Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma reminded state representatives of a mandatory ethics training session last week with a call for lawmakers to give it their “close attention.”
But the latest scandal suggests multiple ethics training sessions and the undivided attention of the General Assembly are warranted. Too many Statehouse officials continue to view the job as an opportunityfor financial and career advancement, not as public service. Too many see themselves as exempt from rules and norms applying to everyone else.
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office announced last week it did not find conduct supporting criminal charges in a case involving Allen Paul, a state senator who retired in 2014 and returned nine months later to lobby his former colleagues on behalf of the Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He did so through a secretive employment deal with a staffing agency that paid him $150,000 between 2015 and 2019. The arrangement wrongly allowed the state agency to conceal the payments. It also allowed Paul to avoid registering as a lobbyist and to disregard the one-year cooling-off period designed to discourage the revolving door between the General Assembly and the lobbying community.
If Paul’s arrangement with Veterans’ Affairs didn’t violate the letter of the law, it certainly violated its spirit. Both failure to register as a lobbyist and violation of the cooling-off requirement are Level 6 felonies, carrying a penalty of six months to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The Veterans’ Affairs office and the temp agency were sanctioned by the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission for failing to register for their lobbying initiative. Paul was also told to register but refused, according to an Indianapolis Star investigation.
“The fact that we had a sitting senator who voted on the legislation to enact the one-year cooling off period, and then violated it himself, is not going to be prosecuted on those charges is absolutely terrible,” Lisa Wilken, a veteran who filed a complaint with the Indiana inspector general’s office, told the Star. “It sends a horrible message that if you are somebody that makes laws, you can break the laws and there will be no consequences.”
The decision not to seek criminal charges reinforces the status quo. Paul’s arrangement with the agency – initially arranged under Gov. Mike Pence’s administration – wasn’t common knowledge, but his very presence at the Statehouse should have raised questions. The inspector general’s investigative report indicates Paul shared “notes from contacts he made with legislators” on behalf of Veterans’ Affairs. He met with multiple legislative leaders, but none seemed to question Paul’s quick transition from lawmaker to legislative advocate.
The former lawmaker’s job deal was one of many troublesome practices in the state agency. But the willingness of legislative leaders to once again give a pass to a colleague is indicative of the low ethical bar maintained at the General Assembly. Higher standards are needed, beginning with an ethics law that draws a bright line for those who seek personal benefit from public service.