Deplorable Hoosier Ethics

Same old, same old.

The headline on a recent editorial from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette pretty well sums it up– State Sinks Further into Ethics Morass. 

The editorial asked the 64-Thousand-Dollar question: “How low will the bar have to slip before Indiana lawmakers finally demand tougher ethics laws?”

Troy Woodruff and Inspector General David Thomas have lowered it another notch. Woodruff, the former chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Transportation, won’t face criminal or civil charges related to state land deals benefiting his own family members, thanks to a ruling from Thomas.

The inspector general simply concluded Woodruff’s conduct “gives rise to the appearance of impropriety” and “diminishes public trust.”

And how.

Woodruff’s “appearance of impropriety” (it appeared improper because it was improper) is just the latest in a sorry string of episodes in which Indiana elected and appointed officials have abused the public trust, using their positions to enrich themselves or their families.

A couple of years ago, it was Eric Turner, twisting arms behind the scenes to protect his family’s lucrative nursing home business; more recently, an employee of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles negotiated a cushy contract between the Bureau and a private vendor, and then–what a coincidence!–left the BMV for a high-level job with that vendor. (After the BMV story became front-page news, Governor Pence cancelled the contract and ordered an “ethics investigation” of the transaction. I think this is what is meant by “locking the barn door after the horse is stolen…”)

Rep. Robert Behning, who chairs the House Education Committee, formed an education lobbying company. The House Ethics Committee is “looking into” whether or not he violated the rules.

Even Indiana’s Inspector General– who seems more interested in downplaying and minimizing ethics violations than punishing them– found former Secretary of Education Tony Bennett in violation of the state ethics code.

In Woodruff’s case, as the Journal Gazette reported,

After Woodruff’s legislative defeat, he and his wife both were awarded state jobs. His mother also was hired by INDOT. His wife remains a highway department employee; Troy Woodruff left last week to go into business for himself – taking with him with years of taxpayer-supported job-training and invaluable state connections.

Statehouse observers have long whispered that the violations that get reported are just the tip of the iceberg–that backscratching and conflicts of interest are widely accepted as the way business is done in Indiana government. They note that with the exodus of experienced statehouse reporters and the diminished news coverage of state government, only the most rash and egregious behavior ever gets reported.

I’ll give the last word to the Journal Gazette.

Lawmakers ignore the repeated absolution of ethical lapses at their own risk. Voters can’t continue to overlook conflicts allowing lawmakers’ friends and allies to grow richer even as their own communities suffer from dwindling state support. They eventually will cry foul over the Statehouse’s low ethical threshold.

17 thoughts on “Deplorable Hoosier Ethics

  1. Maybe the time is sooner than we think. If Tom Sugar jumps in the gubernatorial race on a platform for fixing the gerrymandering mess, then it is a short hop, skip, and jump to lump in unethical behavior.

    For me, this race has just become a whole lot more interesting, and I hope Sugar does decide to run.

  2. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Lord Acton

    There is one obstacle in the way of corrupting power in America. Informed voters. The combination of inadequate education and entertainment as the opium of the masses has, here and now, lowered that bar to an inadequate level.

    Currupt politicians are merely weak. Voters informed by entertainment ultimately get what they deserve. The problem are voters informed by education not getting what they deserve.

    My take on last nights Republican debate was that it was entertaining.

  3. The media in this state shares a lot of the blame for the lack of ethics. It’s no accident that in Chicago that virtually every significant public corruption case prosecuted in Illinois begins with a series of reports by one of the Windy City’s two daily newspapers. Here in Indianapolis the paper of record ignores the most corrupt and shady deals happening right under their reporters’ noses. The dwindling group of State House reporters are more apt to be found spending their evenings partying with the folks they are supposed to be covering than investigating their self-dealing. When they finally report on someone like Tony Bennett or Eric Miller, it’s only because reporters fell out of favor with them because of some other issue. Eric Miller’s self-dealing just didn’t begin near the end of his tenure; it started on day one, and every reporter at the State House with their eyes open knew about it.

