to back their plan to push right to work and his emphatic pronouncements today that he will not order his State Police to forcibly bring back Democratic members to the State House and that he is taking their side in the debate. Mary Beth Schneider of the Star explains Daniels' reaction to the stalemate move to throw House Republicans under the bus:

Daniels, a Republican, supported their right to deny Republicans a quorum to do business and the rights of labor unions to protest at the Statehouse.

“The activities of today are perfectly legitimate part of the process,” he said. “Even the smallest minority, and that’s what we’ve heard from in the last couple days, has every right to express the strength of its views and I salute those who did.”

And, he added, “I’m not sending the state police after anybody. I’m not going to divert a single trooper from their job protecting the Indiana public. I trust that the people’s consciences will bring them back to work. I choose to believe that our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty, the jobs that they are paid to do.” . . .

“My view on this is well-known to the leadership on both sides, well-known to the public. I haven’t changed a single thing,” he said today. “I don’t attempt to dictate the agenda. I’m not in a position to, really, of the separate and free-standing, superior, branch of government. And for that matter Speaker (Brian) Bosma can’t always dictate to his members when they have a strong point of view. But for reasons I’ve explained more than once I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised.”
House Republicans, void of any support from their Republican governor, won't fare any better with the forces of public opinion by picking this particular fight. House Speaker Brian Bosma should have learned from the horrific misjudgement House Republicans made under former House Speaker Paul Mannweiler after they captured control of the House in the 1994 elections. The Republican majority pushed legislation to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, which resulted in the largest public protests being staged at the State House by riled up union members in the state's history. They double-downed on their risk strategy by attempting to redraw legislative boundaries to protect their unlikely majority they reached after the 1994 Republican wave year. Neither of those issues had been part of the campaign when Republicans sought to recapture the House in 1994; they just came out of nowhere. House Republicans lost badly in the court of public opinion on both fronts and were forced to fold on both. Democrats were promptly returned to power in the House in the 1996 elections.

I abhor the extraordinary majority requirement for conducting business in either legislative chamber, but it's a constitutional requirement so we're stuck with it. Democrats have employed a take-no-prisoners approach whenever they are in the minority in the House to block any legislation that feel hits its base constituency too hard. When the shoe is on the other foot, House Republicans will threaten to walk but never make good on their threat. They don't have to because they can count on the permanent Republican majority in the Senate to block anything Republicans view as too offensive to its base constituency. Instead of trotting out the perennial marriage discrimination amendment to bash gays, House Republicans should have been pushing a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that two-thirds of the members be present to have a quorum for conducting business. At least then its majorities could pursue their legislative agenda without fear of the Democrats throwing another one of their temper tantrums and walking out on their jobs to shut the place down.

Personally, I think there are strong arguments for enacting a right to work law. Most of the 22 states with right to work laws have fared better economically in recent years than those with mandatory union shop laws. I noticed that among the 10 states in the country with the lowest unemployment rate, 7 of the states have right to work laws. By comparison, the states with the highest unemployment rates tend to be union shop states with a few exceptions. Of course, wage rates are generally higher in union shop states on average compared to right to work states, which is why many businesses with blue collar jobs choose right to work states over union shop states to open up new plants and facilities. Workers in right to work states make up some of that difference in wages by not having to shell out money for mandatory union dues. Right to work states are generally located in the South, Southwest and the Great Plains states, while union shop states dominate the Midwest, Northeast and West Coast regions. It's a worthy debate, but it's probably not worth risking the larger fiscal, education and government reform agenda House Republicans have been pursuing in concert with Gov. Daniels.

