The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. October 3, 2020

Campaign finance fixes must boost transparency

Indiana state Sen. Brent Waltz’s 2016 bid for the 9th District congressional seat looked like a long shot to most observers. Former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller was a candidate in the five-person Republican primary, along with state Sen. Erin Houchin and Trey Hollingsworth, who had recently moved to the southern Indiana district with much family money to spend on his campaign.

But an Indiana lawmaker-turned-casino executive apparently thought Waltz was a good bet. A federal indictment unsealed last week alleges former state Sen. John Keeler worked with Waltz to set up a straw donor operation, transferring $40,000 from New Centaur LLC, which owned and operated Indiana casinos and horse tracks, to the former Greenwood lawmaker’s campaign.

A month before Election Day, the federal charges are a timely reminder of the ever-present risk of corruption posed by campaign cash. Wrongdoing might have been caught in this example, but recurring cases of campaign finance violations suggest stricter regulation is needed.

The Waltz/Keeler indictments aren’t the only Indiana campaign finance scandals with a gambling tie. In August, Democrat Joe Stahura, the five-term mayor of Whiting, added to northwest Indiana’s tarnished political reputation when federal prosecutors announced felony charges against him and his wife. Stahura resigned and entered a guilty plea last month, admitting he used $255,000 in campaign funds for gambling and other personal uses. Some of the money covered debts at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond; the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Blue Sky Casino in French Lick.

Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said such examples shouldn’t be surprising.

“We are all flawed human beings. When money plays the role that it does in getting elected, it’s easy to understand why people get enticed to find ways around rules,” he said. “It doesn’t make it right, of course.”

At the state level, Indiana law allows unlimited contributions from an individual while requiring candidates to disclose who gives them money. But Indiana law is murkier on how those campaign contributions can be used, Downs noted.

“You can spend money in a way that you think benefits your campaign, and that is incredibly gray,” he said. “At the federal level, it takes an incredible amount of money to run a competitive race. Because of the limits that federal donors have, I think people go looking for ways to get around it.”

While indictments were handed down in the 9th District and Whiting situations, they reveal the need for stronger campaign finance law, Downs noted. He cited Indiana reporting deadlines allowing a candidate a window to accept contributions that won’t be revealed until after the election. It made sense before electronic contribution reporting; not now.

“If I, as a voter, should be able to make decisions based in part on how a campaign spends its money and where it got the money, I should be able to know that before the election,” he said.

Stronger campaign finance laws, however, have to come from those who are expected to follow them. Cases such as the ones that just came to light should signal a need, but it’s too easy for lawmakers to dismiss them as isolated incidents. What they must understand is the integrity of their offices and trust in government is damaged with every campaign finance scandal.

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South Bend Tribune. October 2, 2020

Clock is ticking for Hoosiers to register to vote

The line has been repeated so often over the years, by candidates of every stripe, that it’s become all to easy to dismiss it.

This is the most important election ever.

But this year — with a clearly divided and uneasy nation in the midst of a public health crisis — hardly seems the time to sit out an election. With so much at stake, this is your opportunity to let your voice be heard.

For Indiana voters, the deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 3 election is Monday. It’s also a good idea to check to make sure your registration is valid. Hoosiers can do both at indianavoters.in.gov., where you’ll also find information about who is on the ballot and polling place locations.

Those who doubt that one vote makes a difference need look no further than the 2016 election, when more than 120 million votes were cast nationwide — and 107,000 votes in three states — 0.09% of all votes cast — determined the outcome of the presidential race. Locally, there have been races in recent years that have been decided by fewer than 100 votes.

In addition to the presidential race, statewide races include Indiana governor. There also are seats in the Indiana House and Senate on the ballot.

Voters have the opportunity to weigh in on county-level and school board races that have a direct impact on their daily lives. The letters that run on the Voices pages indicate that this community has plenty to say on topics ranging from school policies to leaf pickup. Voting is another way to speak up, to take action on the issues you care about.

It doesn’t take much time to register to vote and follow through by casting a vote. But the impact can be long-lasting.

The clock is ticking in Indiana. Register to vote.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. October 2, 2020

Americans must remain serious about coronavirus

News that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus shook America and the world in the wee hours of Friday morning.

The reality was unsettling for multiple reasons. Foremost is the concern for the president and his wife, now among the latest of 7,213,419 Americans to be infected with COVID-19, the viral ailment that mushroomed into a pandemic last winter. The country is pulling for the president and first lady to join the ranks of those who have recovered fully and quickly.

Even amid a presidential election season that has divided the nation, our common humanity and empathy must prevail. The United States needs its incumbent leader healthy and strong through the year’s closing months. The federal government faces important issues this fall, topped by the handling of the pandemic response and its consequences on Americans’ health and livelihoods.

The revelation that the Trumps tested positive — disclosed by the president himself in, characteristically, a 12:54 a.m. tweet — also jolted Americans because of his cavalier approach to the coronavirus. The president has admittedly downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, dismissed the value of wearing face masks to prevent spreading the disease to others, and continues to conduct rallies before crowds that are not masked up or socially distanced. Trump’s ridicule of Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden’s persistent mask wearing works against public health experts’ pleas for people to cover their faces.

COVID-19 has changed the minds of many who have contracted it, though. Survivors, who once shunned masks and distancing, tell compelling stories of their struggles to recover and now urge others to heed the advice of the doctors and scientists.

Ideally, the president will rapidly and fully shed a mild case of the virus, along with Melania and others within his circles. Likewise, let us hope the experience prompts him to no longer view COVID-19 as a political problem and to respect the counsel of reputable public health officials and agencies that are working to protect average citizens coast to coast. That epiphany should also stir the president to reengage with the World Health Organization, a vital coalition in the pandemic fight. Trump pulled the U.S. from the WHO earlier this year, scapegoating the imperfect yet necessary multinational organization.

As the nation has learned in 2020, a pandemic does not remain confined to one country. Until coronavirus is controlled abroad, the “normal” lifestyles Americans now long for — including freely traveling the country and globe for work or pleasure — will remain on hold. The quest for a vaccine is ongoing in multiple countries and the discovery of the right one and a system to distribute it — most likely sometime in 2021 — could benefit people of every nationality.

The president’s brush with COVID-19 can also impact state and local strategies. If he embraces a more realistic outlook on the virus, the political pressure will decrease on governors to prematurely throttle up their state economies and hustle young people back to school and college for in-person classes.

This highly contagious virus is unaffected by the election in the U.S. People in India and other parts of Asia, Latin America and Europe, where cases continue to rise, have no logical reason to expect the virus to somehow vanish on Nov. 4, the day after Americans finish voting.

COVID-19 is a legitimate health crisis — the worst in a century. Since just March, it has taken the lives of 206,402 Americans, including 3,429 in Indiana and 8,696 in Illinois. Autumn has the potential for more illness and heartache. Doctor Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, urged people to not back off public health protocols and instead “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.”

Ten days into the fall season, the president announced he and Melania have tested positive. This disease is serious. America’s approach to it must be equally serious.

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