-- The involvement of two prominent Indiana Republicans in a deal to
purchase a chain of liquor stores has raised concerns about a potential
conflict of interest.
State GOP Chairman
Kyle Hupfer and Indianapolis Business Journal co-owner Nate Feltman are
minority partners with Indiana Liquor Group in a deal to purchase Save-on
Liquor, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Hupfer and Feltman
said they don’t plan to push for legislation to favor the business.
leaders and political experts fear that the move has strengthened the liquor
lobby and that Republican lawmakers will advance legislation favoring the
industry to help their political allies.
"Even if Kyle (Hupfer)
and company, never say a word, it will be known they have this business
interest,” said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana
Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “There will be
some legislators who don’t want to upset the state chair and high-ranking
members of the party.”
There are no laws
saying Hupfer can’t have private investments. Hupfer noted that he’s not an
elected official and doesn’t make any policies.
“I don’t think
there is any conflict of interest or the optics of a conflict of interest,”
Feltman, who was
the commerce secretary under former Gov. Mitch Daniels, said he hasn’t been
directly involved with the Statehouse in over a decade.
“I’m not familiar
and don’t know all of the issues in the industry, and I’m not even the
majority shareholder,” Feltman said. “I am interested in a business
Republican Rep. Ben
Smaltz, who chairs the chamber’s Public Policy committee, said he doesn’t
believe Republicans will be influenced.
“For me, it’s about
policy,” Smaltz said. “Everything I do and everyone I associate with here
wants to know the compelling state interest, and how do we help Hoosiers.”
Hupfer and Feltman
aren’t alone in facing conflict of interest concerns. Republican Sen. Chip
Perfect’s efforts to eliminate the state’s child labor laws raised concerns
because he employs hundreds of minors at the Perfect North Slopes ski
resort. He later backed off from the move and asked for a special committee
to study the issue later this year.