Election board to investigate allegations of bribery in Carmel mayoral race

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The Hamilton County Election Board plans to look into allegations that Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard’s re-election campaign offered money to his challenger to drop out of the race. But the meeting will be after the May 7 primary election involving both candidates.

The board has tentatively slated a meeting for May 14 to meet with both campaigns and the two major political parties to hear testimony and determine whether the people involved have evidence supporting the claim. Election board member Ray Alder, a Republican, likened the meeting to a probable cause hearing in a court case.  

Last week, the Hamilton County Democratic Party called for an investigation into the allegations made by Republican mayoral candidate Fred Glynn that Brainard’s campaign offered him $140,000 to withdraw from the race.

Joe Weingarten, chairman of the county Democratic Party, told IBJ he filed a request with the election board in order to get to the bottom of the claims, which were originally reported in a March 21 Current in Carmel article.

Glynn told the Current that the alleged bribe took place during a Feb. 3 meeting involving Glynn’s former campaign manager Dan Hennessey, Brainard consultant Allan Sutherlin and Hamilton County GOP chair Laura Campbell, who is also a Carmel city councilor.

Hennessey then reported the bribe to Glynn—who said he turned down the offer—before resigning from his campaign to work with Brainard, the Current reported. The Brainard campaign said it is not employing Hennessey or paying him directly. Stakeholder International, a consulting firm owned by Sutherlin, hired Hennessey.

Sutherlin and Campbell told the Current there was a bribe offered during the meeting, but it didn’t come from Brainard’s team. Instead, Hennessey asked for the money on Glynn’s behalf, Sutherlin said.

Brainard is seeking his seventh term leading the city, and is challenged by Glynn, a county council member who describes himself as a fiscal conservative who has taken issue with the amount of debt Carmel has piled up on during Brainard’s long tenure.  

During an election board meeting Friday morning, board member Greg Purvis, a Democrat, suggested the board look into the allegations themselves or ask the state police to get involved.

“To me, this is serious business,” he said. “You’re talking about either one campaign offering a bribe or the other campaign soliciting the bribe in order for possibly one of the principle candidates to drop out. That pretty fundamentally implicates the election process and its legitimacy altogether, if it’s true.”

County attorney Mike Howard said the board might not have legal authority to do anything about the allegations.

“The allegations may be disturbing, but the question is, 'is there an issue here that this board would have jurisdiction?'” he said. “Even if these allegations are true, they do not appear to rise to the level of bribery.”

David Brooks, who represented the Hamilton County GOP during the meeting, said a police investigation seems premature.

Ultimately, the three-member board decided to hold a meeting next month and invite both campaigns, the GOP and the Democratic Party to talk with members about what happened during the meeting and present any evidence that might exist that supports the claims.

“I’m not interested in a goose chase. A lot of people say a lot of things during elections. I don’t approve of it, I wish it were cleaner and better,” Adler said.

“I think we investigate this,” he added. “Is it a rabbit chase or is it something? … If it’s something, I want to get right on it. If it’s nothing, I want to ignore it.”

Glynn told IBJ that he would go to the meeting and participate.

“The thing is, my story has been consistent since it came out, so that should tell people a lot,” he said.

Laken Sisko, Brainard’s campaign manager, told IBJ neither she nor Brainard were at the Feb. 3 meeting so they wouldn’t have any information to offer the election board. 

“I’m not putting a lot of emphasis on this election board meeting,” she said.

She denies the allegations, saying Brainard’s campaign would never offer a challenger campaign funds to withdraw from the race.

She said Campbell and Sutherlin met with Hennessey to show him early polling numbers that showed Glynn wasn't close to Brainard.

She said the campaign would never do anything unethical, but even if it considered doing so, it “defies logic” that it would offer money to a candidate it didn't view as a threat, she said.

“It’s arguably one of the most absurd things that’s ever been suggested,” she said “It simply didn’t happen.”

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