General Assembly puts self-interests ahead of Hoosiers’ best interests
One obvious answer to the rampant promotion of personal interests in the Indiana General Assembly is greater transparency.
Report all outside income and financial ties. Make clear exactly whom campaign contributions and other gifts come from, and stop allowing influence-seekers to hide their activities under surrogate names. End the insulting practice of letting meals bought by lobbyists for legislators go unreported unless they cost more than $50.
Common sense and basic ethics. Yet there’s no sign of movement into such sunlight, despite a flurry of media attention to the ingrained coziness between lawmakers and special interests.
Nor — and this may be the key — is there much embarrassment about conflicts even when they’re exposed.
Two egregious examples made the news last week.
The coal industry won protection, at the expense of consumers, thanks to two legislators who hold high-level jobs in coal and the railroads that haul it.
A lobbyist for a company seeking a multimillion-dollar state contract got help from her father, a House leader, just a week after the governor placed a hold on state aid the lawmaker reportedly helped obtain for his son’s company.
In both instances, the elected officials insisted they were objective stewards of the public’s will and wouldn’t dream of acting out of personal interest.
The stakes are especially high in the case of the Rockport coal-to-gas conversion project, a nearly $3 billion deal that will cost utility ratepayers dearly if the price of natural gas, now low by historical standards, does not rise over time.
State Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the Senate Utility Committee, and Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield, succeeded in turning back efforts by both parties to add consumer protections to the Rockport bill.