Out-of-State Money

Ah, campaign finance!

Anyone who follows politics–even slightly–knows what a mess our campaign finance laws are, and the multiple ways in which money has screwed up our politics and confused even the most local of campaigns. The most recent example of the latter is debate over the upcoming Indianapolis’ School board races.

Full disclosure: our daughter, Kelly Bentley, is running for her former seat on that Board. (She previously served three terms, then didn’t run four years ago.)

Kelly and other candidates have been endorsed by an assortment of organizations–among them the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and a national group called Stand for Children. As I understand it, the Chamber made contributions to the campaigns of its preferred candidates.  Stand for Children did not–instead, it has done mailings urging support for those candidates that its local membership (consisting of IPS parents) endorsed.

As an independent organization, Stand for Children is legally prohibited from coordinating with its endorsees, and those candidates have no say in what Stand for Children does or says on their behalf. (I don’t like the current law, especially the fact that independent organizations don’t have the same reporting requirements as candidates, but it is what it is.) Stand for Children has given Kelly’s campaign exactly zero dollars, and has never even informed her of its activities on her behalf.

This endorsement by a national education reform organization has generated a broader discussion–in blogs, on Facebook and elsewhere–about the propriety of accepting “out of state” money.

My favorite example involved a $2,500 gift from a mysterious “New York based” donor, Stephen Suess, to Kelly’s campaign. Stephen, of course, is our son–Kelly’s brother. He’s a web designer, and the $2,500 in-kind contribution was the value of the work he did creating her campaign website.

More to the point, this is yet another debate generating more heat than light. Politics in 21st Century America is increasingly nationalized around philosophical issues: a woman’s right to choose, same-sex marriage, minimum wage….these issues play out in local arenas, but they are anything but local. My husband and I are not wealthy, but we often send small contributions to national organizations working in other states on issues that matter to us, and I’d wager that many of the folks raising red flags about out-of-state contributions do likewise.

If a candidate for a local office were to be entirely funded by people from elsewhere, that would tells us something useful, but when–as here–the bulk of the candidates’ contributions come from local folks, refusing to accept support from people living elsewhere who agree with your positions on the issues–or refusing help from your brother because he lives in New York– would be pretty silly.

If you live in IPS District #3 and you don’t agree with Kelly’s positions on education, or the path that IPS should be pursuing, don’t vote for her. But I can vouch for her integrity, her passion for focusing on the well-being of children, and her grasp of education policy.

Is a parent’s endorsement also “improper”?


  1. I have to respond to this one by going back to Goldsmith; I will brave it out and name the name of his primary campaign contributor, financial advisor and co-conspirator in bilking this city of countless amounts of money. Warren Tyler was vice president of a bank in Columbus, Ohio, he was originally awarded a 9 month contract by the Metropolitan Development Commission to do something in the area of public housing here. Public Housing was part of DMD where I worked; never saw any evidence of work done in that division by Tyler – or anyone else. He was involved in many issues, had access to an office in DMD for the fews days a month he made an appearance. No one knew what he did – if anything – but suddenly many businesses in Ohio were obtaining contracts (some of them no-bid contracts) and buying up property to develop here in Indianapolis. Tyler was appointed Director of DMD; I learned this when I asked permission for something and told I had to ask him. When I asked why this appointment had not been announced in the news and why staff had not received a memo with this annoucement – I was told by two Deputy Directors “because it is illegal”. He was not a city resident or a direct employee and was connected financially with the Ohio companies the city of Indianapolis awarded business to. He was provided housing for his few brief days here, had the run of DMD, was the lead person in two one-year, $3 million contracts with a consultant firm in Cincinnati, Ohio. One deal that still bothers me is the sale of 15 – FIFTEEN – pieces of property on Indiana Avenue for $82,000 to a developer in Hamilton, Ohio. What is that worth today – to the Hamilton, Ohio, developers? We can go back to the Goldsmith era for the root of many of our current problems with local administration and questionable money problems. How many former Goldsmith cronies are involved in current problems; not only at city level but at state level due to connections beginning in the Daniels administration and active today under Pence? A recent Matthew Tully column in the Star made Goldsmith appear to be possible salvation for all of us. In the words of that old song from “Porgy and Bess”; “It ain’t necessarily so” – in this case we can count on it not being so. If you are sick of me going back to the Goldsmith administration to lay blame – remember the adage, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We are doomed because we are repeating the legacy left by him and his cronies still at work at city and state levels of administration.

    On the lighter side; not all city empoyees were tricked by Tyler’s slick ways, nor were they unaware of his underhanded tactics. There was an annual Landscape Architecture banquet and awards ceremony in Indy which was looked forward to by many in DMD. Tickets were not selling well in the department so the CFO was giving them to some people. The recipients learned Tyler would be sitting at the department table at the banquet – they returned their free tickets:) I have proof read this twice but…those ugly years still upset me and send my blood pressure soaring so please overlook the errors.

  2. Unfortunately, the dysfunction is not limited to finance. Most campaigning itself is of little democratic decision making value. I can’t tell you when the last time was that I was exposed to useful information about election choices.

    To be useful, such information would have to be about the candidate herself, not her opponents, not her party, not her personal life, only her stance on the issues that she felt were important contributions that she would be committed to. Measurable things. Things is that would mark her time in office as significant accomplishments.

    For most offices, even high level offices, that useful information could be captured in a few pages, and published on the Internet.

    We shouldn’t need campaign financing at all. It’s virtually all an investment in misleading, not informing, voters.

    Democracy is simple. We’ve allowed it to become complicated.

