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Walkout costs may haunt Democrats

But for now, campaign finance complaint is dropped

– The Indiana Election Commission on Thursday dismissed a controversial campaign finance complaint involving the House Democrats’ walkout – for now.

Commission Chairman Dan Dumezich, a Republican, made clear the issue is not finished and likely will come up again in January after Democrats who fled the state to Illinois file their campaign finance reports.

The five-week walkout halted work in the House because there were not enough members to form a quorum.

A constituent of Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, sent an email complaint in March alleging that Battles accepted illegal campaign contributions by allowing the Indiana Democratic Party to pay for his hotel and meals while in Urbana.

Legislators are prohibited from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions during the long budget session of the General Assembly, which is when the walkout occurred.

The Indiana Democratic Party paid about $95,000 in Urbana expenses, according to its campaign finance report.

Some Republicans during the walkout said the state party’s payment of those expenses should be counted as an in-kind campaign contribution.

“(Battles) came across this money somehow. The question is did he solicit?” Dumezich said. “And unless the Indiana Democratic Party plans to give legislators a 1099 or W2 for the amount of money spent on vacation in Illinois, it had to come from somewhere.”

Democratic officials contend they financed a caucus – not campaign activity.

Neither Battles nor Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker attended Thursday’s hearing.

“My understanding is that this was not sanctioned by the commission, only Dumezich,” Parker said via email. “It’s not a formal proceeding, just a fishing expedition.”

While the complaint is specifically against Battles, any finding in the case would likely apply to all the House Democrats who left town, including Reps. Win Moses and Phil GiaQuinta, both of Fort Wayne.

Members of the election commission never got to the substance of the complaint because the two Democratic members questioned whether Dumezich had the authority to unilaterally place the item on the agenda for investigation.

The commission has two Republican members and two Democratic members and often deadlocks on issues with political overtones.

Legal counsel for the Republican and Democratic co-directors of the Indiana Election Division differed on Dumezich’s authority, so the group is asking Attorney General Greg Zoeller for an advisory opinion on the applicable law.

During Thursday’s discussion, it became clear that Battles has not filed a campaign finance report for the time period in question because he isn’t required to do so until January.

Democratic member Sarah Steele Riordan said, given this fact, there is no substantial likelihood of a violation.

“I do not understand what we are doing right now,” she said.

Dumezich conceded the point, and the group voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint.

But he said in January, if the contribution isn’t listed on Battles’ report, the commission should consider the issue again. Even so, it takes three members to penalize a candidate.

Riordan and fellow Democratic member Anthony Long also stressed that if the commission began looking into the Indiana Democratic Party, they would have to remove themselves from the proceeding.

Riordan is legal counsel for the party, and Long is a member of the Democratic state central committee.

nkelly@jg.net

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