If you take political donations from the teacher's union, expect the state to come after you.
That’s the message Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita sent this month in a letter to all candidates for statewide political offices.
Rokita sued the Indiana State Teachers Association for defrauding local school districts of $23 million in a health insurance plan that went bust last year.
In his letter, dated Oct. 1, Rokita warned candidates that if he prevails in court, his securities division staff will pursue any money the candidates received from the ISTA’s political action committee.
“The Securities Division will aggressively trace and attempt to recover all funds associated with ISTA in its transfers and expenditures of resources for whatever purposes,” states the letter, which went to more than 200 candidates or their campaign organizations. Rokita asks the candidates to either return the money to ISTA now or set it aside in a separate account until the lawsuit concludes.
But the ISTA says Rokita is making political hay out of a non-issue. Rokita is running this year for Congress in Indiana’s 4th Congressional district.
“Rokita’s heavy-handed attempt to intimidate pro-public education candidates is insulting to ISTA members and public education supporters across the state,” ISTA leaders wrote in an Oct. 6 message to their members. “His letter is another ploy aimed at discrediting ISTA and pro-public education candidates in an attempt to thwart efforts to maintain a pro-public education majority in the Indiana House.”
ISTA reiterated that its political contributions do not come from member dues, but from voluntary contributions made by members specifically to the political action committee.
About three-quarters of ISTA members contribute $2 a month toward the political committee, said ISTA spokesman Mark Shoup.
Rokita sued the ISTA to recover money owed to school districts who paid into a health insurance plan operated by the ISTA. That fund ran short of cash and was shut down by the Indiana Department of Insurance after the plan's investments—many of which were placed in illiquid, high-risk hedge funds—tanked in value.