Two leading lawmakers who have championed tougher ethics rules at the Indiana Statehouse are coming under scrutiny because of business ties to a city soccer team that wants to build a new stadium.
The Indiana House has voted in favor of spending $82 million on a new stadium for the Indy Eleven soccer team, a year after a similar effort died in the Legislature. House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Steurwald, who do legal work for the team and owner Ersal Ozdemir's Keystone Construction Corp., did not participate in the vote.
Both lawmakers insist they could have voted because neither would have benefited financially. But critics question that logic, as well as Bosma's decision to disclose his ties only after the vote occurred.
"If it's going to be meaningful to the process, it has to be timely," Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, told The Indianapolis Star. "I think it would have been more transparent if he had put his cards on the table beforehand."
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he hasn't tried to hide his relationship with the team. He said he notified Gov. Mike Pence and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long privately last year that he couldn't discuss the stadium issue because of his legal work for the team.
"I feel like I handled it perfectly correctly with advice from legal counsel on how to do it," Bosma said. "It was appropriate for me not to make any public statements about it and just to distance myself as much as possible so the normal legislative process could take place."
Steurwald, R-Avon, voted in favor of last year's stadium legislation, even though his legal work for Keystone began in 2012. He said new ethics rules, which include language discouraging "the appearance of impropriety," were the primary factor in his decision to abstain from voting this year.
"That is a higher standard, so even though I had no pecuniary interest, no financial interest in the bill of any kind, I thought it would be best to avoid the appearance of impropriety," he said.
Vaughn said consistency is important in disclosing conflicts.
"If you've got a conflict this year," she said, "then you probably had a conflict last year as well."
Paul Okeson, a vice president of Ozdemir's construction company, said the company did not try to curry favor in the Legislature by hiring Bosma and Steuerwald.
He said neither lawmaker gave advice on the proposed stadium but acknowledged that Ozdemir does not have a business relationship with any other legislators.
The scrutiny of the lawmakers comes as they lead a push for ethics reforms following several high-profile scandals involving state officials, including former Rep. Eric Turner, who helped kill legislation last year that would have harmed his family's nursing home development business. He later resigned.
Ozdemir has given $260,000 to Republican campaigns over the past 10 years.