Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lugar Repays Government Over $14,000 For Illegal Travel Reimbursements

After Sen. Richard Lugar learned that outsiders were reviewing his Senate travel records and a reporter for Politico began asking questions, his office announced last week that he would repay the U.S. Treasury $4,500 that he had been reimbursed over the past decade for travel back to Indianapolis when the Senate was not in session, travel that is not subject to reimbursement under Senate rules. This blog also raised questions about whether Sen. Lugar had billed for return trips to Indiana for campaign purposes during the past year. Under pressure to release more information about the travel expenses that are being repaid, today we learn from another Politico story that the amount Lugar repaid to the U.S. Treasury grew substantially to over $14,000. Here's what Politico's Manu Raju is reporting today:

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is paying back more than $14,000 to the federal treasury – three times his earlier estimate – after a closer review of his 35-year career found he owed additional money for hotel stays in the Indianapolis area.
The Indiana Republican said Friday that an investigation by the Senate’s disbursing office initiated at his request found he improperly billed taxpayers for his hotel stays for all but seven years during his time in office, amounting to $14,684.85. He cut a personal check paying off that amount on Friday.
“Your office has compiled a comprehensive list documenting cases in which I incurred per diem expenses during trips that included a stop in Indianapolis … during August recess periods and sine die adjournments,” Lugar said in a letter to Christopher Doby, financial clerk of the Senate. “Vouchers for per diem expenses incurred in the Indianapolis area during these periods should not have been submitted or paid, even though they all pertained to official business.”
Lugar suggests he paid more back to the Senate out of an abundance of caution. Lugar’s admission came after he acknowledged last week that he erroneously billed taxpayers $4,500 for hotel stays after a review by his staff of records dating back to 1991. He began the inquiry after POLITICO asked about the matter, and later acknowledged the errors.
An ethics complaint filed by the government watchdog group, CREW, raised skepticism about the original $4,500 figure Lugar said he would be repaying to the government. As this blog pointed out before CREW filed its complaint, Lugar's situation looked pretty similar to the problem former Minnesota Sen. David Durenberger faced more than a decade ago when he repaid the Senate more than $11,000 for illegal travel reimbursements to his home in Minnesota but was still censured by the Senate and criminally prosecuted for converting Senate funds to personal use. Lugar also sought advice on whether the funds could be repaid from his campaign account, or whether he was required to reimburse them from his personal funds. According to Politico, Lugar repaid the funds from his own funds.

Today's disclosure is likely to have more damaging consequences to Lugar's political future, which was already in doubt. Lugar agreed to re-register to vote at his family's farm in Decatur Township after the Marion County Election Board earlier this month determined that he had been illegally registered to vote at a home in Wayne Township that he sold 35 years ago. Lugar's primary opponent and the Democrats have focused attention on the residency issue as proof that Lugar is out of touch with his constituents. Quietly, some sympathetic supporters of Lugar are voicing concerns about his political viability and are wondering if it wouldn't be best if he simply dropped his re-election bid and bring to an end the negative attacks against Mourdock, who now appears poised to defeat Lugar in the May 8th Republican primary. Republican leaders fear that Lugar's costly primary campaign and negative attacks on Mourdock, while not enough to stop his opponent from winning the primary, will damage his prospects in the general election.

Public Safety Finance Director Resigns

The chief financial officer for Indianapolis' Department of Public Safety, Thomas Michalak, has resigned to take a new job in state government after his boss, Director Frank Straub, recently announced the agency is facing a $15 million shortflall in its budget and has been under pressure from a number of city-county councilors to resign. Straub told the Star that Michalak's departure has nothing to do with his or the agency's financial woes. "He resigned for a new position," Straub said in an email. "No psycho-drama." A council committee hearing on Straub's reappointment adjourned last week after a several hour hearing without taking any action. Straub's future appears in doubt after a number of Republican councilors have gone public with their dissatisfaction with him remaining in the position. According to one of those councilors, Jack Sandlin, Mayor Ballard would be willing to move forward without Straub, a view that conflicts with the mayor's public statements of support for his embattled public safety director.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lugar Blinks: Agrees To Re-Register To Vote At Family Farm

Attorneys for Sen. Richard Lugar reached a settlement agreement with the Marion County Election Board late this morning that will bring his and his wife's voter registration challenge to an end. Sen. Lugar and his wife will re-register to vote at the family's farm in Decatur Township located in Precinct #10 prior to next week's deadline for updating a voter's registered voting address. The Lugars have been continuously registered to vote and voting for the past 35 years using the address of a home the couple sold in 1977. The Lugars contended that the Indiana Constitution permitted the couple to continue voting at a home they readily admitted they long ago abandoned because he had been absent from the state while in continuous service as a U.S. Senator. The Marion County Election Board disagreed at a March 15th hearing on a complaint brought by Greg Wright and several dozen other registered voters challenging their registered voting address, determining that the Lugars could no longer vote at their former precinct because they lacked any physical presence required for voter registration purposes within that precinct.

An attorney for the Lugars, Lee McNeely, told reporters following the announcement of the agreed stipulation of dismissal of the Lugars' complaint challenging the election board's ruling that the Lugars wanted to "put the issue to rest." McNeely believes that there has never been any question that the Lugars are residents of Marion County; rather, the question is where they should be properly and legally registered to vote. Agreeing to re-register at the family's long-established farm in Decatur Township provided an "easy resolution" to the litigation McNeely told reporters.

By way of disclosure, I represented Greg Wright in the challenge before the election board and filed an amicus brief in opposition to the Lugars' complaint seeking injunctive relief from the Marion County Circuit Court that would have permitted them to continue voting at the 3200 Highwoods Court home the couple sold in 1977. My client and I have said all along we believed a registration at the Lugar's family farm would satisfy Indiana's residency requirements for voter registration purposes. We are pleased with today's outcome. I would particularly like to applaud the election board members, Chairman Mark Sullivan and Marion County Clerk Beth White, for the principled position they took in applying the voter registration laws on the same terms to the Lugars as would be applied to any other registered voters. They took a lot of criticism from the Lugars and some in the media for their decision, who accused them of engaging in partisan politics. In light of the Charlie White case, it would have been hypocritical for any election official in this state to have simply disregarded the problem with the Lugars continuing to vote in a precinct which everyone acknowledges they've had no physical connection since 1977.

There continues to be a separate matter in the Marion Superior Court that is set for hearing next week that was brought by a separate set of plaintiffs seeking to overturn a determination of the Indiana Elections Commission to dismiss a complaint challenging Sen. Lugar's candidacy based on the argument that Lugar is no longer an inhabitant of the state, one of three constitutional requirements required in order to serve as a Senator. It is my belief that the challenge fails because Lugar only has to show that he is an inhabitant of the state as of the November election. In other cases, federal courts have ruled that pre-election challenges based on whether a candidate met the inhabitatancy requirement amounted to an impermissible pre-election qualification. Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele will hear the appeal of the Election Commission decision  in Lugar's favor on April 3.

You can read the Stipulation of Dismissal Agreement and the written explanation of Sen. Lugar and the election board's attorney, Andrew Mallon, explaining the mutual agreement to allow the Lugars to re-register at the family farm in Decatur Township here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

CREW Files Ethics Complaint Against Lugar

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington ("CREW"), a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group, today filed a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics requesting it investigate Sen. Richard Lugar after his Senate office acknowledged that Lugar was repaying the U.S. Treasury for travel expenses to his home state when the Senate is not in session in violation of Senate rules. The press release reads:

“After erroneously billing U.S. taxpayers for decades, Sen. Lugar’s shady activities are finally coming back to haunt him,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “The Senate Ethics Committee should thoroughly investigate his travel expenses and, if warranted, sanction him accordingly.”
Senate travel regulations limit the expenses for travel related to official business that members may be reimbursed for with Senate funds. The rules senators must follow, including reimbursement guidelines, are set out in the U.S. Senate Handbook, published by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Oddly, while the Senate Ethics Manual is publicly available, the Senate Handbook is not. In contrast, the House Committee on Administration posts the House Handbook on its website. Accordingly, CREW also sent a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) requesting that the Senate Handbook be posted online and made available upon request.
“While Sen. Lugar has admitted to violating Senate rules, it is not sufficient for senators to merely wait until they’re caught to own up to misconduct. Further, ignorance of the law is rarely a defense in any other arena. The Senate Ethics Committee has a responsibility to hold Sen. Lugar accountable for his actions” said Sloan. “Moreover, it is ridiculous that the Senate hides its Handbook to prevent prying outsiders – like journalists and good government groups – from evaluating whether senators have violated the rules. Why should the Senate have its own secret law? It’s time for the Rules Committee to tear down the curtain and make the Senate Handbook available to everyone.”
Politico has more on the story here. Read CREW's complaint here. Citizen activist Greg Wright also filed a complaint with the Senate Rules & Administration Committee last week after Lugar's office admitted they had illegally billed taxpayers for travel to his home state and would be repaying the money either from his personal funds or his campaign committee.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Preview Of Lugar Voter Registration Lawsuit

Marion County Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg will conduct a hearing Friday morning to consider whether Sen. Richard Lugar and his wife, Charlene, are entitled to a preliminary injunction that will accord them an unfettered right to vote at a precinct in which they stopped residing in 1977 in the upcoming May 8 primary election. The Lugars filed suit against the Marion County Election Board after it adopted a motion on a 2-1 party-line vote at a March 15th hearing on a petition filed by citizen Greg Wright and several dozen other registered voters challenging the validity of the Lugars' voter registration that found that the Lugars were illegally registered to vote at the 3200 Highwoods Court home the couple once owned and occupied when Sen. Lugar was first elected to the Senate in 1976. The Lugars contend that the Indiana Constitution and Indiana Election Code permit both of them to vote at a residence they admit they abandoned 35 years ago because their absence from the state has been due to Sen. Lugar's service in the Senate.