  4. Ethics, ethics; they don’t need no stinkin’ ethics. They have all the money to buy the appearance of ethics to attain their goals of ownership and control. Who in the local media will uncover their deplorable, under-the-table tactics?

    During the early 1990’s two reporters; Kathy Johnston of the Star and Gerry Lanosga of the News, researched quietly and thoroughly to make public Goldsmith hiding Mayor’s Office employees in other departments to make his office budget give the appearance of saving the tax payer’s money. They were soon gone from their positions at the Star and the News. Goldsmith was married to Margaret Pullium, granddaughter of Eugene Pullium who owned the Star and the News. This passed over the heads of local residents (or in one ear and out the other) who made no connection of this unethical practice. We, as residents and tax payers, sometimes – sometimes – get wind of deplorable, unethical practices long after the fact these days. The term “ethics” cannot be used in the same sentence with our local and state administrations.

    WE can only change this situation if we VOTE in every election and fight to make our voices heard regarding the total partisanship of gerrymandering as a start.

  5. The voters have pretty much ignored the ethics violations as they keep re-electing the same perpetrators. The parties have to take some of responsibility for slating these people despite clear evidence of the lies and coverups involved.

    Businesses, especially small ones, in this state and most of the rest of the country do essentially the same thing, giving preferential treatment to family members and close friends. It is a matter of trust in most cases. Many of those businesses suffer when a relative or friend violates that trust.

    People in small communities are doing the same thing when they put people in office that are friends or family. The ethic of those who do so is loyalty to family and friends, not service for the public good.

    IMO it is tribalism and is a very difficult habit to break. Those who benefit will use whatever means necessary to garner and retain power within the tribal group. Information and facts will not change that loyalty. How many times have we seen a family member defend another member who is accused of a serious crime tell us how the accused is a “good” person?

  6. It’s become business as usual and is widely accepted at all levels of government by voters. Why would the elected worry about ethics? Even the few that are discovered are not prosecuted and suffer no public disgrace – Tony Bennett for example – shouldn’t he serving prison time? The collusion extends from the parties to the elected officials to the courts and includes the free press.

  7. Jo Ann, The marriage to Margaret notwithstanding, The Star & News both gave Goldsmith a much harder time on many issues compared to the kid gloves the Gannett-owned Star treats the serial felon occupying the mayor’s office currently. Arguably, the newspaper’s negative coverage of Goldsmith’s administration cost him the governor’s race against O’Bannon. The Pulliam newspapers inflicted a lot of damage on Richard Lugar when he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1974 through its in-depth, Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of corruption in his police department.

  8. All of the above comments make very good points.

    Sheila, is it possible to request a referendum vote by the public regarding setting ethics rules?

    How are referendum votes created?

  9. Indiana does not have referenda. On rare occasions, the legislature will pass a measure allowing for a specific referendum, but there is no way for citizens to initiate such votes.

  10. Gary; being on the inside of the Goldsmith administration due to the work I did, the newspaper articles covered little or none of the important issues what he was actually doing TO this city and city government. He ran for Mayor the 2nd time with the promise he would not run for governor if they would elect him to a 2nd term. During his first term his clones were coming around to employees seeking donations and willing campaign workers for his anticipated gubernatorial run. I KNOW, they hit me up more than once.