UPDATE: House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer released a statement tonight listing many more demands than just dropping the right to work legislation. They want Republicans to drop education reform measures, including school vouchers and charter school initiatives opposed by teachers unions. They are also fighting an unemployment insurance bill that attempts to put the state on a footing to begin paying back the more than $2 billion debt the state owes the federal government because the state's unemployment trust fund is bankrupt. There are multiple legislative demands being made by the House Democrats, including the state budget bill. This tactic by the House Democrats is complete bullshit. Hey, you lost the election. You don't get to decide the entire legislative agenda. Earlier, Gov. Daniels believed House Democrats only walked to block vote on the right to work bill, but it is now quite clear the House Democrats are determined to block every single major reform measure proposed this session, effectively nullifying the election of a House Republican majority. This is nothing short of taking hostages like terrorists and demanding ransom be paid before they are willing to conduct the public's business. I believe the House should simply convene and conduct business without the quorum and let the Democrats take their case to the courts. The Speaker should immediately order the suspension of all salary and benefits to Democratic members of the House and their staff until they return for business. Boot the entire Democratic staff from the building and lock the doors to their offices until the Democratic members return. Let's not negotiate with terrorists. Here's the laundry list of the terrorists demands:


HB 1002
Charter School Expansion.

HB 1003
School Vouchers. Allows a family of four making over $80,000 a year to receive taxpayer dollars to send their children to a private school.

HB 1479
Private Takeover of Public Schools. Allows the state of Indiana to take over poorly performing schools and for these schools to be managed by for-profit companies. It removes local decision making in schools.

HB 1584
Public School Waiver of State Laws. Allows school boards to seek waivers of almost any school law or regulation.


HB 1468
"Right to Work."

HB 1216
Public Works Projects and Common Construction Wage.

HB 1203
Employee Representations. Ends employee rights to join a union by secret ballot and opens employees up to retaliation and firing by an employer who finds out they are trying to use their right to bargain. This is preempted by federal law. Will require the state to use taxpayer dollars to defend this legislation.

HB 1450
Unemployment Insurance.

HB 1585
"Right to Work" for Public Employees. Removes collective bargaining rights at the local level.

HB 1538
Minimum Wages.

HB 1001
Budget Bill.

UPDATE II: WTHR-TV tracked down the terrorists , who were holding up at a motel in Champaign-Urbana. A news crew caught up with four of them, Mara Candelaria Reardon, Dan Stevenson Greg Porter and Vernon Smith out on a shopping trip. WTHR also learned the Indiana Democratic Party is picking up the tab for the 37 Democratic lawmakers who fled to the Land of Lincoln until their terrorist demands are met. Reardon claimed they were working on amendments at the motel and fighting the radical agenda of the House Republicans. Think about it. Outside interests are paying for the Democrats to hold up at a hotel in another state instead of conducting the people's business while they are being paid by taxpayers to conduct business as this state's elected representatives. What if employers were forced to pay workers while they go on strike and shut down their employer's business? It's really no different when you think about it.

National Lampoon May Be Sold To Satisfy Fair Finance's Creditors

The L.A. Business Jounnal quotes an attorney for Fair Finance Company's bankruptcy trustee as saying assets of Ponzi scheme operator Tim Durham, including National Lampoon, may be sold to recover some of the more than $200 million Durham defrauded out of small investors in Ohio before the FBI raided the business and it permanently closed its doors in November, 2009. Kelly Burgan says some of Fair Finance's money was loaned indirectly to National Lampoon
Although National Lampoon isn’t mentioned in the suit, it remains part of Durham’s business empire – he serves as chief executive and owns about 8 percent of the stock. As a result, the company could become part of the settlement with the creditors, said Kelly Burgan, attorney for the bankruptcy trustee for Fair Finance at the firm Baker & Hostetler LLP in Cleveland.

“Tim Durham has interests in more than 70 companies,” Burgan said. “This complaint doesn’t ask for a dollar amount, but we think we are entitled to everything those companies have – every last dollar.”

Burgan alleged that National Lampoon received indirect loans with money from Fair Finance. The money had been loaned to other Durham companies or friends, and then loaned again to National Lampoon . . .
Peter Davidson, partner in the L.A. office of law firm Ervin Cohen & Jessup, said the trustee has a strong case for recovering assets. Davidson is not involved in the case but reviewed its outlines for the Business Journal.

“If companies received money as loans, then they have to pay them back and the trustee of Fair Finance has the right to demand payback,” he said.

Davidson estimated the bankruptcy court would decide the suit in 60 to 90 days, but that won’t be the end of the matter for Durham because the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Ohio has an open investigation of criminal charges surrounding the Fair Finance collapse.