In the months prior to the hearing of Wright's complaint against the Lugars before the election board, the Indiana news media has accepted without any skepticism the validity of friendly Attorney General advisory opinions over the years furnished for the personal benefit of the Lugars that they were not required to maintain any physical presence in Indianapolis in order to vote at the home they abandoned after acquiring a new home in McLean, Virginia where the Lugars moved their entire family and have lived continuously since 1977. In other words, the view is that the Indiana Constitution allows a person elected to Congress from Indiana to give up their Indiana residence and move lock, stock and barrel to Washington, D.C. and never look back so long as they continue living in the nation's capital as an elected member of Congress from Indiana. By operation of the Indiana Constitution, a fictional residence springs into existence for the benefit of the elected member of Congress based on the residence the person occupied when first elected to office according to this legal interpretation.

Since the adoption of the Indiana Constitution in 1851 not a single member of Indiana's congressional delegation, past or present, claimed they were exempt from meeting the residency requirement contained in the Indiana Constitution for all registered voters in this state until Lugar asserted this right. The advisory opinions prepared in the past for Lugar in 1978 and 1982 were made without the knowledge of the general public. Likewise, a Marion County Board of Regisration Affirmation of Registration issued to the Lugars and their oldest son, Mark, in 1978, also had not been generally known to the public. It wasn't until Sen. Lugar's long-time aide, Mark Helmke, told a reporter last year that the Lugars stayed in hotels when they returned to the state that the public began asking questions about where the Lugars were registered to vote. The issue of Lugar's residency took on added importance given the fact that when that disclosure was made, Secretary of State Charlie White faced both a civil action to remove him from office and a criminal case charging him with vote fraud because he had registered to vote at one election and at the time of his nomination as the Republican candidate for Secretary of State at the home of his ex-wife where the Indiana Democratic Party and a special prosecutor claimed White had actually not resided.

In the absence of any state or local election official willing to address the issue of Lugar's residency on their own, separate citizen challenges were launched against the Lugars' voter registration status in Marion County and Sen. Lugar's eligibility to run for the U.S. Senate. The Indiana Election Commission last month dismissed a challenge to Sen. Lugar's candidacy based on the question of whether he was an inhabitant of the state, one of the three eligibility requirements under the U.S. Senate for service in that body. Attorney General Greg Zoeller weighed in to that dispute with another advisory opinion favorable to the Lugars when the dispute went before the Election Commission. Zoeller has endorsed Lugar's re-election and allowed Lugar to film a television ad with him in his State House office despite the obvious impropriety of using state resources for political purposes. Like the previous opinions, this latest opinion was confined to the issue of whether the Lugars could vote at a precinct in which they no longer resided; it had nothing to do with Lugar's eligibility under the U.S. Constitution. That case is being appealed in the Marion Superior Court before Judge Michael Keele, who will conduct a hearing in that case the first week of April.

The election board had a much different standard of law to apply in determining whether the Lugars were legally registered to vote within a particular precinct as opposed to whether he was deemed an inhabitant of the state eligible to run for office, although both standards impose a minimum physical presence requirement, notwithstanding the Attorney General advisory opinions suggesting otherwise. The Attorney General advisory opinions rely almost exclusively on the fail safe provision of the state constitution as protecting Sen. Lugar from losing residency because his absence from the state is the result of his service to the United States. None of those opinions addressed the inhabitancy requirement Lugar must meet under the U.S. Constitution. Further, none of those opinions specifically addressed the fact that the Lugars no longer owned, occupied or maintained any legal interest in a residence within the precinct in which they continuously voted since 1977.

The findings of fact and conclusions of law prepared by the election board's attorney and adopted by the board on March 15th concluded that the act of the Lugars selling their home at 3200 Highwoods Court in 1977 and thereafter re-establishing no other residence within the precinct established an intent to abandon their residence within that precinct and made their voter registration status within that precinct unlawful. Contrary to what many people think, the election board did not as a result of the adoption of its motion at its March 15th meeting take any steps to remove the Lugars from the registered voting rolls, instruct their precinct election board to challenge their right to vote, or otherwise take any steps to prevent them from voting in that precinct at the May 8th primary election or other future elections. Essentially, the election board's action amounted to no more than offering an advisory opinion to the Lugars. The board chose that route to afford the Lugars an opportunity to re-register to vote within a precinct in which they could lawfully vote. The board also gave the Lugars the benefit of the doubt and assumed they lacked the intent to commit a criminal violation of the state's voter registration laws by continuously voting at a precinct in which they didn't reside over the past 35 years. No referral to the Marion County Prosecutor's Office was made despite evidence of the Lugars' past violations of the state's voter registration laws, the same laws that resulted in six criminal convictions being returned by a jury against Secretary of State Charlie White in neighboring Hamilton County last month.

Because no final order or action has been taken to remove the Lugars from the registered voter rolls of their precinct, the election board is arguing that Judge Louis Rosenberg lacks jurisdiction to hear the Lugars' complaint for a permanent injunction claiming that their right to vote has been disenfranchised. The Lugars, by law, may still request a ballot to vote in the same precinct they've always voted, if they choose not to heed the board's advisory opinion to re-register in a different precinct and persist in voting in their old precinct. In the event the Lugars are challenged at their precinct, they are still by law allowed to cast their votes by provisional ballot. The election board would then have to decide after the election whether to count their ballots. If the board chose not to count their ballots, the Lugars would have the right to appeal that decision to the circuit court at that time.

By seeking an order prior to the election allowing them to vote in their old precinct, the election board contends the Lugars are seeking review of a non-justiciable claim because no final order or action has been taken by the board. Because there is no justiciable claim yet, the court would be impermissibly issuing yet another advisory opinion the Lugars have been generously afforded over the years, unlike ordinary citizens. The election board also contends that if the court substitutes its judgment for the process set out in statute for challenging any registered voter, the court would be exercising a function delegated by statute to the election board to perform, resulting in a violation of the separation of powers. To obtain a permanent injunction, the Lugars must be able to demonstrate that they will suffer immediate and irreparable harm if injunctive relief is not ordered, that the benefit of granting them a preliminary injunction outweighs the harm imposed on the board, that the public interest will not be disserved by granting them an injunction, and that they are likely to prevail on the merits of their underlying claim. That's a pretty tall order for the Lugars to fill under these particular circumstances. Interestingly, despite the great harm they claim they will suffer if not granted this extraordinary relief from the court, the Lugars will not appear at Friday's hearing to testify. Instead, they will remain at their home in McLean, Virginia and leave it to their team of lawyers in Indiana to convince the court the election board acted contrary to the law by simply issuing the first unfavorable legal opinion the Lugars have ever received concerning their right to vote at a place they no longer reside.

So you've all probably concluded this all seems a lot more complicated than it might have first appeared to you. It's a mess that was unnecessarily created by self-serving politicians who, in my opinion, conferred a constitutional benefit on the Lugars that has never before been recognized at law. I believe that the current Attorney General and the past Attorney Generals who provided opinions to Sen. Lugar based on a tortured and totally illogical interpretation of our state's constitution should be ashamed of their handiwork. It has made matters much worse that so much of the media has simply bought into this faulty legal argument and dismissed a more logical interpretation of the state's constitution as pure nonsense. The framers of our state constitution would never have included this provision in the constitution if they had understood that it exempted Indiana's congressional delegation from a the most basic requirement of residency--physical presence. Talk to any average citizen on the street and they're outraged to think that it is possible that our laws would permit Sen. Lugar, or any other member of Congress from this state for that matter, to continuously represent this state without maintaining a "true, fixed permanent home" within the state to which they could return while the Congress is not in session.