    The Metropolitan Development Commission was owned and operated by Goldsmith and his appointees; including appointing a new president after filing bogus charges against the sitting president who was totally exonerated. I KNOW, I was Commission records secretary and had to process all paperwork and research 3-4 years of Commission files for the lawsuit…a major endeavor in itself. The incompetence of people he placed in high level positions didn’t come to light because the few remaining loyal to the city employees tried to keep things running as best we could by covering up egregious f#*k-ups and struggling to maintain laws, rules and ordinances he wanted ignored and get the job done. I was trying to find employment outside local government but became disabled due to the severe stress on the job; this was diagnosed by 3 physicians who finally refused to allow me to return to work after several collapses on the job. I was the 5th in DMD alone to be hauled to the hospital by ambulance due to the stress after only three months of his administration. Maybe those minor anti-Goldsmith newspaper articles were distractions from what was really going on. One woman was hired at a $52,000 annual paycheck to study Welfare – a state issue. That was one of his hidden Mayor’s Office employees placed in DMD; I was appointed to act as her secretary in addition to my 3 other jobs, my office was on the 18th floor, her’s was on the 20th. It was impossible for me to stop my work (especially Metropolitan Development Commisson which operated under state law) to run up and down stairs to pick up papers. Signs posted in all hallways of the C-C building stated, “If only going 1 or 2 flights, please use stairs.” Do not try to tell me about Goldsmith unless you were there, struggling with those of us who were (and some still are) loyal to the City of Indianapolis – no matter who is Mayor. He began the decline of the local Republican party which led us to where we are today at city and state level. Ethics had no place in the Goldsmith administration nor did qualifications for the jobs he placed “his” people in.

  11. There has to be with the type of Government we have a diligent independent press, at least a competitive two party system (maybe more), an independent Judicial System, and an Executive Branch that will enforce the laws evenly.

    What we have in Central Indiana is an interlocking defense system of the Press, Legislature, Executive and Judicial Branches that has as it’s sole purpose the preservation of the Crony-Capitalist System. Our system with few exceptions is very similar to the Soviet System. We have in many elective districts essentially one party rule. Thus, we have the same sad sacks, blowhards and scam artists elected year after year.

    I do not think the word Ethics as most people would understand the word exists in Indiana Government. Any Governmental Ethics commission, etc, has as it’s Standard Operating Procedure exonerate any violation.

  12. Louie, well said.

    From: http://www.againstcronycapitalism.org/what-is-crony-capitalism/

    “What Is Crony Capitalism?”

    “Crony capitalism and genuine capitalism, if not opposites, are fundamentally opposed. Unfortunately the broader public, to date, is largely unaware of this.”

    “Crony capitalism is the marriage of the state and private special interests. Some people have called it corporatism, mercantilism, fascism, or even Communism.”

    “We will call it crony capitalism.”

    “By whatever name, it is phony capitalism.”

    “Over the years the public has been taught that many of the problems it faces on a day to day basis such as the lack of jobs, rising prices, corruption in Congress, and so on are a result of capitalism.”

    “If so, it is a perverted capitalism.”

    “These unsavory realities are largely the result of government/private “partnerships.” Whether in banking, agriculture, housing, energy, transportation, manufacturing, or nearly any other facet of the economy, the “unsavory” parts are often the result of public/private collusion.”

  13. In other words:

    There are many individuals and organizations who are committed to impose what’s best for them on me.

    I’m capable of protecting myself from many of them but not all. Others though may lose battles that I can win.

    Many centuries ago the biggest threats were from the armies of other tribes or nations. Not so much anymore

    To reduce the threats my partner is my government which I tame via democracy, Constitutional prohibitions on laws that infringe my rights in certain specific areas of life, and the rule of law instead of people.

    I have no such control over other institutions and individuals who are free to use subterfuge as well as force to get around my defenses.

    My freedom then depends on government being independent from, and able to enforce laws judiciously upon, all of the institutions and individuals who would impose what’s best for them on me.

    This is liberal democracy and the opposite of conservatism (crony-capitalism).

  14. Question. Can political fiscal conservatism not lead to crony capitalism and would it exist in informed minds left to their own devices (as compared to as a script to instill oligarchy)?

  15. The state Republicans have reason to be thankful that the national spotlight is on the clown car, and not on them at the moment.

  16. As I recall, the inspector general was Mitch Daniel’s crudgel to put all the democrats in jail after he was elected, so I guess that office is acting exactly as intended.

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