Conflicts of Interest

Matt Tully has begun a series of articles highlighting the numerous conflicts of interest at the Indiana Statehouse. My husband’s reaction was “so what’s new?” And it is depressingly true that here in the Hoosier state we get these revelations every few years. Nothing seems to change.

On the one hand, there is a legitimate dilemma in states like Indiana, where our legislature is part-time and those we elect have “real world” jobs. One of the arguments for such legislative arrangements is that those who serve will have expertise in the private sector that can illuminate the lawmaking process. If a state representative knows a lot about banking or insurance, for example, should we not avail ourselves of that knowledge?

The problem is, the sorts of conflicts Tully describes go far beyond recognition of specialized knowledge. It’s one thing to listen to a legislator-banker’s opinion on a pending bill, and another to put him in a position to advance legislation benefitting bankers–or worse, a position to derail efforts to regulate them.

I’ve talked with members of the City-County Council and legislature who simply cannot see their own conflicts. It’s easy to convince yourself that what’s good for your law firm, or industry, is good for the city or state as a whole–that you are actually adding value because of your specialized knowledge. But human nature being what it is, it is a very rare individual who can shake off the attitudes and interests of their daily experience and look objectively at proposed rules that will affect his own livelihood.

The examples Tully describes are well beyond the pale. Unfortunately, these conflicts are not new to the Indiana landscape. Whatever corrective measures may come from the first article, or others in the promised series of revelations, it would be comforting if we dealt with the problem this time around by thoroughly revising the system that continues to produce these ethical lapses.

It’s long past time to impose a meaningful code of ethics on the Indiana General Assembly. One that might remind our lawmakers that they are supposed to be acting in the public interest–not their self-interest.


  1. The conflicts of interest are a heck of a lot worse at the local level and you never see Tully even mention them. Look at the Mayor Ballard’s list of contributors. It’s a Who’s Who of those doing business with the City. Look at the ACS parking meter contract. Former Council President and Ryan Vaughn, a lobbyist for ACS, voted to break the tie and give ACS the 50 year parking meter contract. The Mayor’s attorney is also an ACS lobbyist.

    Then you have the revolving door such as a Deputy Mayor leaving and taking a job with Keystone Construction which does business with the city and has gotten lucrative contracts.

    But you never see Tully or the Star even mention these conflicts yet alone report on them critically like the Star does with perceived conflicts at the state level.

  2. Though I seem to disagree with her a lot, I regard Ms Kennedy as an expert on the fundamentals of government and constitutional law. My political point of view is approximately ‘old-school Democrat’. I see government at all levels trying to “do more” – to expand its scope, increase spending, etc. Much of this expansion IMO is motivated by politicians looking to benefit from more opportunities for graft and corruption. It’s hard to point to a government program that benefits the public but doesn’t overly benefit some special interest and that interest’s friends in government. The ACS deal locally – good grief – it’s plain as day. Vaughn even admitted he had a conflict of interest.

    In the US some level of corruption has come to be expected, and thus excused. Bankers write the banking laws; AG Holder recently stated that very big banks won’t be prosecuted for corrupt practices. I wonder what the point of having a government is, if not to protect citizens from harm ?

  3. There is a proposed ordinance pending in a City-County Council Committee which would significantly strengthen economic interest disclosure requirements. It cannot get a second to even have a vote. One Councilor runs a not-for profit that has received nearly $400,000 in City funding approve by that Council over the past four years yet is not required to divulge that. There is a Deputy Mayor who has received dozens of free concert tickets yet is not required to report any of them. We have a Mayor who has accepted free memberships at Highland and Woodstock Country Clubs and free season tickets to IRT and Dance Kaleidoscope both of which receive City arts funding yet is not required to report them. On and on it goes.

  4. What we are dealing with in the Ballard administration is a repeat of Nixon and Goldsmith administrations with a few of Ballard’s personal preferences thrown in the mix. Who is going to stop or slow him down if he is given more power by weakening the City County Council? He is running roughshod over this city and getting perks to enjoy in his leisure time. He appeared out of nowhere and we are stuck with him and his ever-increasing power over us. Where will he go from the position he now holds; I doubt he will fade into obscurity but will continue his political hold on this city and probably the state at a future date.

  5. I saw many errors in Tully’s “reporting” in this story. I like to watch/listen to committee hearing while I’m at work (when I can) and I can assure that some of this assertions were well off base.

  6. This administration’s conflicts of interest is information that needs to be reported publicly; Mr. Tully is the man to do it. This morning, Thursday, March 28th, I tried to count the number of articles in the Star addressing this administration’s conflicts of the public’s interest but soon became tired and confused trying to sort them out. Of course, the most important article on page one is about balls – always balls- now it is March Madness. The article above this one is about unwarranted invasion of women’s vaginas by anti-abortionists, three inside articles listed are regarding individual’s sex lives and orientation. The one item addressing school vouchers is misleading (Voucher proposal is rolled back); the administration is still backing using tax dollars to send students with “income limits” to private schools, the majority of which are religion based schools…a conflict of separation of church and state. Of course; the invasion into birth control and sexual orientation is also a conflict of separation of church and state because the “antis” are steeped in religious beliefs…not medical and not allowing basic civil rights to all Indiana residents and Americans across this country.

  7. John; thank you for pointing out my error. To quote Mary Beth Schneider, “…Indiana Legislature is choosing a chisel over a sledgehammer.” They are not demanding the invasive procedure, neither are they banning it. They are however piling up clinic and patient requirements and costs that are unnecessary and, in some cases, will be a delaying tactic that could run past the safe period for the abortion drug to be effective. My daughter is alive because she could have an abortion 32 years ago to remove a dead, severely infected bit of tissue that had been a fetus which died at 2 months along but not discovered till she was 5 months along. She almost died due to doctors delaying necessary tests when they found no fetal heartbeat for weeks. Four years ago my beautiful 24 year old granddaughter died because she opted NOT to abort her baby knowing it increased the chances of fatality due to a serious siezure disorder. She was unable to take anti-seizure drugs being pregnant and died having siezures. Both were allowed their choice to abort or not. I celebrate the life of my daughter and will forever grieve the death of my granddaughter and the great-granddaughter she carried. Whatever their reasons or their choices they were allowed by law to make them; this is not a political issue and the religious beliefs of doctors and politicians should not be a consideration in anyone’s medical decisions.

    Yes, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of school vouchers – in how many other issues have they erred? Both issues are violation of separation of church and state which is covered in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. As my little old Irish mother used to tell me, “Consider the source.”

  8. Yet, it’s not a violation of church and state. No matter how many times you keep telling yourself that, it won’t make it correct. The money goes back to the family to be the arbiter. It was their money to begin with.

  9. The money does NOT go to the family; it goes to the private school. If the student drops out, moves out of state, is expelled, leaves for whatever reason…those tax dollars stay in the private school for that school year, they are not returned to public school budget.

  10. “If the student drops out, moves out of state, is expelled, leaves for whatever reason…those tax dollars stay in the private school for that school year, they are not returned to public school budget.”


    Why is the state entitled to that money?

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