The task Judge Rosenberg faces in sorting through this unnecessary mess these Attorney Generals and political insiders have created to confer this special benefit on the Lugars is not an easy one, and it's one made more difficult by the media's complete abrogation of its responsibility to research the facts and law and report all sides of this debate with impartiality rather than joining the Lugar campaign in piling on the unwarranted criticism of those who believe in upholding the rule of law and applying the law equally to all of the state's residents. It was appalling to watch the media react with a collective yawn when Sen. Lugar last week matter-of-factly announced that he had illegally billed taxpayers for hotel stays in Indianapolis while the Senate was not in session and would return at least $4,500 to the U.S. Treasury, although he was uncertain whether he would pay for it out of his personal funds or from his campaign funds. The small matter that Lugar was deemed ineligible to bill those hotel bills because he had claimed that former residence he abandoned 35 years ago as his residence on Senate travel forms flew right past the non-discerning media. The fact that Sen. David Durenberger faced criminal prosecution a little more than a decade ago for the same offense seemed to be of no significance to the media either. The Indianapolis Star editorialized its concern that this trivial matter would get more attention than it deserved. Sorry, Charlie. The Star's generosity and deference only extends to a few privileged insiders, and you're not one of them.

By way of disclosure, I represented Greg Wright, the petitioner in the challenge before the election board. I have filed an amicus brief with the Court at Judge Rosenberg's invitation in opposition to the Lugars' request for a preliminary injunction.

City-County Council May Vote Against Ballard's Reappointment of Straub

Public Safety Director Frank Straub has been a flashpoint for controversy since Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard named the New Yorker to the post following Scott Newman's abrupt and unexpected departure from the position in November, 2009. Now that the Democrats are in control of the council, it appears support for his reappointment may be in doubt, and it's not just Democratic councilors who are threatening to vote against him. WTHR reports:

Indianapolis, and now he faces a possible no-confidence vote.
Public Safety Director Frank Straub's re-appointment goes before a City-County Council committee Wednesday. It's expected to move to the full council in early April.
Reappointment of the mayor's deputy directors and department heads is usually a routine rubber-stamping, but not this time.
For the first time in more than 25 years, chances are good this mayoral appointment will receive a "no vote of confidence."
Last year, Straub was approved by the Republican majority on a 16-13 vote. This year he faces opposition from both sides of the aisle.
Democrat Mary Moriarity Adams said, "There's a great deal of frustration with Straub and his management of IMPD."
"It's not so much about the changes he's made within IMPD but the spending in his budget," she explained.
Adams, who's spent time sifting through public safety's budget, points to the $15 million deficit.
"Yet we have a contract with Emmis Communications for $50,000 to improve the image of IMPD. I guess that calls into question whether we're spending money in the proper fashion if we don't actually have money," she said.
Adams also wonders why administrative salaries for staff went from $204,000 a year under previous director Scott Newman to $471,000 under Straub.
"That's over a 50-percent increase in just salaries," she said, noting that Newman made nearly $98,000 his last year on the job while Straub has a base salary of $125,000.
The mayor, by comparison, makes $95,000.
Republican Aaron Freeman, who reluctantly backed Straub last year, says he won't be doing so this year. He noted it will be his "first disagreement with the mayor."
Freeman said he hasn't seen Straub deliver on the changes promised. He said many of his Republican colleagues feel the same way.
Democrat Monroe Gray is one of the councilors speaking on Straub's behalf.
Gray said, "I'm supportive because he's done a good job... one of the best things is reorganization... he derailed the good ole boy system and put people in places where they need to be because of merit."
Gray noted anytime "you try to change tradition, you face resistance." . . .
It looks like there may be at least three Republican councilors who will vote against Straub's reappointment. Gray's support of Straub is perplexing. The Mayor's office tells WTHR that Straub will remain in the position regardless of how the council votes. I'm not sure why council approval of mayoral appointees is required if it's vote is non-binding. The council, of course, could simply pull funding for Straub's position out of Public Safety's budget if the mayor refuses to get rid of him if the council fails to reappoint him to the post.

Fort Wayne Attorney Shot By Home Intruder

It's a reminder that nobody's home is safe. Fort Wayne attorney David Kuker, 45, lives in a quiet, southwest side Fort Wayne neighborhood near an elementary school. Yesterday, an intruder surprised him in his attached garage, sprayed a substance in his face and then shot him before fleeing on foot. Kuker's home, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, is directly across the street from the home of an Allen Co. Sheriff's Department officer, whose police cruiser was parked in his drive at the time of the attack. Kuker suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries. The shooter remains at large.

Police said David J. Kuker, 45, was attacked when he found the man in the attached garage of his home, at 9409 White Shell Drive, about 8:13 a.m.
The man attacked Kuker, police said, and sprayed an unknown substance at him before shooting him in the shoulder at least once with a handgun.
A neighbor heard Kuker shouting for help after he was shot and called 911 after she found him lying in his front yard, police said.
An off-duty Allen County Sheriff’s Department officer lives across the street, and his cruiser was parked in his driveway at the time of the shooting. He came across the street and reported that Kuker was suffering from at least one gunshot wound, police said.
Kuker was taken to a hospital in serious condition.
Kuker is a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels and practices corporate law, focusing on mergers and acquisitions, private equity transactions, franchising issues, licensing, joint ventures and other complex transactions, the law firm said in a written statement.
Officers from the sheriff’s and Fort Wayne Police departments searched Kuker’s home and determined there was no one else in the home and that nothing had been reported stolen.
Indiana State Police dogs tried to track the intruder but were unsuccessful.
There was no sign of forced entry into the home or garage, Fort Wayne police said.
Police do not have a description of the assailant and don’t know of a motive, including whether the shooting was part of an attempted home invasion or robbery.
“It would all be speculation at this point,” spokeswoman Raquel Foster said.
The suspect was not known to Kuker, police said.
Kuker's shooting is a reminder of why so many neighborhoods have established neighborhood volunteer crime watch programs like the one George Zimmerman was a volunteer in his Florida neighborhood when he had a physical altercation with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during which Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obama May Rue Saying "Son Would Look Like Trayvon"

Trayvon Martin
President Barack Obama may rue the day he decided to join forces with race merchants like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in an effort to turn the death of a Florida teen into a national campaign against "stand your ground laws." When the press first started picking up on the reported self-defense shooting by a neighborhood crime watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, they portrayed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as a model young boy minding his own business who made the mistake of walking through a predominantly white neighborhood wearing a hoodie and was singled out and shot by a white racist. According to the meme, the Sanford Police Department, which has had a history of problems, had allowed a cold-blooded murderer to go free.

Now that the entire story is being told, an entirely different picture emerges. The young Martin was 6'3", while the 28-year-old Zimmerman was 5'7", not exactly the hulking bully he had been earlier portrayed as by his detractors. The white racist Zimmerman is actually from a mixed family with a Hispanic mother who had volunteered to tutor young students, including African-Americans according to his neighbors, one of whom is black. He sustained a broken nose and head injury after Martin decked him and slammed his head several times against the sidewalk, a scene witnessed by neighbors, while Zimmerman screamed for help before shooting Martin in self defense.

Martin, it turns out, is far from being a choir boy. His Twitter account has been uncovered by the Daily Caller and shows that Martin frequently posted less than flattering comments using the handle, "No_Limit_Nigga." It turns out that the reason he was staying at his father's house where he did not normally live was because he had been suspended from school for the third time. The Miami Herald reports on the many problems Martin had in school this year.

As thousands of people gathered here to demand an arrest in the Trayvon Martin case, a more complicated portrait began to emerge of a teenager whose problems at school ranged from getting spotted defacing lockers to getting caught with a marijuana baggie and women’s jewelry.
The Miami Gardens teen who has become a national symbol of racial injustice was suspended three times, and had a spotty school record that his family’s attorneys say is irrelevant to the facts that led up to his being gunned down on Feb. 26.

Read more here:
His first suspension came after he was caught defacing school lockers by marking them up with "W.T.F." When Martin's book bag was searched by a school police officer, he found women's jewelry and a screw driver the officer believed was used as a "burglary tool." He was suspended a second time for truancy and tardiness. His third and final suspension in February came after school officials found an empty bag in his possession with traces of marijuana. It's worth noting that his Twitter account made references to "weed" and there have been reports that Martin was a small-time drug dealer.

Not surprisingly, Martin's parents believe there is an orchestrated effort to demonize their son, which is exactly what they and other race merchants have been doing to Zimmerman for the past week non-stop. It doesn't help their cause that Al Sharpton has jumped into the middle of the dispute. Sharpton has played a highly controversial role in stirring up racial controversies in New York where innocent persons have been falsely accused of racist acts. His efforts to foment racial hatred have even led to several deaths.

UPDATE: Looks like Zimmerman is a registered Democrat. Whoops.

