News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

July 10, 2014

Editorial: The Bennett ‘settlement’

Resolution falls short of advancing cause of ethics

TERRE HAUTE — It takes a special kind of arrogance to flout ethics laws in the manner which former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has violated them. Even when he finally admitted his transgressions, he claimed he could have avoided the matter altogether had he just changed the department’s ethics policy before engaging in the troublesome conduct.

In essence, this was the old “mistakes were made” acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And the real mistake to which Bennett admits was apparently not changing the rules before he violated them. This is a truly Nixonian moment.

The State Ethics Commission fined Bennett $5,000 for using state resources to conduct campaign work. The fine represented a settlement between Bennett’s defense team and Inspector General David Thomas.

We’re pleased that the Ethics Commission took this case seriously enough to conclude that violations of ethics rules occurred and they were worth exacting a penalty. But we’re left with a sinking feeling that the penalty didn’t really match the seriousness of the violations.

The Inspector General’s report noted that Bennett, who as an elected official is not required to hold himself to the same standards of conduct to which his employees are held, could have legally changed his department policy as it relates to him prior to participating in the controversial activity. It is perhaps the strangest twist yet in this bizarre episode.

Of course, Bennett would most likely have escaped any scrutiny at all if not for his defeat in the 2012 general election.

This case is now closed. Bennett acknowledged his “mistakes” and must pay an unimpressive fine. Still, we question if this result does much to advance the cause of ethical government.

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