News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 3, 2013

D.C. group not happy with how Indiana handling complaint

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Washington D.C. watchdog group that accused Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp Jr. of improperly benefiting from a not-for-profit organization has gotten its first official response to one of its complaints — and it’s not happy.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW, got a letter dated July 23 from Jerold A. Bonnet, general counsel for the Indiana Secretary of State. That letter cast doubt on the Secretary of State’s office’s jurisdiction over CREW’s complaint.

In its complaint, CREW contended that the James Madison Center for Free Speech, of which Bopp is general counsel, violated Indiana law by failing to file articles of incorporation and annual reports with the state.

In his response, Bonnet questioned his office’s jurisdiction in the matter.

CREW “seems to conclude that JMCFS is ‘located’ in Terre Haute, Indiana – and therefore must be registered with the Indiana Secretary of State. Based on the exhibits provided, I have not been able to reach the same conclusion,” Bonnet wrote in the letter, which CREW provided to the Tribune-Star.

This response stunned Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW and a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and former lawyer on Capitol Hill.

“It’s literally impossible for a person to come to that determination,” Sloan said.

Federal tax forms filed by the James Madison Center indicate it is located in Terre Haute, Sloan said. And the JMCFS website also indicates the non-profit is based in Terre Haute, she said.

A check Friday of the JMCFS website found the organization is described as a District of Columbia not-for-profit. However, donations to the organization are directed to a Terre Haute address.

CREW also believes Bonnet is mistaken when he states that JMCFS “claims to be a private foundation,” meaning it is not required to register with the Secretary of State.

Sloan disagrees, stating that the James Madison Center is also a corporation, and, therefore, is required to register. That’s spelled out on the Indiana Secretary of State’s own website, she said.

Bonnet’s letter to CREW “seems to completely mis-state, perhaps deliberately mis-state, that law, or maybe the guy’s just a very bad lawyer,” Sloan told the Tribune-Star Thursday.

CREW further believes that Bonnet may have a conflict of interest concerning Bopp. It points to a June 2011 article in the Northwest Indiana Times stating that Bonnet was called out at a hearing of the Indiana Recount Commission investigating whether former Secretary of State Charlie White committed voter fraud. The hearing was “briefly halted” when one of the commissioners “spotted” Bonnet “passing documents to Bopp,” who was White’s attorney, the newspaper reported.

This past association with Bopp may indicate “bias” in Bopp’s favor, CREW alleges.

Bonnet did not respond Friday to a request from the Tribune-Star for comment on this and other matters related to the CREW complaint. However, on Thursday, the Secretary of State’s office did issue a statement regarding CREW’s original complaint and Bonnet’s response.

“Complaints received by the office are reviewed by more than one staff member and are always handled in a professional manner,” stated Valerie Kroeger, communications director for the Secretary of State. “This complaint is being treated just like any other.”

Jim Bopp could not be reached Friday for comment.

CREW filed a number of complaints against Bopp in early July, including with the Internal Revenue Service and the Indiana Attorney General.

For more information on the James Madison Center for Free Speech, visit its website at www.jamesmadisoncenter.org. For more information on CREW, visit its website at www.citizensforethics.org.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com