What state’s new Office of Legislative Ethics does remains mystery

South Bend Tribune

Last year, Indiana earned a D-minus in a comprehensive assessment of state government accountability and transparency.

A new ethics reform law, passed in 2015 in the wake of a number of scandals, was supposed to address some of the state’s problems.

But the devil is in the details, and according to a recent report, one particular detail is hardly encouraging.

Within the legislative ethics reform bill was a provision that created the Office of Legislative Ethics, with John Robert “Bob” Rudolph named chief counsel. As reported by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, a full year later, what he or the office does remains a mystery.

Hard to fathom an ethics office that offers no public statistics, issues no formal or informal opinions and displays no transparency in records, meetings or notes.

That’s a far cry from earlier vows of openness that would increase the public’s trust in the legislative process.

Instead of building trust, this situation serves to create suspicion about the office as well as the larger bill of which it’s a part. That measure, which closed loopholes that allowed state employees to take lucrative jobs with businesses they regulate, came in the wake of an ethics scandal. In that scandal, former legislator Eric Turner privately lobbied against a nursing home bill that would have financially hurt a business run by his family.

One of Rudolph’s roles in his $119,000 position — which includes other duties — is to respond to questions about potential legislator conflicts on certain issues or bills.

George Angelone, head of the Indiana Legislative Services Agency, says the office does “our best to provide services the legislature needs.”

But providing those services in such an opaque manner does nothing to inspire confidence from the public — or raise a failing grade in accountability and transparency.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.