House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner skipped a House ethics review Wednesday but claimed in filings submitted to the panel that he did nothing wrong when he fought legislation that could have cost him millions of dollars.
The Associated Press reported last week that Turner has earned more than $8 million through his ownership stake in Mainstreet Property Group, which builds nursing homes. He stood to lose more than $4 million if a construction ban passed the Legislature this year, but he lobbied against the ban during private meetings of the House Republican Caucus in the final days of the session.
The House Ethics Committee met Wednesday for a little less than an hour in the same Statehouse room where Turner fought the ban a little more than a month ago. Their review focused almost exclusively on whether Turner properly disclosed all his connections and did not dissect how much money he had at stake in the fight.
House Ethics Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said lawmakers may look at whether rules should be applied to caucus discussions during a more comprehensives ethics review later this summer, but not now. Turner admitted in filings with the committee to speaking out in caucus, but the panel also noted that he recused himself from public votes on the issue.
"We found no House ethics rules which apply to caucus," Steuerwald said.
The members are scheduled to meet next Wednesday to tell House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, whether they believe Turner violated any rules.
Turner attended a meeting of the State Budget Committee instead Wednesday, about five miles from where the ethics panel was meeting. His lawyer, Toby McClamroch, said that Turner did not need to be at the hearing because he had submitted answers in writing to the panel.
"I thank Chairman Steuerwald and the House Ethics Committee for conducting a thorough review of the facts and I was pleased to answer the questions presented to me. I am confident the Ethics Committee will conclude that I have acted within the House Rules and the House Code of Ethics, as I have for my entire 24-year legislative career."
The House ethics panel is made of three Republicans and three Democrats. All three Democrats said they were happy with the scope of Turner's review.
Turner appears to have met all the House's financial disclosure requirements. But none of those rules required him to tell the public that he makes upward of $1 million each time Mainstreet Property Group completes another project.
Documents obtained by the AP show that Turner owns a 38-percent stake in Mainstreet Property Group through another company. Mainstreet, which is operated by his son, builds nursing homes throughout the state and then sells the homes to a Canadian company, HealthLease, which was founded by Turner's son.
The last time the House Ethics Committee reviewed the actions of a House lawmaker was in 1996, when Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and former Rep. Sam Turpin, R-Brownsburg, were put under the microscope. Turpin was later indicted by a grand jury for taking money from gambling interests while running the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Turner had been in the running to lead the Ways and Means panel in 2012 but Republican lawmakers voiced concerns about his conflicts of interest with Bosma and the chairmanship went to Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, instead.
Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said Wednesday's hearing proves lawmakers should not police themselves. She noted that Turner's financial stakes were much greater than those of Turpin, who failed to disclose $46,000 in payments he received in relation to a riverboat casino project.
"Mountains and molehills," she said, shortly after hearing ended. "We are certainly talking about a much greater economic interest. And let's not forget charges were filed against Rep. Turpin in that case, and it was certainly small potatoes (compared to Turner)."