Indiana has never enjoyed a reputation for strong ethics rules. So it was promising when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels instituted guidelines that seemed to raise the bar.
Requiring public officials to wait a year before taking a job with an employer that does business with the state was among them, and for good reason. Millions in tax dollars are spent each year with contractors who could exchange lucrative job offers for insider information and key contacts.
The thing about ethics policies, however, is that they must be consistently enforced to work. The waiver Gov. Mike Pence granted to Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael Cline before his hearing with the state ethics commission, clearing Cline to accept a vice president’s position at Purdue University, suggests the rules aren’t absolute.
As Niki Kelly reported, a waiver letter written by Pence’s chief of staff claimed that Cline would not lobby for Purdue, even though lobbying was specified as a job responsibility in the INDOT commissioner’s initial offer letter.
Purdue’s ties with INDOT are tight, as Kelly noted. The Joint Transportation Research Program involves a collaboration between the university and the state on planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance and efficiency of roads and bridges. A pending contract would pay up to $26 million.
State law prohibits state officials from accepting a job from an employer if they were engaged in the negotiation or administration of contracts with the employer on behalf of the state, and were in a position to make decisions affecting the outcome of the negotiations and administration.
The waiver claims Cline had only limited involvement with the Purdue contracts, but it’s a stretch to believe the administrator was far removed.
The cooling-off period requirement is aimed at eliminating the perception of a revolving door at the Statehouse. When public officials come and go through the doors of state government, they become privy to information that could be beneficial to a new employer. A job with the state shouldn’t be viewed as an opportunity to gain insider information or cultivate relationships to be used for greater advantage.
The governor did the right thing when earlier this year he called for an independent investigation of land acquisition deals involving Troy Woodruff, the current INDOT chief of staff. Hoosiers had every reason to believe the new administration would allow no room for undue influence. Granting the INDOT commissioner a waiver from a reasonable one-year cooling-off period tells us the rules will be enforced only when convenient.