Pharos-Tribune

State News

July 10, 2014

Update: Ethics panel unanimously approves $5,000 fine against Bennett

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's State Ethics Commission voted unanimously Thursday to fine former state school Superintendent Tony Bennett $5,000 for breaking ethics rules by using state resources to conduct campaign work.The panel approved without discussion a settlement reached between Bennett's defense team and Indiana Inspector General David Thomas.

After the hearing, Bennett's lawyer Larry Mackey said the lesson was that Bennett should have re-written Indiana Department of Education policy to allow for campaign work on state equipment, and then he could have avoided the fine altogether.

"An important part of the reason we're here today is that Dr. Bennett as an officeholder, an elected officeholder, had every right to engage in political activity, unlike state employees. And that's the important message here," Mackey said. "But he has to follow the rules. And the rules are, write a policy if you're going to use state computers to do any political activity, even if you're an officeholder."

The settlement showed that Bennett's state and campaign staffs met at his Statehouse office to coordinate scheduling using state software and computers during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid. State investigators also determined that campaign fundraising lists found on state servers had been transferred there by accident in January 2013 by one of Bennett's state staffers.

Investigators determined those actions violated the Indiana Department of Education's ethics rules.

"Limited personal uses of the agency's computer systems for political activity on my part would have been permitted if I had implemented policies that expressly permitted those uses. I did not and the failure to implement those policies is no one's fault but my own," Bennett said in a statement released by his defense team Wednesday night.

Bennett, a Republican, also said that he hoped report marks a "final, conclusive end" to questions about the grading formula changes he made. State investigators said they could not find evidence of a direct quid pro quo.

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