By Erica Irish
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Election Commission says House Speaker Brian Bosma did not violate state laws when he used campaign funds to investigate a former intern who alleged they had a sexual encounter in the early 1990s.
The commission – comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats – ruled unanimously at its Jan. 31 meeting that Indiana law permits candidates to use their campaign contributions to fend off attacks that can affect their political careers.
“This was a question of law, not a question of fact,” said Bryce Bennett Jr., the Republican chairman of the Indiana Election Commission. “It’s pretty clear under campaign finance laws that there’s nothing against using campaign funds to respond to activities that are politically averse to a candidate.”
Bosma did not comment on the decision himself. Instead, his attorney Margaret Christensen of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, emailed a statement on his behalf.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. Photo by Alexa Freeman, TheStatehouseFile.com
“We are pleased with the bipartisan and unanimous decision made by the Indiana Election Commission during its recent public meeting to dismiss the complaint, which was clearly politically motivated,” she stated. “Moving forward, the speaker will continue to fully cooperate with the House Ethics Committee and is confident the committee members will do their due diligence to come to a conclusion.”
In the face of the #MeToo movement in which many political and public figures came under scrutiny for improper sexual conduct, questions swirled about decades-old rumors about Bosma. In early 2018, he used more than $44,000 of his campaign funds to hire an attorney, Linda Pence of the Indianapolis law firm SmithAmundsen LLC, to investigate the former intern.
Bosma has denied any relationship with the woman. The former intern, Kandy Green, told The Indianapolis Star she had a consensual sexual encounter with Bosma. Green said she was shaken by Pence’s investigation, in which numerous family members were contacted in what they interpreted as an attempt to intimidate her out of publicly discussing the relationship.
Pence – a former Democratic candidate for attorney general and no relation to Vice President Mike Pence – did not respond to a request for comment. She has previously denied any intimidation of Green.
The allegations became public, though, because Pence was hired to look into them. And in November, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Weingarten asked the Indiana Election Commission to investigate the use of campaign funds, saying in an email to the commission that the $44,000 to Pence’s firm was meant to “dig up embarrassing information” on Green.
“The use of these funds was accomplished without any grounds for the investigation related to his public office or election,” Weingarten alleged.
All four members of the election commission — Republicans Bennett and Zachary Klutz and Democrats S. Anthony Long and Suzannah Wilson Overholt — voted against pursuing the allegations, according to a memo sent to Bosma by Secretary of State Connie Lawson.
A separate investigation is still possible through the House Ethics Committee, which would be responsible for examining Bosma’s alleged behavior and determining if his actions violated ethics rules applied to state representatives.
Despite calls from some Democrats, including former Rep. Linda Lawson of Hammond, that members on the House Ethics Committee move forward with an investigation, the committee has yet to publicly announce a course of action for addressing the allegations.
But the same day election commission members voted against an investigation in their department, Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, said the House Ethics Committee held an executive meeting to consider next steps in reviewing Bosma’s conduct. Executive sessions are closed to the public and Negele, who chairs the committee, declined to disclose additional details about their discussion.
“That’s really all I have to say, because it’s an executive session and we believe in preserving the integrity of that,” Negele said. “We’re a bipartisan committee and all very committed to working together and fairly on this.”
House Ethics Committee Co-Chair Sue Errington, D-Muncie, agreed with her colleague, noting the public can expect to hear more about the committee’s discussions when more information is available.
“We take it seriously when there’s a complaint like this,” Errington said. “But we know it’s also important to secure the facts, and we just don’t have them yet.”
Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, has been criticized for signing an Oct. 11 letter issued by House Republicans in Bosma’s defense while he served as the ethics committee chair. He remains a majority member on the committee.
In January, both the House and Senate adopted new standards in their ethics codes that prohibited any sexual contact or conduct between lawmakers and paid or unpaid interns, including when the act is consensual.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.