“The FBI has a longer statute of limitations than the bankruptcy trustee,” Davison explained. “They take their time and are careful to make sure they can win a case before they file it.”
Fair Finance's investors shouldn't get their hopes up too high just yet. The company's stock is no longer publicly-traded and is trading at pretty low prices.

National Lampoon would appear to offer little compensation to any creditors. Its largest source of income is royalty payments on decades-old films such as “Animal House.” The company trades on the Pink Sheets, closing Feb. 17 at 5 cents a share. It has a market capitalization of $475,000.

However, Burgan said she has received numerous phone calls from people in Hollywood interested in buying the National Lampoon name, should the trustee gain control of it through the bankruptcy proceedings.

National Lampoon's former CEO, Dan Laikin, is serving time in a federal prison for stock fraud for paying stock brokers bribest to help pump National Lampoon's stock price. Laikin received at least $20 million in loans from Fair Finance. Durham has been acting as National Lampoon's CEO since Laikin stepped down from the company after he was charged.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mourdock: I'm Not A Tea Party Candidate

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock tells the Fix's Chris Cillizza on his candidacy to challenge Sen. Richard Lugar in the 2012 Republican primary that he is not a Tea Party candidate, which he says Sen. Lugar will unfairly try to paint him as:

But Mourdock is clear on one thing: he is not running as a tea party candidate. While he welcomes the support of tea party groups and says he expects them to coalesce around his campaign, he recognizes the limitations of being defined as a tea party candidate.

"Mr. Lugar will try to paint me that way, because he's speaking very demeaningly about the tea party right now," Mourdock said. "I think he's doing it that way to set it up and say, 'Mourdock is some wild-eyed extremist.'"
I'm not sure why Lugar bothered meeting with Tea Party folks recently if he thought they were all "wild-eyed extremists." I'm also not sure how that comment will be taken by Tea Party activists who have encouraged Mourdock's candidacy. I guess it's not quite as bad as Chicago Mayoral candidate Gery Chico refusing to accept the endorsement of Chicago's Tea Party. Perhaps his larger point is that he will not allow Lugar to define who he is. Mourdock also says he reached an understanding with State Senator Mike Delph (R-Carmel), who has also been touted as a possible challenger to Lugar, that the two will not split the conservative vote in a primary, paving a path to victory for Lugar, as they did in 2002 when both men sought the party's nomination for Secretary of State, allowing Todd Rokita to skate past them.

But Mourdock said he and Delph have spoken and reached an understanding that they won't split the anti-Lugar vote. After all, it's happened before; when they both ran for secretary of state at the 2002 state party convention, they split the conservative vote and allowed a more moderate candidate -- now-Rep. Todd Rokita -- to win the nomination.

"I said, 'Remember Mike, there were four people running, and we split the vote. We know how this movie ends.' And he agreed," Mourdock said. "I think that will shake out sooner rather than later."
Cillizza says Mourdock will announce his candidacy tomorrow with the support of a majority of the state's 92 Republican county chairpersons and a majority of the state committee members. That latter number is an indication the governor's designated state chairman Eric Holcomb is not acting as an imposing force in preventing members of the state committee from supporting Mourdock over Lugar, for whom Daniels formerly worked and plans to support with his vote. Some earlier reports have suggested Mourdock would announce with the support of at least two-thirds of the county chairs. "I feel bad that he's going to be humiliated by this list," Mourdock told Cillizza.

More On Daniels' Bad Coal Gasification Deal

Stephen Obermeier pens an excellent column in the Spencer County Journal laying out the facts behind the 30-year coal gasification deal Gov. Mitch Daniels has inked with some of his political cronies and how raw of a deal it could prove to be to Indiana utility consumers if it's allowed to go forward. Daniels entered into a 30-year contract with Leucadia and Indiana Gasification, LLC, to purchase snygas from a plant they propose to build in Rockport, which puts residential consumers on the hook for the gas generated from the proposed plant if the price garnered from sales falls below a target price. Major business users balked at being required to purchase gas produced at the facility when it was first proposed and will not be required to buy the plant's gas.

