But He Had Friends in High Places

A recent AP investigation appears to conflict with the “nothing here, move along” attitude taken by Tony Bennett, his patron Mitch Daniels, and Tim Swarens of the Indianapolis Star, who recently penned a puff piece about the former Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The AP analyzed a report compiled by Indiana’s inspector general, showing many more instances of campaigning with  public resources than previously reported:

From Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, the investigation found more than 100 violations of wire fraud laws. They included 56 violations by 14 Bennett employees and 21 days in which Bennett misused his state-issued SUV. Former chief of staff Heather Neal had the most violations, 17.

In a section labeled “Scheme to Defraud,” the inspector general laid out its case, saying Bennett “while serving as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Indiana, devised a scheme or artifice to defraud the State of Indiana of money and property by using State of Indiana paid employees and property, for his own personal gain, as well as for his own political benefit to be re-elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

The violations fell into five categories: political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.

Through reviews of emails and calendar entries and more than 50 interviews with top Republicans and former staffers, investigator Charles Coffin determined Bennett falsified mileage logs to cover fundraising trips and use of two separate state workers as campaign drivers. The report also details 20 days on which Bennett used the SUV to go to local Republican fundraisers coded as “business” in his handwritten vehicle logs, as well as instances where trips to events billed as education-related also had calendar notes about political donors being present.

Bennett also used tax dollars to send a staffer to attend the 2012 Republican Party convention on his behalf.

Whatever your opinion of Bennett’s education policy preferences–which, as he proudly noted in the Swarens article, were identical to those of Mitch Daniels–they are no excuse for wire fraud, or the falsification of financial documents. (Need I point out that you don’t falsify records if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong?)

Interestingly, despite ample evidence of criminal behavior, Bennett has never been charged.

In addition to confirming what many of us already suspected about Bennett, this report adds a bit more substance to the emerging outlines of Mitch Daniels’ fiscal and administrative legacy: Underfunded and struggling municipal governments thanks to the ill-advised constitutionalizing of tax caps. A State Board of Accounts that lacks the resources to do adequate audits of local government units, Department of Child Services caseworkers with unmanageable caseloads, and elimination of subsidies to families adopting special-needs children, thanks to indiscriminate understaffing and cost-cutting. (It took a lawsuit to restore the subsidies.)  A Toll Road once owned by Hoosier taxpayers is currently an asset in a private-sector operator’s bankruptcy, thanks to too-clever-by-half financing schemes. A string of revelations about illegal and unethical behavior by cronies of our ex-Governor, including but certainly not limited to Tony Bennett.

And of course, there’s the little matter of his appointment of Purdue Trustees who–entirely coincidentally!–turned around and hired him at a handsome salary.

Welcome to Indiana, where you can get away with pretty much anything–with a little help from the right friends.

14 thoughts on “But He Had Friends in High Places

  1. I don’t know Indiana politics but this stuff is what to expect from oligarchy.

    Politics used to be, like other ways to serve, a profession. People did it because they had specialized education through which they could abuse public trust, but, in those days, respected their oaths more than desired ill gotten reward.

    We’ve been led to believe now that money is the reason to serve. The root of all service. Over or under the table.

    One of many cultural standards lowered by the worship of wealth.

  2. Digging into Tony Bennett’s history as School Superintendant is a good thing but…I would like to see some deep digging into those “friends in high places” who allowed and helped him along. Pence is now attempting to throw up a smoke screen to divert attention from the power of Bennett’s former position in this state by removing some of Ms. Ritz’s powers, Ballard keeps things going in Indianapolis to divert attention – he hopes – from the crap regarding the school board action/inaction since the election of Ms. Ritz, a Democrat lost in a herd of Republicans. Pence wants more vouchers which means more money taken from public education and put into private, mostly religious based, schools. Bennett’s thievery from public education funds, and it is thievery just as the voucher system is, needs to be made public no matter how long after the fact is comes to light. The Republicans have taken over this state and will take over federal government in January, the way Nazis took over Germany in the 1930’s. The non-voting Democrats in this state are being “good Hoosiers” just as those who ignored Hitler were being “good Germans”. The primary difference I see is that the Republicans are not using guns and bombs…but they are supporting guns in every hand who has the money or valid credit card to purchse even militry style weapons. I fear for all of us, especially our children who are pawns in this educational chess match.

  3. This is the kind of government we get when there is a single part in control. Democrats, where are you?

  4. daleb – Democrats, where are you? They have Disappeared, vanished, been expunged, eliminated, and absorbed, at least those in political power. Both Curry and Hogsett took a pass at investigating and prosecuting Bennett.

  5. Louie: Maybe the question is” Voters where are you?” Indiana government really is a sham at best; criminal at worst; serving the few at the expense of the many and – with the approval of the republican base.
    Sheila’s comment about the state Board of Accounts is insightful. My little town is thr perfect example of how corruption can continue in the absence of rigorous oversight. The town council has bankrupted the town and continuously tries to raise our water rates to ensure they can employ their friends, purchase new vehicles for employees to take home and award contracts to their political cronies.

  6. In IL they put their elected crooks in JAIL. Why does that never happen in IN?
    Bankers and elected crooks seem to walk. That is the sort of thing that make
    people cringe. Example: So far — not ONE Wall street crook has gone to jail for breaking the world economy with their illegal schemes. They are still giving themselves bonuses. And laughing at us.

  7. I have a theory that the more extreme a group is, and the more rigid and ideological their position, the more likely they are to adopt the “ends justify the means” philosophy, which when motored out, means that anything you do to accomplish the extreme goal is just fine, as illegal or immoral that it may be. Furthermore, “anything” is what you may do that is even remotely connected to your mission that eventually leads to the ends you have set.

    If that’s the case, we should have expected this sort of chicanery from Mr. Bennett when he was appointed, and something we should expect to find among the usual list of suspects who are just as extreme. That is part of what makes people like Mr. Pence, Mr.Daniels, Mr. Bennett et al such a threat to our government, but the same principle would apply if the individuals were from the extreme left.

  8. We need some fresh air in our government at all levels – new ideas which look past party and ideology, purging and prosecuting the criminals and getting most of the money out of the election process. Sounds impossible doesn’t it?

  9. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait ’til the Mormons take over their second state: Indiana.

  10. Well, thank you again, Sheila. This may be another reprint in the Lafayette Independent….Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

  11. Louie, regarding your “Hogsett pass” comment, you have to wonder if his political plans trumpted his prosecutoria duties. SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE!

    It seems to me that someone in the press, somewhere, could secure their career, or at least make a career, of investigating the Daniels and Pence administrations. It seems that way until you think of what has happened to our newspaper industry, at least in Indianapolis.

    In today’s Johnson County Daily Journal Andrew Horning really takes the voter to task in what he titled “Political ignorance devastating to society.”

  12. While the pass by Hogsett and Curry is disappointing, I wonder what would have happened if one of them had tried to prosecute Bennett.

    “Ah, an obvious malicious attack on a hard-working Republican by his political opponents, besides, they are kicking him when he is down, poor man. Boy those Democrats are so vindictive and evil.”

    or something like that

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