K-12 and Public schools and State Government and Department of Education and Politics and Education & Workforce Development and Government & Economic Development and Government

Fundraiser lists, emails raise Bennett questions

September 11, 2013

Former Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett faces scrutiny over the discovery of lists of Republican fundraisers on Department of Education servers and emails he sent directing staff to dissect a speech by Democrat Glenda Ritz.

An election law attorney says the fundraiser lists and an August 2012 email to aides including chief of staff Heather Neal appear to violate election and ethics laws prohibiting state employees from engaging in political activity while on duty. The rules also bar them from ordering others to do so and using state resources for political purposes.

Bennett denies any violations and says the fundraising lists were used to make "thank you calls" after the election.

Inspector General David Thomas says his office is investigating Bennett but won't discuss the nature of the probe.

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.

It's rare to have officials prosecuted because finding proof of violations can be difficult. Complaints typically go to the state inspector general, then to prosecutors if charges appear warranted. Prosecutors also can launch investigations on their own.

In 1995, former Indiana Clerk of Courts Dwayne Brown was convicted of ghost employment for using state employees to help with his campaign for Congress. He received a three-year suspended sentence, was ordered to perform community service and lost his law license.

Former Indiana School Superintendent Harold Negley resigned in April 1985, two months before pleading guilty to charges of ghost employment and official misconduct. Negley and a top aide each received a one-year suspended sentence for using state employees to campaign on state time in Negley's 1984 re-election bid.

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