South Bend Passes Human Rights Ordinance

South Bend joins other major Indiana cities in enacting a local ordinance that protects its residents from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The city's common council approved the expansion of its human rights ordinance on a 6-3 vote that protects against discrimination in housing, employment, education and public accommodations. Several efforts to enact the expansion in recent years failed due to organized opposition from Patrick Mangan's Citizens for Community Values, who denounced the measure as not being about tolerance. This is about forced public endorsement, the South Bend Tribune reported. This is about preference," he said. "It is not about equal rights -- it is about special rights.

Dr. Catherine Pittman, who has led the local efforts to pass the expanded ordinance over the past year, lauded its passage. "Even individuals who are not gay are often the victims of harassment," she said, "because even being perceived as gay or in the company of gay individuals can lead to discrimination." South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke out in favor of the ordinance during Monday night's council meeting. He said the passage of the ordinance was a test of how well South Bend handles diversity and was important to the city's economic comeback.

Monday, March 26, 2012

GOP's Voter Vault Database Hacked, Candidates' Identity Altered

The Northwest Indiana Times is reporting that the state GOP's Voter Vault database was hacked and the identities of two Lake County Republican candidates altered in an attempt to discredit them. The claims are made by Eric Krieg, a candidate for county surveyor, and Peter Karagan, a candidate for state representative.

"They changed me from a strong Republican to weak Democrat," said Eric Krieg, a Munster engineer. He is one of three men seeking the Republican nomination for county surveyor. "My first reaction was that it is ridiculously petty. I have never voted Democrat in my entire life."
Peter N. Karagan, a Munster real estate businessman, said, "I was downgraded to a strong Democrat. That doesn't describe me when I'm running in a Republican primary for state representative House District 12." He is one of two Republicans running for the seat.
The two want an investigation by the Indiana Republican Party to find who trashed their reputations with distorted party loyalty grades entered into Voter Vault, a national Republican voter database.

The Voter Vault database is primarily a tool for Republican party leaders and its candidates to obtain information about the past voting records of the state's registered voters. It typically includes a person's information concerning a person's registered voting address and the party ballot a person chose in the primary elections in which a voter has voted.

Judge Dismisses 17 of State's Claims Against IBM

It's easy to forget a trial over the legal dispute between the state's Family and Social Services Administration over the canceled welfare privatization contract IBM has been going on for the past month because there has been very little coverage to date. The Star does have a brief story today mentioning that Judge David Dreyer has signed an order dismissing 17 of the state's claims against IBM following the conclusion of the state's case.

"Specifically, the state has introduced no credible evidence that IBM knowingly or intentionally made any false statements to the state or any other governmental entity," according to Dreyer's order.

Before the trial got underway last month, Judge Dreyer made key rulings that substantially affected the parties' potential liability if either lost the case. On one summary judgment motion in favor of IBM, Judge Dreyer ruled the company is entitled to up to $40 million in subcontractor assignment fees provided under the contract if it prevails in its claims against the state. Under Dreyer's earlier ruling, IBM both parties could be liable to the other in excess of $100 million if it prevails at the conclusion of the trial.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lugar Could Face Criminal Charges For Illegally Billing Lodging Expenses For Indiana Trips

While the disclosure this past week that Sen. Richard Lugar had illegally billed taxpayers for overnight lodging in Indianapolis over the past decade was met with a collective yawn by the media in Indiana, the problem Sen. Lugar blamed on his staff is no small matter. Similar wrongdoing committed by former Minnesota Sen. David Durenberger (R-MN) less than a decade ago helped sink his political career.

Sen. Durenberger and members of his Senate staff were indicted after federal investigators learned that he had filed fraudulent claims for $3,825 in lodging expenses over a two-year period during return trips to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sen. Durenberger had earlier agreed to repay the government over $11,000 in travel expenses after the Senate Rules Committee had determined that he had illegally billed the Senate for lodging expenses during his return trips to Minnesota. Sen. Durenberger agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of converting public funds to personal use in consideration for dropping pending felony charges against him and to avoid a prison sentence. He was fined $1,000.

Sen. Lugar told Politico this past week that he had agreed to repay $4,500 to the U.S. Treasury after he says an internal audit revealed that he had been illegally reimbursed for overnight lodging in Indianapolis while the Senate was not in session over a 10-year period. Lugar announced the return of the money after he learned that his travel records were being reviewed by others. In official Senate filings, Sen. Lugar has claimed that his "duty station" or place of residence within his home state is a home he abandoned 35 years ago that is currently owned by Elizabeth Hughes. Senate rules bar Senators from obtaining reimbursement for lodging expenses incurred while the Senate is not in session when a Senator returns to the region of his or her "duty station." Sen. Lugar claimed the error resulted from a lack of knowledge of an obscure rule regarding to travel expenses within the region of a senator's duty station. It is shocking that the issue would not have occurred to Sen. Lugar given the criminal indictment his fellow Republican colleague faced for a similar offense. In Durenberger's case, he had failed to disclose his ownership of his Minneapolis condominium he owned when he filed for travel reimbursement. Lugar's filings falsely claim residence at a home he sold 35 years ago. In both cases, the lawmakers received reimbursement for personal travel expenses not permitted by law.

A further review of the expenses Sen. Lugar billed taxpayers in 2011 reveal that he billed taxpayers for travel expenses incurred when he returned to Indiana for campaign-related events. Lugar's statement to Politico last week did not discuss those charges. The Indiana Democratic Party has requested that Lugar reveal the findings of his internal audit. Earlier, the Democratic Party had revealed that Sen. Lugar had billed taxpayers for more than $70,000 in travel expenses for return trips to Indiana over the past decade after the party obtained those records through a FOIA request. In making the disclosure this past week, Sen. Lugar told Politico he was seeking advice on whether he had to personally repay the funds or whether he could repay them using funds from his campaign committee. Without matching the travel requests Lugar is reimbursing with the actual audit findings and comparing them to his travel records, it is difficult to determine what other reimbursements may or may not have been proper.

Citizen activist Greg Wright has filed a new complaint with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee requesting an investigation of this latest disclosure of impropriety on Sen. Lugar's part. Earlier, Wright filed a complaint accusing Sen. Lugar of using his Senate office for personal business use after he discovered that Lugar was using his Indianapolis Senate office as the registered office and listing him as the registered agent at that address for Lugar Stock Farm, Inc., a corporation that owns a Lugar family farm in Marion County. Days after Wright filed his complaint, Lugar amended the Secretary of State filings for the family business to change the registered office to his brother's home in Indianapolis.

A March 15th hearing conducted by the Marion County Board of Elections based on a complaint filed by Wright against Lugar and his wife accusing them of illegally voting using the Indianapolis home the couple abandoned 35 years ended with a finding that the Lugars were in fact illegally registered to vote. Despite the finding, the Board declined to make a finding the Lugars had violated any criminal laws. Sen. Lugar has filed suit against the Board seeking to overturn its finding. Former Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White was criminally indicted and convicted and forced from office for registering and casting a ballot in one election using the home of his ex-wife where the evidence showed that he actually slept several nights a week, received mail and his son resided. White's accusations produced universal condemnation and damnation by the Indiana news media, while the media has accused Lugar's opponents of engaging in partisan attacks by questioning his voter registration. By way of disclosure, I represent Wright in his election board complaint against the Lugars.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Daniels Calls Marion County's Judicial Slating System "A Travesty"

Gov. Mitch Daniels has been governor for nearly eight years. During that time, I don't recall any instance where he criticized the political system utilized by the two major parties to slate judicial candidates in Marion County until yesterday. During an interview with reporters following the announcement of his appointment of Mark Massa to the Supreme Court, he called the Marion County judicial slating system "a travesty" under which "these offices are purely partisan" and "purchased by party loyalty." That's pretty tough language. It would have been nice if the Governor had used his enormous political capital to pressure the legislature to enact a merit system for Marion County like Lake County has at some point during his two terms in office. Check out the interview where he made those comments to reporters at IndyPolitics here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Indiana Supreme Court To Remain All Male After Daniels Names Massa

It's mightily hard for Gov. Mitch Daniels to claim he named another male to the Supreme Court because he was the most qualified candidate. Several other more qualified candidates were passed over by the Indiana Judicial Qualficiations Commission, including two of the finalists from last year, Indianapolis appellate attorney Karl Mulvaney and Marion Superior Court Judge Robyn Moberly, when Gov. Daniels chose Justice Steven David to take the place of retiring Justice Ted Boehm. Today, Daniels chose Mark Massa, his former chief counsel, to fill the very big shoes being vacated by Chief Justice Randall Shepard, whose last day on the job was today. Daniels passed over Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford and the only female finalist, Indianapolis attorney Jane Seigel, both of whom had experience and qualifications that arguably exceeded Massa's. Nobody can argue with the fact that Massa was the most politically-wired candidate of the three finalists. The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission will now have the task of choosing the next chief justice from among the sitting justices.

