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Top Democrat says Daniels' RV probe is a sham; former Clay County Prosecutor also being criticized

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

By MIKE SMITH

AP Political Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A former Clay County prosecutor is finding himself at the center of a controversy involving Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party is scoffing at an ethics probe into Daniels' stop at a GOP fundraiser in a donated RV as a predictable, political punt.

"It doesn't shock me at all that Mitch Daniels' own inspector would let him off," said Democratic Chairman Dan Parker.

Daniels' appointed inspector general, David Thomas, said Monday that his governor did not violate ethics codes by taking a donated recreational vehicle he uses as a mobile office to a political fundraiser for a state legislator.

Thomas, of Brazil, resigned as the Clay County prosecutor when he was asked to become the state inspector general by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The report said RV1 was simply used to take Daniels to a fish fry for Republican Rep. Troy Woodruff of Vincennes on July 19. Thomas said he found no evidence that anyone from the general public boarded the RV or was charged money for doing so.

He said no further inquiry was warranted.

An article by the Evansville Courier & Press published the day after the event said people paid $25 to attend the fundraiser, some shook hands with Daniels and boarded the RV for a look around. The article did not say anyone was charged to get on the RV.

But Parker asked for the investigation. He said the RV was donated to the state and likened its use at the fundraiser to charging people to enter the governor's office or residence.

Daniels said legal counsel told him there was nothing wrong with taking the RV to the event. Harry Gonso, his chief of staff, issued a statement Monday saying Daniels would be pleased to "have this distraction behind us." But he included a trailer disclaimer.

"Going forward, the governor does not intend to take RV1 to political events," Gonso said. "Even though it is ethical, legal and would actually save taxpayer money, he sees no sense in fueling a contrived political controversy, or in risking that any more of the inspector general's time would be diverted from important work."

Daniels has said that the RV saves taxpayer money because it and the fuel it uses have been donated.

Parker had questioned whether Daniels violated an ethics rules on the use of state resources. To do that, Thomas said there must be evidence that state property was used for something other than state business, and if so, there was no written policy permitting that use.

Although the RV might be seen as an extension of the governor's office, "it is fundamentally a means of transportation," Thomas said. "On this point, it is difficult not to acknowledge that elected state officers will inevitably be transported for occasional personal or political purposes."

Thomas noted media reports that said past governors used state vehicles to go to political events, but expenses for the travel were reimbursed. But he said such practices were sporadic at best, and not a part of ethics rules.

Parker cited a newspaper article that said some members of the general public toured the RV. A later article named a husband and wife and said they boarded the RV with their twin 6-year-olds.

But Thomas' report said his office contacted the mother and she denied information in the article. Thomas's office also spoke to some troopers who were providing security for Daniels at the event.

One said he was always within sight of the RV and did not see any member of the public get on board. Two other troopers said the same.

Eric Holcomb, a member of the governor's office, said he saw no one tour the RV, "but added that if someone had, it probably would have been a spontaneous and unplanned occurrence as has happened in the past," the report said.

J. Bruce Baumann, executive editor of the Courier & Press, said the newspaper stands behind its reporter.

"She personally observed ordinary citizens entering and leaving RV1, and therefore, we stand behind her story," he said.

Parker, the state Democratic chairman, said he was disappointed but not surprised about the report.

"Mitch Daniels said this (RV) is an extension of his office, so I guess we can have fundraisers from the state office," he said.



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