INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana’s Senate Democratic leader called for an
investigation Thursday after fundraising lists for former state schools
chief Tony Bennett were discovered on state computers.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said more information is
needed about the discovery of the campaign materials. Indiana Inspector
General David Thomas has confirmed his office is investigating Bennett but
hasn’t described the nature of the probe.
"Obviously if there were databases being kept on state equipment and if
personnel were being dispatched to do campaign work on their official time,
that is a concern that needs to be investigated,” he said.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that three Republican fundraising
lists and a donor call list for Bennett had been found on state hard drives.
Bennett also sent an email from his state account directing staff to dissect
a campaign appearance by Democratic opponent Glenda Ritz.
Both could violate Indiana election and ethics laws, but Bennett has denied
any violations. Calendar items show Bennett had more than 100 entries of
“campaign calls” blocked off to call donors, but he said he did not make any
calls from his Statehouse office.
Bennett resigned as Florida’s schools chief last month, shortly after the AP
published emails showing he changed Indiana’s school-grading formula to
benefit a charter school founded by a campaign donor. A pair of legislative
investigators found Bennett’s changes were made by a staff that was rushed
last year to get out a complicated school grading system and were evenly
applied to other schools. But they added their findings did not exonerate
Indiana’s major party leaders, meanwhile, pointed their anger over the most
recent Bennett revelations at different state officials.
Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Thomas needs to reveal his findings
“quickly and transparently.”
“First we learned that Tony Bennett and his staff tweaked the accountability
rules they created to improve grades for certain schools. Then we learned
that a small group of powerful Republicans masterminded Bennett’s education
plan. And now we know that Bennett directed his staff to engage in political
campaign activities while they were on taxpayer time,” he said.
Thomas said Thursday that he could not comment on ongoing investigations.
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry meanwhile said Ritz needs to
explain whether the release of public records to the AP constitute a
political attack against Bennett.
“Superintendent Ritz can’t get away with not answering simple questions.
Hoosiers deserve to know what comes first in the Ritz Department of
Education: students, parents and teachers or settling political scores,”
Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman said “the department doesn’t make it a practice
to respond to un-sourced gossip and innuendo.”