INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Former Indiana schools Superintendent Tony Bennett is
accused of using state resources for political reasons in a complaint
filed with the state's ethics commission Thursday.
The complaint from Inspector General David Thomas alleges Bennett
improperly used state resources to engage in political fundraising,
schedule campaign meetings and conduct other political or personal
activity in violation of Indiana law. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.
The move comes two months after The Associated Press reported Bennett kept
multiple campaign databases on Department of Education servers and ordered
his staff to dissect a speech by his Democratic opponent for inaccuracies
last fall. Bennett's computer calendar also included more than 100 entries
labeled "campaign calls" between July 2011 and November 2012.
Bennett released a statement Thursday saying he looks forward to working
with the commission and Thomas' office "to demonstrate proper adherence to
state rules and guidelines."
"Throughout my time in public service I made every effort to be cognizant
of and to follow state rules and guidelines for elected officials,"
Indiana law prohibits state employees from engaging in political activity,
including seeking contributions, while on duty or acting in an official
capacity. It also bars state employees from working on anything outside
their official job duties while on the clock, or ordering others to do so,
and from using state resources for political purposes.
Violating the official duties law, known as the "ghost employment"
statute, is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody issued a statement saying
Bennett, a Republican, "led a culture of corruption by misleading Hoosiers
and abusing the trust of the office to which he was elected."
The documents are the latest trouble for Bennett, a national star in
conservative education circles until his abrupt resignation as Florida's
education commissioner Aug. 1. His decision to step down followed outcry
over an AP story showing he oversaw changes to Indiana's school grading
system in 2010 after learning that a school founded by a prominent GOP
donor — and which he had consistently hailed as a top performer — had
scored a C.
Bennett has previously denied instructing his staff to do campaign work
and told the AP in September that one of the lists was used to make "thank
you calls" on his own time after the 2012 election.
Bennett has said all the campaign calls were made on his own time and
outside his office.
The campaign documents were found on Department of Education computers
after Bennett lost the election to Democrat Glenda Ritz. They include an
Aug. 28, 2012, email that Bennett sent to chief of staff Heather Neal and
other aides from his state account directing them to review a campaign
speech by Ritz.
"Below is a link to Glenda's forum in Bloomington. It is 1:35 minutes. I
would ask that people watch this and scrub it for every inaccuracy and
utterance of stupidity that comes out of her mouth," Bennett wrote in the
email obtained by The Associated Press.
Three fundraising lists and a donor call list tailored for Bennett also
were discovered on the computers. They include an expansive database of
more than 6,500 party activists and volunteers created in 2009 by his
then-communications director, Cam Savage. That list includes a footnote
that it is licensed by Salesforce.com, the party's fundraising tool, to
the Indiana Republican State Committee.
Savage didn't immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.