INDIANAPOLIS – A controversial contract between a state senator and a virtual charter school continued to be a topic of conversation Thursday as legislative leaders defended the Wells County lawmaker while also being open to possible changes in the future.
The same leaders pledged to donate money to education entities to make up for political contributions they took from those involved in the scandal.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said they would donate money equal to the amounts they received from the entities related to the now-defunct virtual schools accused of defrauding taxpayers of $68 million. The move also covers money received by the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority Campaign Committee.
They encouraged individual members to do so as well.
The Indiana Democratic Party said current or former elected Indiana Republicans and their associated campaign committees received more than $100,000 in contributions from companies and individuals tied to the scandal.
Bosma accepted $10,000 and Bray $2,000. Area lawmakers who received contributions include $700 for Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne; $500 for Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne; $300 for Rep. Dave Heine, R-New Haven; $3,000 for Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn; $1,200 for Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn; $1,000 for Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen; $5,000 to former state Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne; $400 for Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington; $700 for former Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion; $3,000 for Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle; $2,000 for Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne; and $700 for Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne.
Holdman's contribution is getting extra attention after The Journal Gazette reported Monday that he was on contract with the Indiana Virtual School for consulting services from 2011 to 2019. He would not reveal how much money he made.
His economic interest statements noted that he earns outside income from his consulting firm but didn't list individual clients.
“Obviously it doesn't look good,” Bosma said.
“I trust Sen. Holdman, first of all, that there was nothing illegal here. Whether it appears bad that will be in the eye of the beholder,” he added.
He said Indiana lawmakers have requirements to disclose clients if it constitutes 25% or more of the legislator's income. That law was put in place 25 years ago after former legislator Sam Turpin was criminally charged. He was accused of concealing money he received from an entity involved in a riverboat casino project. That entity was his only client but he simply claimed the money came from his consulting business.
“That threshold may need to be reexamined,” Bosma said.
Bray said he doesn't think Holdman did anything wrong.
“I think that when he began to see a problem he decided to step out which was the right thing to do. If I had to guess I think he might wish he had that back,” he said. “We all have jobs outside of the legislature and Sen. Holdman is no exception.”
Holdman told The Journal Gazette he helped with only high-level strategy and personnel discussions and had no day-to-day involvement with the schools. He was on a monthly retainer but declined to say how much – only that it was a small contract. He canceled the contract when word came out last year the schools were inflating enrollment and taking millions in state dollars they shouldn't have. A federal investigation is ongoing into the founders and operators of the schools, which have since shuttered.