Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rep. Jacque Clements's Conflict of Interest: What Happens When Laws Are Not Enforced

Both Josh Gillespie of Hoosier Access and Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana have excellent reports on conflict of interest troubles faced by Rep. Jacque Clements, a Republican from Clinton County. In short, Clements who had been Auditor of Clinton County, was employed by software vendor Manatron when she was selected at a Republican vacancy in 2004 to fill out the remainder of a state representative's term. She was subsequently re-elected in her own right.

Allegedly in 2004, Rep. Clements failed to note her employment with Manatron, which company received a contract with her Auditor's Office for tax billing software. That contract expired in 2007. Clements, elected to her state representative position, began working part-time as a Deputy Clinton County Auditor (she has since been terminated for allegedly misusing the county's email system.) By the time the Manatron contract ended in 2007, Rep. Clements had begun working for a company, Nikish, which was started by former Manatron employees. While employed by Nikish, Rep. Clements then acted on her own to negotiate a contract with Nikish that would allow the conversion of the Manatron data. A lawsuit filed by the county suggests that the Nikish software is non-compliant with state requirements and the county has incurred damages in having to reconvert the data for Manatron.

I'm not sure it would qualify as a "revolving door" problem since the allegation is that Rep. Clements was simultaneous employed by local government and, perhaps surreptitiously, the private vendors with which government was contracting. Certainly though it appears to be a case of a conflict of interest gone haywire.

While the alleged Clements' conflict of interest situation may appear to be extreme, certainly there are plenty of other examples of similar conflicts of interest all over the state. The growth of privatization has opened the door to government contractors, wanting to curry favor with government, shoveling jobs and money to past and present government officials as well as their family members.

In some cases, Indiana has insufficient laws to deal with such conflicts of interest. In other cases, we have law enforcement officials and county prosecutors who are simply uninterested in enforcing conflict of interest laws, especially when doing so might result in the prosecution of political allies. Public officials, seeing laws not being enforced, continue to push the conflict of interest envelope to even more brazen levels.

In addition to better and more strict conflict of interest laws, the Indiana General Assembly needs to consider giving the power to prosecute these white collar political crimes to someone other than the local county prosecutor. The Attorney General is an obvious candidate for such authority. Likewise, what would help is if President Obama appoints a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District who is aggressive about going after white collar crime and public corruption. Let's keep our fingers crossed. Hopefully the Clements' case will spark much needed changes.


Diana Vice said...

There's a story behind this story, Paul. The only reason that Jacque is the state representative in the first place is because of strong-armed politics on the part of the Clinton County GOP chairman. (Seems like we have a female version of Tom John in our county.) After Jim Buck's departure, precinct committeemen gathered to elect his replacement. The first round of voting put a Kokomo man (VanNatter) in the seat vacated by Jim Buck. There was a back door meeting after the first vote where the Clinton Co. Chairman basically threatened the precinct committeemen, and gave orders to vote for Jacque Clements during a second vote, which would place her on the ballot. One or two precinct committeemen did resign after being threatened. In the end, VanNatter served as state rep for the remainder of Buck's term, but Clements was placed on the ballot because of the strong armed tactics. You just reported the end result, and it's a huge black eye for the Clinton County GOP. There have been other embarassing problems brought to light recently involving Clinton County GOP office holders. It's time for new leadership in Clinton County, and I know a group of reputable citizens are quietly working on it behind the scenes.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Thanks for the background. it does sounds like a smaller version of Marion County GOP politics up there.