— Indiana's State Ethics Commission voted unanimously Thursday to fine
former state school Superintendent Tony Bennett $5,000 for breaking ethics
rules by using state resources to conduct campaign work.
approved without discussion a settlement reached between Bennett's defense
team and Indiana Inspector General David Thomas.
hearing, Bennett's lawyer Larry Mackey said the lesson was that Bennett
should have re-written Indiana Department of Education policy to allow for
campaign work on state equipment, and then he could have avoided the fine
part of the reason we're here today is that Dr. Bennett as an
officeholder, an elected officeholder, had every right to engage in
political activity, unlike state employees. And that's the important
message here," Mackey said. "But he has to follow the rules. And the rules
are, write a policy if you're going to use state computers to do any
political activity, even if you're an officeholder."
showed that Bennett's state and campaign staffs met at his Statehouse
office to coordinate scheduling using state software and computers during
his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid. State investigators also determined
that campaign fundraising lists found on state servers had been
transferred there by accident in January 2013 by one of Bennett's state
determined those actions violated the Indiana Department of Education's
uses of the agency's computer systems for political activity on my part
would have been permitted if I had implemented policies that expressly
permitted those uses. I did not and the failure to implement those
policies is no one's fault but my own," Bennett said in a statement
released by his defense team Wednesday night.
Republican, also said that he hoped report marks a "final, conclusive end"
to questions about the grading formula changes he made. State
investigators said they could not find evidence of a direct quid pro quo.
as Florida's schools chief in August 2013 after The Associated Press
published emails showing changes he made in Indiana's school-grading
formula that benefited the Indianapolis charter school founded by one of
his donors, Christel DeHaan. Bennett and his staff changed the grading
formula twice in secret to raise the DeHaan school's grade from a "C'' to
an "A''. Other schools benefited as well, but only DeHaan's benefited from
"exoneration" last September when a pair of legislative investigators
determined that he had applied the changes benefiting DeHaan's charter
school to other schools as well. But the report's authors said their
effort neither condemned nor vindicated Bennett.
A spokeswoman for
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry confirmed the office received the
evidence compiled by state investigators but declined prosecution in the
A spokesman for
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, whose office investigates public corruption
cases, would neither confirm nor deny any investigation of Bennett.
report from the inspector general does not address questions of possible
ghost employment by Bennett's staff. One email sent from Bennett to his
top staff in 2012 asked them to dissect a campaign appearance by his
then-opponent, Democratic schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Another
email from then-Chief of Staff Heather Neal discussed seeking campaign
finance reports on state time.
It's also unclear
whether all of the campaign lists were transferred to state computers
after the November 2012 election, as Bennett said in the settlement. A
copy of "The 5000" campaign list was created in August 2009 by Cam Savage,
then Bennett's state communications director, and provided to the AP in a
folder with numerous other lists dealing with the Department of Education,
including cellphone numbers for top staff and media contacts.
Party Chairman John Zody called Bennett's fine "a slap on the wrist."
Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, criticized
the ethics commission for letting Bennett "cut a deal in private that
enables him to get off for the price of a used car."
inspector general was appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and reports
its findings to the State Ethics Commission, which is also appointed by