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Wyss in gift ban debate

Requests opinion of attorney general

Wyss

– State Sen. Tom Wyss wants Indiana’s attorney general to issue an opinion on the legality of the bill before Fort Wayne City Council that would ban city contractors from making political donations to city politicians.

In a letter dated Thursday, Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, asks Attorney General Greg Zoeller for an opinion on the bill written by Councilwoman Liz Brown, R-at large, just a few days after a divided council voted to introduce the legislation for discussion.

After being contacted by Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, about the issue, Wyss said he did some initial investigations to the bill’s legality. He checked with Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency and the state election board, both of which told him the bill is not permitted under state law. The request for an attorney general opinion is intended to help his constituents avoid having to pay to defend a lawsuit if the bill is challenged, Wyss said.

“I don’t want to see taxpayers pay stupid tax money to defend a suit,” he said.

Bryan Corbin, spokesman for Zoeller, confirmed the office’s receipt of the letter but said the attorney general has not yet decided whether to offer a legal opinion on the subject.

He said the opinions are not binding but are given to assist state government clients in navigating their way through complex intergovernmental questions.

The bill has come under scrutiny since it was written. It would prohibit a company, company owner, company owner spouse, company subcontractor, subcontractor owner or subcontractor owner spouse from doing business with the city if that person made political donations to city candidates or elected officials during the previous year.

A company that violates the proposal would have the opportunity to have the contribution returned to avoid penalty. A company that does not remedy its violation is subject to having its contract canceled and being banned from any city contract for three years.

Opponents have argued that Brown’s bill not only has First Amendment problems but also violates state law that prohibits communities from enacting their own election or campaign finance laws.

Because of those legal concerns, Didier said he wanted to get a ruling from the attorney general.

Didier last week voted to delay introduction of the bill so the city could get an outside legal opinion on it, but when that effort stalled, he supported introducing it to the council. He said Brown should have done her homework before bringing the bill to the council and he would not support it if the attorney general ruled it is not appropriate.

“I think she (Brown) should have went to the attorney general before she brought her bill forward,” Didier said. “I personally think it’s going to fail.”

Brown, however, argued the bill does not prevent people or companies from making political contributions.

“This is about whether we can make restrictions in making a contract with the city,” she said.

Brown said other members are entitled to seek advice, but she noted that attorney general opinions carry no more weight than anyone else’s opinion.

The council is not expected to discuss the bill during its meeting today.

blanka@jg.net

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