INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - More and more, the internal workings of Indiana
government are being shown and the political pageantry stripped away in a
reminder that the trappings of power are rarely trumpeted in news
conferences, aired in campaign ads or otherwise pushed out to the public.
The shock over former school Superintendent Tony Bennett’s grade-changing
scandal might have had the biggest impact, costing a national education rock
star his job as Florida education commissioner. But many other stories have
been unearthed by Indiana media recently, showing a government that often
operates more in private than public.
The chief of staff to Secretary of State Connie Lawson has spent the last
five months negotiating a job with lobbying powerhouse The Corydon Group.
An ongoing Indianapolis Star investigation uncovered that a contractor hired
by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Elevate Ventures, had sent
$800,000 in federal money meant for startup business to companies it had
ties to. And the Indianapolis Business Journal uncovered a pay-to-play
scandal at Indianapolis’ land bank program months before federal agents
spent a day hauling records from the City-County Building and indictments
Gerry Lanosga, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government and a
professor of investigative journalism at Indiana University, points out that
politicians have always looked for ways to get their message straight to the
public, notably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Now they have
even more options, from Facebook to Twitter, for narrowly crafting what the
“It’s a pretty showy way of demonstrating ‘openness,’ but in reality what’s
happening is they are trying to ensure that their carefully crafted messages
are the only ones the public sees. And so we actually see less of the
deliberative processes of government,” he said.
There are many more investigations that have pulled back the curtain for the
public, and in each case the government didn’t issue any press releases for
these stories. Instead, the stories Statehouse leaders have pushed have
focused on job-creation task forces, the governor’s tax cut and other
Bennett, in particular, has maintained that nothing wrong happened behind
the scenes. Instead, he has said the news coverage of his grade-changing
scandal “cheapened” all his other efforts at education overhaul.
On July 31, Bennett sent a resignation note to former Gov. Mitch Daniels,
former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque, executive director of
Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education - three people who shaped his
“Regardless of how untrue the portrayal is about our work in Indiana, it
cheapened what we tried to do,” Bennett wrote in the email, recently
obtained by Florida press. “Yes, while I can stand up until my dying day and
defend what we did as right, it did cheapen everything we did and everything
He called the 48 hours of intense media scrutiny since the story first broke
“a living hell.” His incredible frustration at all of the attention is
similar to the frustration of Indiana school leaders who could not get
answers from his team on how their school grades were calculated.
A few changes have made it easier to discover how elected officials are
earning their public salaries.
Gov. Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Delph,
R-Carmel, teamed up during the legislative session to make it easier to see
how the IEDC is spending tax dollars.
But an effort by House Democrats to require the state say how much it spends
to purchase private land for transportation projects went nowhere, despite
media reports that the Indiana Department of Transportation’s chief of
staff’s family made three times their land’s assessed value in sales to the
Not all work is hidden away. The state posts the budget, all legislation,
committee hearings, and many other documents online.
And the last decade has seen improved access to documents like state
contracts and campaign donations through online search tools. But Indiana’s
public officials don’t spend much time trumpeting their work when it looks