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March 11, 2012

HOWEY: Mourdock’s office and campaign in the shadows

GREENCASTLE — GREENCASTLE — The strangest thing happened to me this week. A political campaign sent an email to newspaper editors around the state that publish this column. Jim Holden, who manages Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s U.S. Senate campaign, made a preemptive strike at a column I had yet to decide whether I will even write. I had made an inquiry into the Wireless 911 Fund that the treasurer is associated with. Holden supplied the editors with the questions I had asked, along with my request to interview the candidate.

“As you can see from the email below, Brian Howey approached an inquiry to Richard Mourdock’s office with an accusation, and it is clear from his use of the term ‘slush fund’ that he already has his story written before he gathers the facts,” Holden wrote.

Which is untrue. As a journalist, I had received a tip from a Republican Statehouse source about this fund, and Treasurer Mourdock’s association with the Indiana Bond Bank. I had yet to ask Mourdock’s office about the latter.

The irony of this is that this week the third part of the trident Richard Mourdock intends to draw at U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar — the National Rifle Association — held the incumbent to task over what it perceives as aggrieved votes.

As any challenger candidate to a Congressional incumbent would, it’s fair game for Mourdock to make any Lugar vote an issue.

But when it comes to Mourdock’s own conduct in the treasurer’s office, he has refused to sit down with this writer and other reporters to explain what his increasingly obscure office actually does.

As a journalist, my interest was heightened by 2007 remarks Mourdock made to the Wabash Conservative Union at Wabash College. Asked to define his duties, he responded, “Simultaneously very narrow, which is to say, in the constitution the only description of this office, is that the State Treasurer shall serve as the state’s chief financial officer.”

“The only constitutional duty I have is to make sure we earn the highest possible grade of interest on the funds of the State of Indiana. I believe that I have the greatest job in all of Indiana government because I have huge responsibilities, which I like, I have tremendous latitude, I get to be creative, and I don’t think any newspaper reporter knows we exist. It can’t get any better than that.”

Seasoned officeholders know that when a complex situation arises, they will gather the media in a either “on” or “off the record” briefings. While Mourdock describes himself as “Indiana’s chief financial officer,” what I have learned is that the treasurer’s duties are contracting. There are wide swathes of the Indiana financial world he has nothing to do with. For instance, the state’s two largest pension funds [public employees and teachers] are no longer part of the treasurer’s portfolio.

And much of the portfolio the treasurer does have is managed by private investment firms. It’s not easy to determine where the buck actually stops.

In taking Lugar to task for his record, Mourdock has raised a relatively paltry sum of $1.3 million to run a statewide campaign that, if serious, would cost $600,000 a week to reach a statewide TV audience.

What is happening is that a triumvirate of outsiders — the NRA, Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks — are funding the Mourdock campaign. They can do this because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, which allows unions and outside advocacy groups to pour as much money into a campaign as they can without attributing from where and who that money comes from. These “Super PACs” can talk to each other, but by law, they cannot coordinate with a political campaign, such as Mourdock’s.

So while Mourdock is castigating Lugar for living in Virginia and spending so much time traveling the world to reduce and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, the fate of his own campaign relies on outside Washington-based groups.

In the next eight weeks, you will get to see all of this play out on your TV set, computer screen and mailbox. FreedomWorks is coordinating and paying for ground game materials. Club for Growth is bundling money — most from outside the state — to finance TV on behalf of Mourdock. The NRA will be providing direct mail and communicate “every way possible” the message against Lugar.

In the face of negative ads against him, Mourdock has alleged that his opponents and the press are out to “destroy” him. Anyone who has read this column since I began writing it in 1985 knows I have no track record of “destroying” anyone. It’s not my nature. I try to explain things. That’s what journalists should be doing. We just elected a secretary of state who has been convicted of felonies and was kicked out of office.

All of this calls into question Mourdock’s temperament. He’s an emotional guy. He weeps on the stump — literally — when he professes his love for America. And I believe him. But when it comes to his conduct in office and on the campaign trail, what we find is opaqueness. The transparency is lacking. Mourdock is making a compelling case for some quarters against Sen. Lugar, yet his own office and campaign are cloaked in the shadows.

The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at bhowey2@gmail.com.

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