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July 15, 2012

Purdue trustees, companies were Daniels donors

WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue University trustees who elected Gov. Mitch Daniels as the school’s next president contributed more than $27,000 to Daniels’ two campaigns for governor or a political action committee supporting him, state campaign finance records show.

The donations were made by six of the 10 trustees or their companies and included more than $14,000 donated by members of the search committee established to identify finalists to succeed President France Cordova, the Journal & Courier reported.

The donations have helped fuel questions about whether Purdue’s trustees, eight of whom were appointed by Daniels, made an objective decision to hire him as the university’s next president once he leaves office in January.

Purdue trustees say politics had no part in the decision. Chairman Keith Krach said Daniels was chosen for his accomplishments and abilities.

“The overriding interest of the board of trustees was to appoint the best president in the interest of Purdue University. Mitch Daniels was the top pick selected by the search committee and the unanimous choice of an independent board of trustees,” Krach said.

“The only influence we felt was the need to find and recruit the best possible person for the position. “

Records from the Indiana Secretary of State’s website show donations from Purdue’s current trustees and their companies to Daniels totaling $27,471 between 2003 and 2010.

The trustees’ largest contributor to Daniels’ political campaign was Gary Lehman, who contributed $8,500 in 2008. Lehman, president and chief executive of Fairfield Manufacturing Inc., was appointed to the board in August 2010. In October 2010, Lehman contributed $2,500 to Daniels’ Aiming Higher political action committee.

Lehman, Michael Berghoff and JoAnn Brouillette were on the presidential search committee. Berghoff’s company, Lenex Steel Co. of Indianapolis, donated $2,250 to Daniels between 2003 and 2007. Brouillette, president of Demeter LP in Flower, donated $3,222 to the election campaign between 2003 and 2006. Demeter contributed $1,000 each to Daniels’ campaign in 2008 and Aiming Higher in 2009.

Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski called the notion of influence based on election donations “illogical.”

Purdue spokesman Chris Sigurdson said several of the trustees have also donated generously to the university, “on the order of tens of millions of dollars.”

“Anyone who doubts where the trustees’ interests lie isn’t very good at math,” Sigurdson said.

Even so, said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, questions about appearances of conflict of interest “still cast a dark cloud over what many likely consider an exciting appointment.”

Howie Zelaznik, a 32-year Purdue health and kinesiology researcher, said most professors are keeping an open mind about Daniels’ presidency but says there are perceptions that the relationship between Daniels and the trustees is too close.

“In the academic world, conflict of interest is quite strict,” he said.

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