The disappointment with Massa's appointment could be felt in the reporting by female reporters like the Star's Mary Beth Schneider. "With Massa’s pick, Indiana remains one of only three states in the nation with no women on the highest court. Daniels chose Massa, who currently is executive director of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, over Jane Ann Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Judicial Center, and Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford." Schneider continued:

Daniels said he would have liked nothing better than to appoint a woman to the court, but giving that diversity did not trump finding the best person for the job.
“I would like nothing more than to appoint yet another woman to the bench or any other high office. I do it when I can,” he said. “But it does not trump the need to get the very best person available. Under our system I don’t get to look all over Indiana. I’m limited to the choices that are brought to me. In this case, I’m 100 percent certain I’ve chosen the best of those three.”
The Indiana Law Blog's Marcia Oddi commented: "[I]t reminds me of the old story about Ginger Rogers, to equal Fred Astaire she had to perform while dancing backwards in high heels. "

Indiana State Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb released a statement lauding Massa's appointment by Gov. Daniels:
"Mark Massa is a thoughtful and respected public servant and member of our community whose guiding principle will be to faithfully protect and follow our State and National Constitutions. 
"His impeccable record of service in Governor Daniels' office, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and as a clerk to then-Chief Justice Shepard, among other assignments, makes him an ideal choice to be our next Supreme Court Justice."

Airport Authority Gives Clark $270,000 Going Away Gift

The Indianapolis Airport Authority may have been displeased with the performance of its former CEO John Clark and his costly globetrotting travels around the world, but not enough to keep its board from voting to give him $270,000, or a full year's salary, as a parting gift. Oh, and he's also being paid for 256 hours of unused vacation and personal days. How he could have accumulated that much time given how much time he spent away from the airport is anyone's guess. Clark served in the job for only three years. It looks to me like two weeks' pay for each year of service would have more than sufficed, but hey, I would spend the airport's money like it was my own money. The airport authority's board has repeatedly demonstrated that it could care less about how recklessly it spends the airport's monies. As they always tell you when you complain, it's not taxpayers' money they are spending.

Libertarians Naming Klopfenstein As Boneham's Running Mate

Ed Feigenbaum's Indiana Legislative Insight is reporting that the Libertarian Party of Indiana plans to nominate Brad Klopfenstein as the lieutenant governor running mate for its first high profile gubernatorial nominee, former "Survivor" star Rupert Boneham. The news of Klopfenstein becoming Boneham's running mate is sure to meet with the disapproval of a number of rank and file Libertarians because of Klopfenstein's role in the sordid Lincoln Plowman bribery scandal.

Klopfenstein, an Indianapolis bar owner, was one of the Board of Zoning Appeal members Plowman had boasted to an undercover FBI agent that he had appointed and controlled. Plowman told the undercover agent that he could rely on his board appointees to help smooth any zoning approvals that would be needed for approval of a proposed strip club the undercover agent claimed to be planning to establish in Indianapolis. Klopfenstein, who also served as Plowman's campaign manager, had discussed the proposed strip club with Plowman and worked closely with Plowman to defeat a smoking ban ordinance that was before the City-County Council on which Plowman served, while Plowman was on the payroll of an Indianapolis strip club which was helping fund the effort to defeat the smoking ban ordinance. Klopfenstein testified at Plowman's criminal trial where he was found guilty of bribery and attempted extortion charges for accepting a $5,000 cash payment from the undercover agent. Some Marion County Libertarians also became upset with Klopfenstein during the debate over the passage of the controversial 50-year privatization deal with ACS for the City of Indianapolis' parking meter assets. Klopfenstiein lobbied for passage of a deal that many local Libertarians opposed as a very bad deal for taxpayers.

According to a media advisory put out by the party, the nominating convention has been scheduled for Saturday, March 24 at the Holiday Inn Carribean Cove Hotel & Water Park in Indianapolis. Not surprisingly, Klopfenstein's ally in fighting the Indianapolis smoking ban ordinance, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, is scheduled to moderate a presidential debate at the event that will include former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and three other unknown candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination.

Was Lugar Billing Taxypayers For Campaign Expenses?

Sen. Richard Lugar made a pre-emptive move yesterday to head off further examination of his Senate travel records by announcing that he was repaying taxpayers $4,500 for trips back to Indiana that he had charged to the government. Lugar made the announcement only after his expense records had been obtained through a public records requests and his office faced questions about them from the Washington-based Politico. Lugar's staff cited what they described as an "obscure Senate rule" that requires senators to pay for their own overnight lodging while the Senate is not in session when they return to their home states within the region of their so-called duty station, which is the place the senator has declared as his place of residence within his home state. In Lugar's case, he has designated the home of Elizabeth Hughes as his "duty station," even though he and his wife sold that home 35 years ago and have no agreement with the current owner to use it as their Indiana residence. Lugar's staff claims the charges being repaid cover hotel bills submitted all the way back to 1991--as far back as records still exist, but is this move intended to mask an entirely different problem?

Politico reported yesterday that Lugar was "now consulting with the Senate’s disbursement office to determine whether the reimbursements should be paid for out of pocket or through his reelection campaign account." An examination of the records uncovered by Politico may reveal that in 2011 alone, Sen. Lugar may have been billing taxpayers for trips he made back to Indiana for political purporses. Those include the following trips:

  • For a trip January 20-23, 2011, Lugar received a reimbursement for $393.73 for a trip that included for a fundraiser his campaign hosted in Carmel on January 21, 2011.
  • For a trip May 31-June 4, 2011, Lugar received a reimbursement of $513.96, which included meetings at his Indianapolis campaign headquarters on June 1, 2011 and a National Republican Senatorial Committee event in Evansville on June 4, 2011.
  • Lugar received a reimbursement of $162.83 for June 25-26, 2011 during which he attended a political event in Hamilton County.
  • A reimbursement for July 3-5, 2011 of $813.13 included Lugar's attendance at a political event in Syracuse.
  • For a trip made on July 8-July 10, 2011, Lugar received a reimbursement of $817.78 during which he attended a political event in Morgan County.
  • A $551.14 reimbursement for the period of August 24-September 2, 2011 included at least one fundraiser for his campaign held in Kokomo and political events in Indianapolis, Columbus and Fort Wayne.
Those return trips to Indiana during 2011 alone represented $3,252.57 in travel charges billed to taxpayers. Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker told the Star's Mary Beth Schneider that he wanted Lugar to publicly release the internal audit that Lugar says his staff performed to determine that $4,500 should be reimbursed to taxpayers since 1991. The Indiana Democratic Party obtained Lugar's Senate travel records through a FOIA request and is no doubt questioning whether Lugar billed taxpayers for campaign-related expenses, which is prohibited under Senate rules. The release of the internal audit would allow an independent determination of whether the trips Lugar is now seeking to repay to the government included trips he made back to Indiana for campaign-related purposes. Lugar should release all of the information it has now; otherwise, you can bet this chapter of the campaign has not ended yet.

The Politico's Manu Raju has another story today about the pressure being put on Lugar to release the internal audit. "I have no idea what they want," Lugar told Raju. "We'll consider that but for now I'll just wait for their call." Quoting Parker, Raju writes, “Under extreme pressure, Sen. Lugar conducted an internal audit to find just how much he has billed Indiana taxpayers for hotels.” Parker continued, “After reimbursing taxpayers for rooms that he improperly billed them for, it is essential that Sen. Lugar make public the results of that audit. It’s a shame that it’s come to this: Indiana’s senior senator paying back taxpayers for staying in hotels when he could have just maintained a residence here.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Arlen Specter Endorses Lugar

It's not been a good day for Sen. Richard Lugar. A prominent Right To Life organization endorsed his Republican primary opponent's campaign. Politico broke a story about Sen. Lugar being forced to repay to the U.S. Treasury illegal travel reimbursements he had taken for his return trips to Indiana while falsely claiming to reside at a home he sold 35 years ago. To top it off, former Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat before his primary election defeat in 2010, endorsed his re-election during a call-in show on C-SPAN this morning. Could the day get any worse for Lugar?

UPDATE: The Star's Gary Varvel must have been channeling the same thoughts with his latest creation:

Lugar Reimbursing Government For Hotel Expenses While Visiting Indiana

Sen. Richard Lugar has not only not lived in Indiana in 35 years, he has been billing U.S. taxpayers for overnight lodging expenses he incurs at the hotels he stays in while visiting the people of Indiana he supposedly represents in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Lugar is blaming staff for the mistake. As always, it's an out-of-state journalist who has the story. The Politico's Manu Raju reports on Lugar's plan to reimburse taxpayers for only about $4,500 of the more than $70,000 he has illegally billed taxpayers for lodging claiming a home at which he hasn't owned in 35 years as his "duty station":
Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar’s residency problems just grew more uncomfortable: He’s reimbursing the Treasury for erroneously billing taxpayers for a series of hotel stays in Indianapolis in recent years.

