The Indiana Legislature’s ethics rules are not “strong.” Consequently, Rep. Eric Turner did not violate them when lobbying for legislative action or inaction that concerned millions of dollars in investments for him and his family.
Jim Shella, writing for WISHTV reports that the House Ethics Committee will vote next week but that it will be a formality. There are no rules about what a member can say or do in a private caucus which is apparently where Turner did the heavy lifting in his efforts to kill a bill that would have put a crimp in his family’s nursing home development business.
Turner, a Cicero Republican, did send written responses to committee questions and Chairman Greg Steuerwald read some of them aloud including one where Turner said, “I violated neither House rules, nor the code of ethics.”
It’s all about legislation that could benefit the Mainstreet Property Group, a nursing home company that builds upscale facilities. It’s owned by Rep. Turner’s son and Turner is an investor.
During a private GOP caucus, Turner argued against a nursing home moratorium that would hurt the company. He admitted to doing so in a written response.
“I offered my particular expertise on the nursing home industry and the nursing home moratorium,” he said in answer read aloud by Steuerwald.
The committee found that there are no rules that apply to private caucuses.
One thing I found remarkable is that Turner only had to provide written responses to interrogatories for the committee. He was never required to sit for a deposition or to give live testimony to the committee. He didn’t even show up for the hearing. Interrogatory responses are a poor substitute for live questioning. It’s dead easy to draft interrogatory responses that technically answer the question ask but which are equivocal and avoid answering directly those points you’d rather not address.
But, if there are no ethics rules or they are very weak, then it’s likely that Turner didn’t in fact break them. So there is not much more that the committee can do — even if it were so inclined. That speaks to a need for developing a set of rules that are more substantial than the fig leaf the General Assembly currently has.