The Herald Bulletin

September 13, 2013

Lanane calls for investigation of Bennett lists


The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's Senate Democratic leader called for an investigation Thursday after fundraising lists for former state schools chief Tony Bennett were discovered on state computers.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said more information is needed about the discovery of the campaign materials. Indiana Inspector General David Thomas has confirmed his office is investigating Bennett but hasn't described the nature of the probe.

"Obviously if there were databases being kept on state equipment and if personnel were being dispatched to do campaign work on their official time, that is a concern that needs to be investigated," he said.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that three Republican fundraising lists and a donor call list for Bennett had been found on state hard drives. Bennett also sent an email from his state account directing staff to dissect a campaign appearance by Democratic opponent Glenda Ritz.

Both could violate Indiana election and ethics laws, but Bennett has denied any violations. Calendar items show Bennett had more than 100 entries of "campaign calls" blocked off to call donors, but he said he did not make any calls from his Statehouse office.

Bennett resigned as Florida's schools chief last month, shortly after the AP published emails showing he changed Indiana's school-grading formula to benefit a charter school founded by a campaign donor. A pair of legislative investigators found Bennett's changes were made by a staff that was rushed last year to get out a complicated school grading system and were evenly applied to other schools. But they added their findings did not exonerate Bennett.

Indiana's major party leaders, meanwhile, pointed their anger over the most recent Bennett revelations at different state officials.

Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Thomas needs to reveal his findings "quickly and transparently."

"First we learned that Tony Bennett and his staff tweaked the accountability rules they created to improve grades for certain schools. Then we learned that a small group of powerful Republicans masterminded Bennett's education plan. And now we know that Bennett directed his staff to engage in political campaign activities while they were on taxpayer time," he said.

Thomas said Thursday that he could not comment on ongoing investigations.

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry meanwhile said Ritz needs to explain whether the release of public records to the AP constitute a political attack against Bennett.

"Superintendent Ritz can't get away with not answering simple questions. Hoosiers deserve to know what comes first in the Ritz Department of Education: students, parents and teachers or settling political scores," Berry said.

Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman said "the department doesn't make it a practice to respond to un-sourced gossip and innuendo."