A key criticism Obermeier makes in his column is the cost of the syngas that would be manufactured from coal as opposed to purchasing natural gas on the spot market. Obermeier, a retired scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, notes the large reserves of natural gas in the U.S. have already led to a halt in further exploratory efforts. A new method of extracting natural gas from shale has ensured the U.S. ample supplies for the next 20 to 50 years. Other cheap sources of natural gas are being tapped as well. While natural gas prices have remained stable, coal prices have surged due to growing demands from China and India according to Obermeier. Coal prices have increased 15% since last summer he notes. Obermeier doesn't mention this point, but I understand the contract does not require the plant to use Indiana coal. In fact, it would probably be the case that coal would be purchased and shipped there from out-of-state because of sulphur content issues and the higher cost of using Indiana coal than coal found elsewhere. As a consequence, it is doubtful the plant will generate any Indiana coal mining jobs.

Under Daniels' 30-year contract, a $150 million escrow fund is being established to cover any difference in costs for public utilities in Indiana like Vectren or Citizens Energy over the next 30 years to purchase the syngas from Indiana Gasification and natural gas Obermeier explains. "That sounds like a lot of money until one realizes the dollar value of the projected sales that would be forced onto ratepayers would be $6.9 billion," Obermeier writes. Obermeier notes the governor's office originally pegged the target price for the syngas at $6 when it announced the deal, the price that would serve as a benchmark for passing on higher costs to utility users if the actual price of gas is lower than that amount. That price has subsequently been adjusted to $7 according to Obermeier. The loss represented by the difference in the target price and the market price will be recouped through higher charges to residential utility users. The spot price utilities can purchase natural gas over the past year has ranged from $4.00 to $4.50 Obermeier notes, well below the target price pegged for the syngas. "Given the large price difference between natural gas and syngas, and the fact that the escrow money is only a little more than 2 percent of projected sales, the escrow money would be used in a short time," Obermeier explains.

Obermeier disputes the claim by the governor's office that private industry would assume the risks of constructing the coal gasification plant at Rockport. "In fact, the money to build the plant would be subsidized by a taxpayer-funded, low-cost federal loan," he writes. "Thus it is taxpayers who would be assuming the construction risk. And it is the ratepayers such as you and me who would be assuming the high cost of syngas." Obermeier asks, "Given the economic and production facts above, how could the governor and developers even consider a contract to force Indiana ratepayers to purchase the syngas over a 30-year period?" The total cost of the project is expected to be $2.6 billion. Obermeier concedes the economic benefit of construction jobs that will be created that will help stimulate the local economy, as well as the permanent jobs created by the plant, but he wonders if it is worth the risk federal taxpayers will bear for the low-cost loans if the project fails, and the higher prices utility consumers may wind up paying to purchase syngas from the facility. He also looks at the potential negative environmental impact the plant will bring to the Spencer County area. Read his full column by clicking here.

The Indiana Senate recently dealt a setback to Gov. Daniels' plans for the coal gasification plant at Rockport when it voted down legislation to facilitate the construction of a pipeline that would help carry carbon dioxide produced during the coal gasification process to the Gulf states where it would be used in offshore oil drilling operations. The investors in the project claim they would be unable to qualify for the federal low-interest loan guarantees if the eminent domain powers granted by the legislation to construct the pipeline is not approved. That legislation would give that authority to the Department of Natural Resources instead of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which typically exercises such authority on behalf of public utility companies. Many lawmakers are hesitant to move forward on a deal big utility customers in Indiana have questioned from the beginning and want not part of, as well as the unusual arrangement proposed for construction of the pipeline. They are as confused as Obermeier is with the 30-year contract Daniels signed with the backers of the plant. "That document is an exercise in obfuscation, and it is difficult to determine what is actually being said," Obermeier lamented. Hopefully, the adults in the room will tell Gov. Daniels and his political cronies pushing this deal where they can permantently shove it before all of us wind up footing a big bill for it.

UPDATE: WRTV's Norm Cox weighed in with a story on the proposal tonight. Click here to read it.