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Bennett accused of ethics breach

Allegedly used state staff, gear in campaign run

Bennett

– A year after a surprising defeat at the polls, former state schools chief Tony Bennett now faces an ethics violation accusation for essentially campaigning on state time and resources.

Indiana Inspector General David Thomas filed a complaint Thursday charging the former state superintendent of public instruction.

“Throughout my time in public service, I made every effort to be cognizant of and to follow state rules and guidelines for elected officials,” Bennett said in a written statement. “I understand no conclusions have been made in this matter and I look forward to working with the Ethics Commission and the Inspector General’s office to demonstrate proper adherence to state rules and guidelines.”

The allegation is that over the course of 2012 he “improperly made use of state materials, funds, property, personnel, facilities, or equipment for a purpose other than for official state business.”

For instance, the complaint said Bennett used state computer systems, equipment and software to engage in political campaign or personal activity, including political campaign fundraising, responding to a political opponent’s assertions, scheduling campaign meetings and scheduling campaign telephone calls.

In an August email to several Indiana Department of Education staff members, Bennett included a video of his then-opponent Glenda Ritz.

“Below is a link to Glenda’s forum in Bloomington ... I would ask that people watch this and scrub it for every inaccuracy and utterance of stupidly that comes put of her mouth,” he directed his staff.

And the Associated Press in September reported that three fundraising lists and a donor call list tailored for Bennett were discovered on state computers after he left.

State law prohibits employees from conducting campaign work on state equipment or state time.

All parties will be able to present evidence at a public hearing before the State Ethics Commission, with Thomas having the burden of proving the allegations. Thomas declined to comment further.

It’s unclear what ramifications Bennett faces if found guilty.

Past ethics cases show former employees being fined thousands of dollars and being banned from future employment with the state. The ethics commission can forward cases to police and prosecutors.

nkelly@jg.net

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