The long-serving Senate Republican said because of staff errors, taxpayer money was improperly used to pay for about $4,500 in hotel expenses over the past decade. 
After an inquiry from POLITICO, Lugar’s office investigated and acknowledged the issue, and the senator is now taking steps to repay the money.
“I was unaware of routine staff work over the course of several years where we may have made mistakes,” Lugar said Wednesday. “I’m sorry that I was not more observant.”
Lugar also tapped his Senate office account to pay about $70,000 in other hotel costs over the course of his 35-year career, his office said. But Lugar was allowed to use that account in those instances because the Senate was in session.
Lugar has come under withering criticism from his Republican primary and Democratic opponents for living outside the state since 1977. His campaign responded in an ad this week to what Lugar calls “Mickey Mouse” attacks.
He is now consulting with the Senate’s disbursement office to determine whether the reimbursements should be paid for out of pocket or through his reelection campaign account.
Since records were only available dating to 1991, Lugar said “it’s conceivable” that the problems stemmed throughout the breadth of his career, which started in 1977. But he insisted the problem occurred “infrequently,” attributing the issue to staff members over the years handling the issue differently.
The latest snafu revolves around an obscure set of Senate guidelines requiring senators to certify his or her “usual place of residence” in their home state as a so-called duty station during periods of Senate adjournment. During those periods, a senator is not allowed to use official funds within the duty station’s region to cover hotel costs, a problem for Lugar since he no longer owns a home there. Lugar has certified his duty station to be at the Indianapolis house he sold in 1977 — the same property in which he’s currently registered to vote.
After being contacted by POLITICO, Lugar’s office said the senator requested a comprehensive review of the records and found that in a handful of cases during periods of adjournment, taxpayers should not have paid for his stays at various hotels, such as the Holiday Inn near the airport and others.
“I was not even aware of the term ‘duty station’ until all of this arose,” Lugar said Wednesday.
Melanie Sloan, head of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that while Lugar may have been unaware of the situation, blaming it on staff is not a “sufficient excuse.” Lawmakers, she said, have a “personal responsibility” to make sure they are complying with the rules.

“Read the rules,” Sloan said.
Unbelievable. Sen. Lugar has been in the Senate for 35 years and he doesn't know the rules for what travel expenses he can charge to taxpayers and, in particular, travel expenses to visit his own state's taxpayers? Sen. Lugar didn't understand what the term "duty station" meant because the only home he really views as his duty station is his home in McLean, Virginia, the only home he has maintained for the past 35 years. Assuming $4,500 is the total amount of time he billed taxpayers while the Senate was not in session, it only proves just how little time Lugar spends in his home state when the Senate is not in session. Most members of Indiana's congressional delegation commute weekly to and from
Washington while Congress is in session, in addition to the time they spend in the state when Congress is in recess.

It's appalling that Sen. Lugar is allowed to bill the state's taxpayers for any overnight lodging while visiting the state he supposedly represents, particularly based on the fiction that he owns Elizabeth Hughes' home at 3200 Highwoods Court. Elizabeth has made clear that Sen. Lugar and his wife have no agreement with her to use her home as their fictional home so they can register to vote in Indiana. Now we learn that he is using her home as his "duty station" for purposes of billing taxpayers for his trips back to Indiana. The Marion Co. Election Board has determined that the Lugars are illegally registered to vote at Elizabeth Hughes' home and will no longer be allowed to vote there, but now they are suing the board claiming their constitutional rights are being violated because they aren't allowed to register to vote at her address. Lugar should be reimbursing the $4,500 to Hughes since he is falsely representing on official Senate records that her home is his "duty station," even though she is not compensated anything for his claim of a legal residency status with respect to her home.

One statement I will take issue with in the Politico story is a suggestion that Lugar's residency in McLean, Virginia has arisen before during his Senate tenure. That is not the case. It did not become a matter of public knowledge in Indiana that Lugar maintained no home in the state until one of his aides, Mark Helmke, told Real Clear Politics that he stayed in hotels when he visits the state. Prior to that time, it was assumed Lugar relied on a home on the family farm located in another township within Marion County. Lugar told reporters someone else lives in that home and it would not be truthful to claim that home as his registered voting address. Yet he believes it is truthful to claim that Elizabeth Hughes' home is his home for voting registration purposes since 1977 when he and his wife sold her home to another couple from whom she purchased the home.

Watch the Indiana media that is totally in bed with Lugar view this latest disclosure with a collective yawn. They have ignored my earlier report on how Lugar had been using his Indianapolis Senate office in violation of Senate rules as the registered agent address for the corporation that owns the family farm. It wasn't until my report was published that Lugar quickly amended records on file with the Indiana Secretary of State's office to change the registered agent address to his brother's home in Indianapolis. The conspiracy of silence among the mainstream Indiana media protecting Lugar is real. You simply cannot believe anything they report on Sen. Lugar because their number one mission is to ensure he is re-elected to an unprecedented seventh term by hook or crook.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rex Early Sticking With Gingrich

Former Indiana GOP Chairman Rex Early is sticking by the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich despite recent losses to rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. A press release from the Gingrich campaign announces Early's role as Indiana State Chairman for Newt 2012. Newt 2012 Senior Advisor, Kevin Kellems said, "Rex Early is the tall oak of Indiana Republican politics- a man who is beloved statewide by Hoosiers from all walks of life for his sense of humor, his generosity and his career-long focus on strengthening the state and the party he loves." "Newt 2012 is very fortunate to have his active support and leadership."

Former Illinois Republican Governor Says GOP Presidential Race Should End Now That Illinois Has Voted

Who was looking forward to an actual contested Republican presidential race by the time Indiana's May 8th primary rolled around? It hasn't happened in 36 years so I guess we shouldn't expect this year to be any different. Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar declared that the Republican presidential race should come to an end after his state's voters lined up behind Mitt Romney yesterday. Romney captured 46.7% of the Republican primary vote compared to 35% won by Santorum. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich split 17% of the remaining vote. Edgar told the Chicago Tribune that "a long primary vote might not matter to Republican voters, but he says there are a lot of independent voters watching the race."

The key word here is "watching." Independent voters stayed home in droves yesterday. Fewer than one million voters even bothered to show up and vote in the contested GOP presidential primary election in Illinois. While Santorum trounced Romney in about two-thirds of Illinois' 102 counties, all the urban and suburban counties where the lion's share of the votes are cast went handily to Romney. The Chicago suburbs voted overwhelmingly for Romney. Even worse for Santorum, his 12-point loss to Romney in the popular vote doesn't translate near as well in the delegate count. He will pick up about 12 delegates at best in Illinois, while Romney is assured of picking up well north of 50 delegates.

Of interest to Indiana, every Illinois county adjoining Indiana outside of Da Region voted for Santorum. That mirrors what happened to the east in the recent Ohio primary where all the counties along the Indiana border, except those in the Cincinnati area, voted for Santorum. At the rate things are going, however, it doesn't look like how Indiana Republican primary voters' vote on May 8th will make any difference as usual.

Chicago Still Favors Crooked Politicians

Despite what they might say publicly about how they detest politicians who lie, cheat and steal, Chicago Democrats still like their crooked politicians as long as they have the letter "D" behind their name as shown by the results of yesterday's Illinois primary election. A week ago, a state representative  appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives only last year, Derrick Smith (D-Chicago), was hauled away in handcuffs after the feds caught him on tape soliciting a $7,000 cash bribe in consideration for writing a letter of support requesting a $50,000 grant from a state agency for a non-existence day care center in his district. Smith defeated his primary opponent, Tom Swiss, who is white and once worked for the Republicans, in his predominantly black, west-side district by a margin of 77% to 23%. “I was annihilated,” Swiss told the Sun-Times. “The ideologues came out, and those are the people that just would rather vote for a crook than someone who had worked for Republicans.” Incidentally, the Democratic campaign worker who ratted Smith out to the feds was black.

House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), who has been declared Speaker for Life, trounced his first well-financed opponent, Michele Pizczor 76% to 17% in his predominantly white ethnic, southwest side district in his nearly 40-year legislative career. Numerous investigative news reports over the years have documented how Madigan has used his political position to leverage millions of dollars in business for his Chicago law practice. He can argue to voters that he's never been indicted, but it doesn't hurt that he used his enormous power as House Speaker and state party chairman in the Land of Lincoln to install his daughter as the state's Attorney General, even if she was unqualified for the job.

