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EDITORIAL

Stronger rules for revealing potential conflicts of interest

Monday, April 22, 2013 - 8:33 am

Indiana Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, The Associated Press reports, has spent the 2013 session of the General Assembly “quietly pushing a measure that would allow Insure-Rite to win a multimillion-dollar contract screening uninsured motorists for the state.” The company hired Turner’s daughter, Jessica Turner Stults, to lobby lawmakers on its behalf.

That’s what we out in voterland would call “a conflict on interest.” House Speaker Brian Bosma had the right reaction when he heard of it: “I think anytime that you have a potential conflict like this, of course there are concerns. But again, the key is disclosure. This obviously became disclosed, so we appreciate that. We may have to consider some alteration to our disclosure rules here so that becomes more apparent to folks.”

Bosma said changes are needed to the rules governing what lawmakers must disclose about their personal and financial ties. With the end of this session nearing, he said he would likely look at any changes over the summer.

There is no rule against a member of the General Assembly pushing legislation to benefit a family member. Turner’s support of his daughter’s endeavors is not against the law. He was perfectly free to do what he did. But now we know about it, and that makes all the difference. Voters can decide if they think such behavior warrants their support in the voting booth.

Such conflicts of interest are not rare in the General Assembly. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions, for example, owns a consulting agency that solicits business from the banking industry his committee oversees. Two other lawmakers have spent this session watering down opposition to a $2.8 billion coal-gasification plant that would likely benefit their employers.

The list of examples could go on. Indianapolis Star political columnist Matthew Tully writes about the “culture of coziness” permeating the General Assembly. Lobbyists “wine and dine” legislators regularly with a generosity legislators are not inclined to resist. It can make the ordinary taxpayer feel left out.

But that is the price we pay for having a General Assembly full of part-time legislators who must depend on other jobs to make a living. They are going to constantly run into situations involving their jobs or their family members’ jobs.

The benefit of having part-time legislators who must also live in the real world their rules govern is obvious. No one should want to remedy the “coziness” problem by going to full-time legislators. Look at what a mess that can bring to states – just consider Illinois and New York.