Chesterton Tribune



Former County chair Williams' donations to Republican Party included rent-free office, in-kind gifts

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The Indiana Campaign Finance website is a tool the public can use to search and find out who is giving money to political campaigns from a database of campaign finance reports throughout Indiana.

Federal, state and local candidates as well as political action and regular party committees all, by law, must disclose not only contributions but loans, expenditures and distributions of more than $100 taken in before a primary or general election and the end of every year.

Recently, news agencies reporting on Pavilion Partners LLC’s deal to rehabilitate the historic Indiana Dunes Pavilion have said that principal Chuck Williams has made significant contributions to Republican officials and causes.

If you search for Williams’s name on the campaign finance website, it will report $110,230 for total contributions made by him and $121,142 for expenditures paid to him, predominantly from the Porter County Central Committee reports.

And, if you search for contributions or expenditures under Williams’ business 212 Lincolnway LLC, the site will report contributions totaling $126,292 and expenditures of $121,394 to the County Republicans.

But according to current GOP Party Chairman Michael Simpson along with the party’s executive director Kenard Taylor and former treasurer Ken Williams, the actual total in donations that Williams has made to the Porter County Republican Central Committee, which supports campaigns for party candidates, is $3,250 over the course of 11 years.

Rent for headquarters

The Chesterton Tribune last week asked Republican officials to explain the large installments listed from Williams, one as big as $38,400 on their reports.

Payments to 212 Lincolnway LLC began in 2004 with $5,200 annual expenditure for rent. Simpson said that Williams offered an unrented space for the party in a building he’s owned at that address once the party’s lease was up for their headquarters on Napoleon St. in Valparaiso at the end of 2003.

The party for years has regularly maintained a headquarters from various locations, Simpson said. Whenever he had unrented space available, Williams provided the space for the headquarters.

The leases with Williams have been at market rate compared to other buildings in downtown Valparaiso, Simpson said.

In 2004, Keith Hall, who was chair of the party that year, entered into a lease with Williams based on square footage and the party also agreed to pay for signage and a portion of utilities, Simpson said.

The committee was able to pay for the lease for a few years with money it received from license plate funds until about 2006.

For decades, both Democrats and Republican parties were each granted money for personalized licenses plate but the Indiana General Assembly in 2005 passed a bill to give the money to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles instead.

Simpson said that once the funds from the license plates dried up, the party used money it raised from other activities to pay the rent.

“When there was a shortage of funds available to pay the rent, (Williams) let the rent go unpaid but asked (money) for utilities,” Simpson said.

The 2005 committee report indicates the party was able to pay Williams in full $13,500 for the space at 212 Lincolnway. That was also the year Williams took the role of chairperson of the party.

The 2006 committee report shows $15,000 paid for rent but lists a debt of $1,049. The party’s debt to Williams grew in 2007, with a debt of $9,799 reported.

Then in 2008, the report lists an in-kind donation of $28,250 by 212 Lincolnway LLC seen as “forgiveness of debt” leaving the debt balance at $1,049 for that year. In 2010, Williams forgave $38,400 of debt, or “free rent” as the party has referred to it. Then in 2011 the committee paid off the remaining debt of $1,049 to 212 Lincolnway.

In summary, the total amount of rent that was donated in-kind or forgiven by Williams was $69,500, according to party officials.

“Mr. Williams did not feel he should burden the current chairman with the debits he was responsible for so he forgave the debits and in the long run didn’t make any monetary gains but lost money from his involvement as party chairman,” Simpson said.

A contribution for rent appears later in the 2013 committee report for the address of 212 Lincolnway again, this time as Courtney Morgan LLC for $600. The committee paid another $12,500 for rent according to the 2014 report.

Simpson said he entered into a lease with Williams then for the party to have a headquarters at 15 Franklin St. in Valparaiso for the 2014 County elections. The lease ended in January 2015 and the party headquarters has since moved to a location on Napoleon St. in Valparaiso, Simpson added, in a building not owned by Williams.

Debts to Williams

The reports also list a debt to Williams as an individual in 2006 of $12,701, which increased by $500 in 2007. Then it increases to $22,283 of debt owed in 2008 and $20,099 in 2009, all those years Williams was party chair.

The 2010 report said Williams forgave the debt of $20,099.

The debts, according to the report, are for items such as “Popcorn Festival supplies, state delegate convention dues, mail postage and advertising.”

Simpson said that the debts to Williams are the ones that are “most misunderstood.” The GOP chairmen in Porter County have placed these kinds of items on their credit cards including state convention dues, meals at conventions, booths and floats for the Popcorn Festival, campaign mailings and polling whenever committee funds are not available to pay for them, Simpson said.

A more recent committee report in 2014 states that Simpson loaned $15,723 for “campaign expenses” which he later said was for a poll done in the 2014 campaign season for countywide elections.

When asked by the Tribune if it is customary for party chairs to make such loans, Simpson responded it does happen in other counties throughout the state.

The Lake County Republican Party recently reorganized and renamed its organization to “escape the debt” of a former party chair, Simpson said. In the case of Williams, he chose to have the debt forgiven and written off, he said.

Democrats “Pay as you go”

Porter County Democratic Party Chair Jeff Chidester told the Tribune his central committee works its spending with what contributions they are able to raise and avoids making loans it can’t pay at the end of the year.

“We are pretty much pay as you go,” Chidester said.

Direct donations

For money not given as rent, the reports state that Williams made direction donations $1,500 and $500 in 2007, a $300 loan in 2008 and four donations in 2013 adding up to $950, making a grand total of $3,250.

In addition, Williams’ clothing business Elegan Customwear in 2010 provided t-shirts for Republican campaigns as an in-kind donation of $303.

Donations to other campaigns

In addition to the Porter County Republican Central Committee, the Indiana Campaign Funding Website search also turned up other direct contributions Williams has made to campaigns.

2004: $1,000 to Mitch Daniels for Governor Campaign Committee, $1,000 to Friends of (State Sen. Victor) Heinold, and $500 to the Committee to Elect Ralph Ayres State Representative.

2006: $2,790 to the Indiana Republican State Committee, $250 to Friends of Pam Buhman (State Rep. candidate)

2007: $1,000 to the Mitch Daniels for Governor Campaign Committee

2008: $5,001 to the Mitch Daniels for Governor Campaign Committee, $250 to the State Majority Campaign Committee,

2009: $250 to the Senate Majority Campaign Committee, $200 to Aiming Higher

2010: $1,000 to Citizens for Klein (Daniel Klein for State Representative), $500 to Charlie for Indiana (Indiana Secretary of State), $150 to Unhappy Taxpayers for Shawn Olson (State Senate Candidate), $108 to Friends of Ed Soliday (State Representative)

2011: $500 to Mike Pence for Indiana

2012: $500 to Mike Pence for Indiana

2014: $250 for Friends of Connie Lawson (Secretary of State)

2015: $250 for Charbonneau for Senate (State Sen. Ed Charbonneau)

In kind donations include $2,100 to Mike Pence for Indiana for “event catering and supplies” in 2011 and $420 in 2012. Elegan Customwear made an in-kind donation of $5,305 to Friends of Pam Buhman.





Posted 3/8/2016




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