A former state lawmaker and congresswoman, Debbie Halvorson, was also no match in a newly-drawn congressional district for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr (D-Chicago). despite his well-publicized, if unsuccessful attempt to buy the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama from former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who just started serving his 14-year prison sentence for public corruption, and Jackson's reported affair with a young Peruvian woman. Jackson walloped Halvorson by a 71% to 29% margin. Halvorson best sums up the state of affairs in Chicago:

“People can tell you that they want change, they want honesty, integrity,” Halvorson said. “But yet no matter what it is, the party leaders still come out for people who are ethically challenged, and it’s not just Congressman Jackson, but it’s others. I mean, Derrick Smith was just arrested for bribery. Party leaders still come out for people like that. And then when people vote for them, it’s kind of disappointing. But people still vote for it, people get what they deserve, and I’m happy for the outcome.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lugar Sues Marion County Election Board For Right To Vote At Home He Hasn't Resided At In 35 Years

Sen. Richard Lugar has turned a very bad political situation into a complete nightmare for his re-election campaign. Attorneys for Lugar and his wife, Charlene, have filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court seeking to overturn last week's decision of the Marion County Elections Board that determined the Lugars were illegally registered to vote at the Wayne Township home of Elizabeth Hughes, a home the couple sold 35 years ago after Lugar was elected to the Senate and moved with their family to a new home they purchased in McLean, Virginia where they continue to reside. The Lugars' attorneys contend in the lawsuit that Article 2, Section 4 of the Indiana Constitution permits them to continue voting at the home they no longer own, which reads: "No person shall be deemed to have lost his residence in the State, by reason of his absence, either on business of this State or of the United States."

The problem Lugar has with this argument is that he must argue to the court that he has been absent from the state continuously for the past 35 years. It seems doubtful the framers of the Indiana Constitution intended that this provision would apply to members of Indiana's congressional delegation, who were part-time lawmakers at the time of the adoption of the state's constitution in 1851. It is more likely they intended it to apply to members of the military or persons serving in the executive branch as President, Vice-President, cabinet member or ambassador, where their full-time government service jobs necessarily required a person's indefinite absence from the state. The U.S. Constitution requires all U.S. Senators to be inhabitants of the states they represent "when elected." Federal courts have interpreted the inhabitancy requirement to require both a physical presence within the state and an intent to habitate within the state. The Lugars readily admit they have maintained no legal residence in Indiana since they sold their home at 3200 Highwoods Court, Indianapolis home on July 6, 1977. The Marion Co. Election Board determined that the Lugars had abandoned their Indiana residence and failed to re-establish a "true, permanent fixed home or establishment" as required for residency purposes after selling their home in 1977.

The Lugars have relied on the legal opinions of Attorney Generals to claim that the Indiana Constitution permanently froze their legal residence in Indiana at 3200 Highwoods Court upon Lugar's first election to the Senate in 1976 so long as he remains a U.S. Senator from Indiana. Those opinions did not become public until this past year when a Lugar aide told a reporter for Real Clear Politics that Lugar maintained no residence within the state; rather, he stayed in hotels when he visits the state. The current owner of the home, Elizabeth Hughes, had no idea the Lugars were using her home as their registered voting address and does not consent to their use of it for voting purposes. The Lugars' lawyers contend that their fundamental right to vote under the Indiana Constitution is being denied as a result of the board's determination that they cannot legally register to vote at 3200 Highwoods Court, even though the Board advised them they could easily remedy the problem simply by registering using an address to which the couple can prove a nexus.

A copy of the Lugar complaint against the Marion County Elections Board can be viewed here. An emergency hearing has been scheduled for March 30, 2012. Judge Louis Rosenberg is the Marion County Circuit Court judge who will hear the Lugar complaint. Judge Rosenberg, of course, presided over the Charlie White election contest challenging whether he was legally registered to vote at the time of his nomination as the Republican candidate for Secretary of State in 2010. Rosenberg ruled that White was illegally registered to vote and, therefore, ineligible to seek the office; however, the Indiana Supreme Court last week reversed Judge Rosenberg's decision, holding that the Democrats waited too late to bring their challenge to White's candidates until after the November election at which White was elected. As I have previously disclosed, I represented the citizen petitioner, Greg Wright, who challenged the voter registration of the Lugars, before the Marion County Elections Board.

Ballot Size Mix Up In 65 Illinois Counties

It's a major screw up in 65 of Illinois' 102 counties voting today in the statewide presidential primary election. It turns out that the ballots printed for these 65 counties are too wide to be fed through the optical scanners that count the votes. The counties affected by the printing error are primarily smaller counties where Rick Santorum's campaign was expected to perform the best, although there have been some reported problems in the suburban collar counties surrounding Cook County as well. Either the ballots will have to be hand-counted, or the ballots cut down to size so they can be fed through the machines. Either way, it's a colossal screw up that once again casts public doubts on the integrity of our election system. Follow this developing story at Rich Miller's Capitol Fax Blog.

What Ayers' Mailman Knows

The man who delivered mail to the home of Tom and Mary Ayers, parents of long-time Obama friend Bill Ayers, who has taken credit for ghost writing Obama's autobiographical book, Dreams From My Father, has some interesting memories of delivering mail to the Ayers' Glen Ellyn, Illinois home. Allen Hulton, now retired after 39 years of service to the USPS, remembers Mary Ayers talking about the young black foreign student they were helping out with his education. Hulton recalled meeting a young Barack Obama in front of the Ayers' home during this period after Obama had taken the train out from downtown Chicago to the upscale suburban neighborhood where the Ayers resided. He recalls Obama telling him matter-of-factly that he would someday be president of the United States. Click here to see the video interview of him by Dr. Jerome Corsi.

Tom Ayers, of course, was the former CEO of Commonwealth Edison, a large public utility that has always had a big political influence in Chicago and Illinois politics. His son Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, have been controversial figures because of their role in the violent Weathermen Underground movement back in the 1960s, which opposed the Vietnam War. Dohrn and Ayers escaped prosecution for their involvement in the organization's terrorist activities after it was learned that the evidence gathered by the FBI was botched because the CIA had illegally spied on American citizens. Dohrn later worked for Sidley & Austin, the law firm that represents Commonwealth Edison, even though she couldn't be admitted to the Illinois bar because of her past criminal record. Ayers became a tenured professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Despite conservatives' widespread belief that Ayers and Dorn are radical leftists, I believe this has always been a cover for their role as CIA agents who infiltrated the Weathermen Underground and who acted as informants for the CIA. It also fits nicely with the fact that Obama's first job out of Columbia University was working at a company now widely regarded as a CIA front company. The purpose of the Weathermen Underground movement for the CIA was to make the opponents appear so extreme that it would create a backlash in favor of the illegal war.

Things are not at all as they appear, folks. You have to look at the men behind the curtain to find out who the real Barack Obama is. If you accept the CIA connection, you can begin to figure out how both Obama's birth certificate and selective service records could have been forged, successfully pulling off the biggest fraud in American political history. It was a masterful plan. They now have a president of color leading their illegal wars around the world with the full blessing of the American left. Pure brilliance, if diabolical to the extreme.

Lugar Stil Leading As Polls Show Race Tightening

Two polls taken independent from the campaigns of incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar and his challenger, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, confirm that the race between the two candidates seeking the Republican nomination is tightening. The Journal Gazette cites the results of polls taken by a political action committee backing Mourdock and the campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is seeking the Democratic nomination:
Citizens United Political Victory Fund said Monday that 45.4 percent of likely Republican voters favor the six-term incumbent in the May 8 primary election, compared with 39.2 percent who back Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer and 15.3 percent who are undecided . . .
A survey done for Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, the lone Democratic candidate for Senate, presents the same picture: Lugar is picked by 45 percent of GOP respondents and Mourdock by 39 percent, with 16 percent undecided, according to results released Sunday.
Both questionnaires found that many voters might change their minds: 50 percent in the Citizens United survey and 45 percent in the Donnelly poll.
It's surprising to see these polls indicating the race is this tight with still plenty of time before the May 8th primary. The Lugar campaign has been blitzing the airways for more than a month now, including some hard-hitting ads accusing Mourdock of not showing up for his job. Other than some small buys on cable TV, the Lugar offensive has virtually gone unanswered by the lesser-financed Mourdock campaign. My mailbox has been inundated with literature from the Lugar campaign, including several negative attack pieces. Whenever an incumbent is polling below 50 percent in a poll, he's regarded as being highly vulnerable.

The Citizens United Poll also showed Santorum with a small lead over Romney. Santorum was picked by 33.9 percent of Hoosiers surveyed, Mitt Romney by 28.3 percent, Newt Gingrich by 11.1 percent and Ron Paul by 5.9 percent. I look for Romney to easily win today's Illinois primary today over Santorum despite hopes the Santorum campaign has for pulling off an upset. Illinois Republican primary voters almost always favor the leading establishment choice in a Republican presidential race. I don't see them voting any differently this year. The tight finish in the Ohio primary between Romney and Santorum is probably a better indicator of where the race stands in Indiana. I noticed on the night of the Ohio election that Santorum won every county adjoining Indiana except the counties in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. I suspect Santorum will do well in rural Indiana and Romney will do better in the suburban and urban areas just like the race finished in Ohio.