  3. Thanks Prof K. I am glad your “Mysterious” New Yorker is in the game with his sister. That is really nice. I must say that in the 40 years I have lived in Indy, I do not remember any time that I knew anything about the School related elections. I am a bit of a political junkie but I never got into the school issues as I don’t have kids. AND they don’t seem to put out much info on those races. Be well.

  4. When I received a contribution from my cousin, Wayne Townsend, the local paper decried money from ‘out of county.’ Guess they forgot Wayne was our State Rep and State Senator for several years. Good luck to Kelly’s candidacy.

  5. I am guessing it would not take much searching through your archives (not really I guess, I’ve read many) to find articles referring to politicians owing their “masters”, “owners”, or any other derogatory term for large donors. Ballard is a favorite as he repays ten-thousand dollar donations with ten-million dollar contracts. I agree with you when you point that out, and agree it needs to stop. However, it is then hypocritical to say that someone who will end up raising $100,000 + whatever Stand for Children kicks in (not against your daughter’s will) for a race that in the last five years used to be a $5000 max race, will owe nothing to her “masters”. This is not limited to your daughter of course, there are three “school reform” funded candidates in this election and three two years ago. It was cute that you diffused one of the out-of-state contributions by pointing out it was your son. Are all of the others family members as well? I consider myself a D. The worst thing to happen to public school children was when D politicians got tired of all of that delicious “Ed reform” money going to the Rs. Were your daughter not a major part of that machine here, I bet we would agree on that.

  6. Who called Stephen Suess’ gift “improper?” Chalkbeat’s story simply listed his gift as one of her biggest, as it did with all the candidates. Better disclosure by the candidate would have helped make it clear that the gift was in-kind services, but that wouldn’t change the size of the gift.

  7. Scott: The ability to draw appropriate distinctions is an important one. When Lambda or the Human Rights Campaign endorses a pro-LGBT-rights candidate, for example, that is a very different situation than the crony capitalism you (and I) rightly deplore. Stand for Children is working for certain education policies, and their local members chose to endorse people they think support those same policies. I send money to candidates around the country that I believe have the nation’s best interests at heart. I’m highly unlikely to get any personal benefit if they win. If you disagree with Stand for Children’s positions, and you believe Kelly and the others they’ve endorsed agree with those positions, you should vote against them on that basis; but the mere fact that people with money choose to spend that money to advance a policy agenda is an insufficient basis for a vote.

    A good example is the current Governor’s race in Florida, where–as today’s NYTimes reports–there is big money supporting both candidates. The Koch brothers are the “big money” supporting Scott; a billionaire whose passion is the environment is supporting Crist. Scott is a denialist and Crist is likely to address the problem. Should Florida voters abstain from supporting either of them?

    I do share your concern about money in politics. I think Citizens United was a travesty. But the presence or absence of money or “outside influences” must only be the beginning of the inquiry, not the end.

  8. I don’t see any distinction between what is called campaign financing and lobbying. Both are forms of oligarchy and, as such, are anti democratic.

    Consider how different the country would be if they were eliminated.

  9. Scott–the item is listed as an in-kind contribution on the Campaign Finance report. I don’t think there was anything improper about the reporting, but I will use this story as an example of why people need to dig deeper to learn more about the positions of candidates. The reporting of the donation without context doesn’t really help the voter understand anything about a candidate’s positions and ideas.

    The need to raise money for school board elections has always been there. For the record I raised $10,000 + in 1998 and 2006 when the elections were held during the Primary. Now that the election is in November, there are even more voters to reach. The only way to reach thousands of voters is through direct mail, knocking on doors, phone calls, and the Election Day effort. If voters aren’t reached then they will vote blind–they might vote for the name they like best, the person who is first on the ballot, or maybe they won’t vote at all. Not the best way to elect a school board member.

    I appreciate Chalkbeat’s coverage of the IPS election and the in-depth candidate survey, but most voters will not see this or any other information about the candidates. I want to make sure voters know me and what I stand for and that’s why I have worked hard raising money. I’m proud I earned the endorsement from Stand for Children and the Indy Chamber. I’m proud to have earned the support of so many local individuals–parents, teachers, and community members. And I’m proud to have the support of some out-of-state funders who agree with my positions.

  10. Actually, I can’t stand Indianapolis, but if I lived there I sure would vote for your daughter!! And as far as a mother not putting in a plug for her kid? That’s silly talk.

  11. Scott; would it make you feel better if Stephen would bill Kelly for his services? Or, would you then accuse her of nepotism for not using an in-state, local web designer for her campaign web site? Do we now need to look into who designed all candidate’s web sites to make sure they weren’t provided by an out of state designer resulting in accusations of solititing out-of-state support or favors on some level in the future? I find it refreshing to see family support; especially since we can all be sure Stephen was not paid in cash for his design. The fact that he does live out-of-state, he and his children will not benefit if Kelly is elected…no opportunity for favoritism. The pettiness of the complaint, and the fact that the “contribution” was listed in campaign financial information, are at odds. Isn’t there something more important to focus on in this school election issue?

  12. Stephen,
    That would be a big disappointment if Satori were defamed in that way. It’s like hearing that one of my colleagues was busted for a felony.

  13. I just copied and pasted the message below from Facebook; here is out of state money (CONTROL) at it’s worst. Our children will pay for this act of personal greed on the part of Pence and his privately owned administration. Voters; do not lose sight of this on November 4th.

    Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz says Governor Mike Pence is wrong.

    “Without warning, Pence changed his mind. Published reports indicate the governor was under intense lobbying from out-of-state special interests. Those special interests wanted to reject federal support for early childhood education. Whatever his motivation, one thing is clear: Pence’s about-face with little or no notice to those who had worked in concert with his administration on the grant application is bad for our state and our children.”

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