Time might heal all wounds, but it won’t repair the damage Rep. P. Eric Turner did to the integrity of the Indiana General Assembly. For lawmakers to mend the institution after his self-serving behavior, they must quickly close the conflict-of-interest loopholes that allowed him to abuse his power.
For now, the determination by the House Ethics Committee that Turner’s actions have not achieved the highest spirit of transparency must suffice, along with the panel’s acknowledgment that our rules do not require enough disclosure. Other states have strong rules that can easily be adopted.
The danger, however, is that the ethics committee report will serve as the last word on the incident, and a conflict will continue to be strictly interpreted in terms of sponsoring or voting on bills in which lawmakers have a direct and substantial financial interest. Indeed, Indianapolis attorney Toby McClamroch, who represents Turner, called the report an exoneration. The Cicero legislator, with a direct financial interest in his son’s nursing home development company, abstained from votes on a proposed nursing home moratorium but secretly argued against it in political caucus.
Fortunately, the Republican caucus included at least one legislator conscientious enough to blow the whistle on Turner. The majority not only kept quiet but overlooked his glaring conflict to kill the nursing home construction ban.
Some House Republicans seemingly bought into the thinking that excuses clear conflicts of interest as professional expertise. Yet Turner’s background is in running an investment company and a fireworks business. To accept that his remarks informed debate about the nursing home industry and its effect on public spending for Medicare strains credulity.
Rep. Tim Brown, an emergency room physician, can lend expertise to issues regarding emergency medicine, or Rep. Kreg Battles, a high school chemistry teacher, can offer insight into classroom instruction and curriculum. But neither is likely to see a direct financial gain from their input. That’s a distinction some legislators fail to acknowledge.
The Associated Press reported that Turner earned nearly $8 million on nursing home developments in the past two years and could earn between $1 million and $2 million on projects now cleared for development because the proposed construction ban was killed.
For any lawmaker to defend such an egregious conflict suggests the General Assembly is sorely in need of ethics training.