Monday, March 19, 2012

IBJ Glorifies Rise Of Ersal Ozdemir

Those of us who believe in honest, transparent government which is neutral when it comes to the success or failure of those in private business want to puke when we read stories like the one that appeared in the latest edition of the IBJ, which glorifies the rise of Ersal Ozdemir, a Turkish immigrant and U.S. citizen only since 1999, as "one of the city's most powerful developers."  The article titled, "A bid deal in a hurry," has a smiling Ozdemir pictured in front of Carmel's $60 million Sophia Square, financed in part, thanks to a contribution of $13 million from Carmel's taxpayers after Ozdemir showered Carmel Mayor James Brainard, like other politicians who dole out taxpayer dollars to his private developments, with campaign contributions. Cory Schouten's story opens:
Ersal Ozdemir seems to have vaulted, pretty much overnight, from a rising star in Indianapolis real estate to a powerhouse developer.
The 37-year-old Turkish immigrant is a civil engineer by training, a builder and developer by profession. He's smart, creative, earnest and he works 12-hour days.
But competitors wondering how he has come so far so fast shouldn't underestimate a few of Ozdemir's other talents: as a salesman and schmoozer with a knack for building profitable relationships with politicians . . .
"A knack for building profitable relationships with politicians?" I'd say. That's an understatement to say the least. In addition to the $13 million gift Brainard gave him courtesy of Carmel taxpayers for his Sophia Square project, Mayor Greg Ballard gave Ozdemir $6.35 million, or nearly one-third of the upfront payment the city of Indianapolis got from its badly-negotiated 50-year lease of the city's parking meter assets with ACS. Months after announcing the multi-million dollar gift to Ozdemir, who had showered Ballard's campaign committee with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over a several year period, took a junket with him to Europe and provided office space for his re-election campaign, we learned that the parking meter deal was generating less than half what had been promised and the city's honestly balanced budget is at least $50 million in the hole. We also learned that Ozdemir's parking garage to help ease the parking shortage problem in Broad Ripple was simply a ruse to allow Ozdemir to develop more than 10,000 square feet of new retail/commercial space that will consume most of the parking in the city-financed garage that will be owned entirely by Ozdemir and will share no revenues with the city.

Ballard's generosity towards Ozdemir with your tax dollars hasn't ended there. Ozdemir will control purse strings for the new CityWay project, which has taxpayers on the hook for more than $100 million for a mixed use project that Eli Lilly wanted but no bank would finance because the risk of failure is so high. And the diversion of your tax dollars to Ozdemir's personal wallet is far from over. Ozdemir hired Mayor Ballard's former chief of staff, Paul Okeson, to help raid taxpayer dollars for his benefit. Deputy Mayor Mike Huber unabashedly admits the mayor and his top staff meet regularly with Ozdemir. "He has built up a reputation for being willing to take risks," Huber said. Hah! Yeah, take risks with your tax dollars for his personal benefit. "The bottom line is he just goes for it," Huber added. Huber insults our intelligence by claiming the city isn't "playing favorites" in the awarding of these deals. "Our goal is a competitive and transparent process," he claims. Schouten notes that Ozdemir was on hand at Ballard's re-election victory party to be among the first to congratulate him on his win. "One could argue [Ozdemir] had as much to celebrate as the mayor," Schouten writes. No kidding.

The perception of Ozdemir in Indianapolis is strikingly similar to the reputation Tony Rezko built up in Chicago by schmoozing Chicago politicians like Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama after immigrating to the U.S. from Syria before his big downfall. Like Ozdemir, Rezko started out working as a civil engineer. As Rezko told Chicago Magazine, "I met with people who were running for office, some elected, some not. I always worked with people I developed chemistry with. People I liked, they liked me, so we developed a relationship." Rezko helped Obama land his first job out of law school at a Chicago law firm where Obama did work for his company. "Rezko threw an early fundraiser for Obama at his North Shore house, and that fundraiser was instrumental in providing Obama with seed money for his U.S. Senate race in 2004," Chicago Magazine wrote. Rezko donated hundreds of thousands to the campaigns of various Chicago politicians and quickly rose to become one of Chicago's biggest real estate developers thanks to generous taxpayer financing of his projects. The last I checked he was sitting in a jail cell facing a lengthy prison sentence, along with one of his chief benefactors, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Rezko received a prison sentence of 10 1/2 years for the kickbacks he made to Illinois politicians in a scheme the federal judge described as "selfish and corrupt."

The funny part of the story is how Ozdemir boasts that his mentor is Beurt SerVaas. That would be the same former City-County Council President, OSS officer and CIA contractor who mentored his former son-in-law, Tim Durham, to the top of the Indianapolis business community. Durham showered Indiana politicians with nearly $1 million in campaign contributions before the feds finally caught up with the Ponzi schemer and charged him with bilking rural Ohio investors out of more than $200 million. And who took over as finance chairman of the Marion Co. Republican Party when Durham stepped down? You knew it. Ozdemir.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the claim in Schouten's story by Ozdemir that he's never missed a loan payment. Maybe he's made all of his payments to the bank, but I'm not sure that's comforting to all of his subcontractors or the insurance company that issued him a performance bond for work his Aymir Construction Corp. performed on several public construction projects. A 2010 court decision in the federal district court for the Southern District Court of Indiana found the company owned by Ozdemir and his former wife liable to U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Company for more than $1.2 million the bond company had to pay to subcontractors for work Aymir failed to pay them for their work on three public library projects that had been awarded to Ozdemir's company. Those projects included the Irvington branch library in Indianapolis, Kokomo South Branch library and Tippecanoe Public Library. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the bond company after Aymir defaulted on the contracts and the bond company had to pay the claims of the subcontractors and hire new contractors to complete the unfinished work. I guess we're only talking about Ozdemir's Keystone Construction Corp. in the IBJ story.

"He's a great American story, " Brainard told Schouten about Ozdemir. I'll have to hand it to him. Immigrants like Ozdemir are quick studies of the weaknesses and shortcomings of our political system. They learn quickly that "pay to play" is the way to get ahead and get ahead they do. They learn that MBE certification allows the politicians to discriminate against long-established local companies which can't claim to be minority-owned so the politicians can boast that they are helping out minorities when nothing of the sort is actually occurring. Whatever works. Merit and sweat equity are so passe in America today if you hadn't figured that out yet.

High-Flying Airport Executive Out Of A Job

John Clark, the high-flying, controversial CEO of the Indianapolis Airport Authority is out of a job according to Fox 59 News. His lavish travel expenditures since taking over as the airport's CEO in 2009 have been the subject of numerous media reports from the very start of his tenure in Indianapolis. Mayor Greg Ballard tells Fox 59 News Clark's firing was about the lack of economic development progress at the new airport as opposed to his lavish spending on travel.
"What I’m mostly concerned about out there is the economic development aspect of the airport,” said Mayor Ballard. "I think that’s been slow, much slower than I would have expected.
"It may have been the recession. It may have been all the economic downturn but I want to have more plans for development out there. That’s what I’m mostly focused on."
In a terse statement released by the mayor's office commenting on Clark's resignation, Ballard thanked Clark "for his service to Indianapolis and for helping launch efforts to grown the potential of our new $1 billion terminal." "He played an important role in managing one of our most vital economic development assets and the gateway visitors to our city," the statement said.
This blog wondered why the airport authority hired Clark given the controversy that his previous tenure at Jacksonville International Airport brought. A leopard really can't change his spots.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Child Fatality Review Team Head For DCS Resigns, Accusing Daniels Adminstration of Rigging Stats To Show Improvement

A highly-respected forensic pediatrician and professor at the IU School of Medicine resigned in frustration as head of DCS's Child Fatality Review Team. Dr. Antoinette Laskey charged in her resignation letter addressed to Gov. Mitch Daniels that DCS Director James Payne's recent claims lauding "record low deaths" from child abuse under the Daniels administration are a fraud. Dr. Laskey charged in her resignation letter that the improvements touted by Daniels and Director Payne recently reflect "no success story" but rather re-categorizing deaths resulting from child abuse as "not the responsibility of the Department of Child Services." I can no longer participate in a process that is unable to work effectively in this state," Laskey said. "Every death of a child is a tragedy and every preventable death is a lesson that must be learned so that other will not have to suffer the loss that so many of our Hoosier families have endured," she continued.

Laskey charges in her letter that Director Payne is "failing to gather objective data about child fatalities." She accused Payne of "not following best practices." Instead, she suggests the data has been skewed by "political interference." Laskey criticized legislation that has been sent to the Governor (SEA 286) that would establish regional teams to review child deaths, which she claims "have not been shown to be effective nationally."  "I cannot continue to serve in a role that is not able to effectively improve the condition of Hoosier children," Laskey concluded. Ouch. The Star's Tim Evans has more on Laskey's departure here. Payne told Evans he was "surprised by the tone of the letter." Members of the Child Fatality Review Team seemed to corroborate Laskey's concerns.