The Indiana House Ethics Committee has hired an outside attorney to investigate allegations that House Speaker Brian Bosma used campaign funds to collect unflattering information about a former intern who claims she had a sexual encounter with him decades ago.
House Ethics Chairwoman Sharon Negele, R-Attica, said the panel hired Bonnie Martin, an Indianapolis attorney with the Ogletree Deakins law firm, to conduct an "independent review" of the allegations, The Indianapolis Star reported .
Martin has interviewed the former intern and some of her family in recent weeks.
Those interviews are the first sign the panel is taking steps to investigate a complaint that was filed last October by then-Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond.
Lawson's complaint followed the Star's report that Bosma paid a law firm more than $40,000 in campaign funds last year to gather unflattering information about the woman.
Bosma, a married Republican lawmaker, has denied the woman's story that she performed oral sex on him during her 1992 internship with House Democrats.
Lawson's complaint came after the woman told the Star that Bosma's attorney, Linda Pence, and her investigators had reached out to a former boyfriend and an ex-husband in an effort to discredit her. The ex-intern and her family said Pence then threatened to reveal the information she had gathered if the woman went public with her story of a consensual sexual encounter with Bosma.
At the time of those alleged threats, the former intern had not yet gone public with her story.
Bosma and Pence, a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, have denied threatening or intimidating anyone, calling Pence's investigation routine and professional.
Bosma has said he hired Pence to protect his reputation from a false story.
Martin, the attorney now investigating the ethics complaint, specializes in representing employers against workplace harassment and discrimination claims. According to her law firm biography, she is "a go-to resource for conducting workplace investigations throughout Indiana."
William Groth, an attorney for the former intern, said Martin interviewed his client over the phone two weeks ago and has also conducted in-person interviews with her mother and sister.
Groth said the interview with the woman focused primarily on Pence's contacts with her relatives and what she knew about those contacts.
In a letter to Martin on Monday, Groth argued that Bosma's use of campaign funds to investigate the woman were not "reasonably related" to his campaign, as required by law.
The issue, he wrote, is the lawfulness of Bosma's use of campaign funds to "finance an investigation of a private citizen, who had voluntarily maintained her silence for a quarter century and done nothing to interject herself into the public or political arena, in an effort to discredit and/or intimidate her."
Groth urged the committee to censure Bosma and refer the case to the Indiana Election Commission and Indiana attorney general's office to recoup the "unlawful expenditures."
The election commission, however, dismissed a similar complaint against Bosma in January .