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The Journal Gazette

  • Congressman Todd Rokita speaks with voters during a meet and greet held at the Allen County GOP headquarters earlier this year. (Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette)

Friday, April 13, 2018 1:00 am

Rokita facing ethics questions

Accused of misusing GOP donor database in his office

BRIAN SLODYSKO | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – Senate candidate Todd Rokita likely violated ethics laws as Indiana's secretary of state by repeatedly accessing a Republican donor database from his government office, prompting party officials to lock him out of the system until he angrily complained, three former GOP officials told The Associated Press.

Rokita, currently a congressman, is in a bitter primary fight for the right to challenge Joe Donnelly, who is considered one of the Senate's most vulnerable Democrats. The alleged ethics flap over Rokita's use of the Indiana Republican Party's Salesforce database during work hours occurred in 2009, as he was wrapping up a second term as the state's chief elections official and angling for higher office.

Indiana law prohibits state employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or acting in an official capacity. It also prohibits work on anything outside official duties while on the clock, or ordering others to do so, and from using state resources for political purposes.

The former officials, who have direct knowledge of the situation, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about it publicly. They did not report Rokita's activity to authorities at the time.

Rokita's campaign spokesman Nathan Brand said Thursday that Rokita used the database to keep his personal Rolodex, which Brand said was allowed under state ethics guidance the office received. However, Rokita's campaign could not produce documents outlining the guidance, and the office of current Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said it could not locate any such records.

“This is a baseless and unsubstantiated hit job. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing provided beside the word of anonymous sources with ties to political opponents,” Brand said.

State party officials were alarmed when they discovered that a computer in Rokita's Statehouse office frequently logged in to the database containing detailed campaign information on activists and donors. They froze his access to the system but restored it after Rokita complained.

His government use of the database violated the party's user agreement, which is intended to prevent officeholders from violating state ethics law, one of the officials said.

The secretary of state's office later asked for a list of GOP county chairmen and their contact info, according to the officials and emails obtained by the AP. But after Rokita's office was denied a copy, an IP address tied to his government office again accessed the database, according to an email exchange between a state party official and a county party chairman.

Soon thereafter, county party chairmen began receiving mailers from the secretary of state's office promoting Rokita's “Rethinking Redistricting” initiative, the emails state.

Rokita's redistricting plan, which he championed while running for Congress in 2010, would have made it a felony for lawmakers to take into account political considerations during the once-in-a-decade redrawing of legislative and congressional districts. As secretary of state, his office had no authority to enact the plan, which would have required approval from the Legislature and governor. He did, however, receive considerable recognition for the initiative, which boosted his public profile.