Thursday, August 29, 2013

IBJ Details Indianapolis City Contractors and Their Political Contributions to Ballard Campaign

Still getting caught up on all the excellent articles in this past week's Indianapolis Business Journal. Today, I write about the front page story "City's building spree leaves Trails of Spoils."  In the article, which is subscription only, Kathleen McLaughlin details extensive research into the contracts received by engineers, architects and other consultants and the contributions those contractors made to the Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. 
More than two dozen engineers and other consultants landed contracts worth $1 million-plus, according to records provided by the Department of Public Works. The city has spent $121 million on street resurfacing alone.

Ballard also secured a deep well of campaign cash.  Major Rebuild Indy contractors - most of them engineers - poured at least $221,000 into his 2011 re-election bid, accounting for 10 percent of the $2.2 million he raised that year, IBJ found.

Last year, Rebuild Indy contractors accounted for at least 32 percent of the $499,275 Ballard raised.
McLaughlin singled out American Structurepoint Inc. in her story:
The single-largest contract under Rebuild Indy - worth $16.5 million - went to American Structurepoint, one of the area's top two engineering firms. American Structurepoint was hired as a program manager, essentially an arm of the Department of Public Works.
American Structurepoint couldn't be clearer in its support of Ballard.  The firm's political action committee and top executives contributed $37,000 to the mayor's re-election in 2011, and CEO Willis Rick Conner gave another $13,000 last year.
In a May 2010 column on American Structurepoints' executives contributions to the Ballard campaign, I noted a fact left out a previous IBJ article which is also left out of McLaughlin article:
What is not in the article, is the fact that American Structurepoint used to be known as American Consulting Engineers and its owners, executives James Wurster and Willis Conner, were indicted for bribery by former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman. The indictments had to do with ACE giving a $50,000 campaign contribution plus a job to Indiana House Ways and Means Chairman Sam Turpin. The job was not disclosed and Turpin allegedly engaged in actions to favor Ace. Wurster and Conner took an appeal of the indictment and won on the basis that the allegation did not include a quid pro quo ("this for that") and without a specific allegation regarding what Wurster and Conner received for their money, the bribery allegation could not stand.

As a side note, the "quid pro quo" requirement remains one of the biggest obstacles to the enforcement of the state's bribery law. Rarely do those wanting favors hand over money with specific instructions to vote a certain way or engage in certain conduct favorable for the one offering the bribe. Rather Indiana's version of "Pay to Play" involves a wink and a nod which generally can't be prosecuted under Indiana law, but can be prosecuted under the federal Hobbs Act which has a lower standard.

While Wurster appears to be out, Conner is still with the company. During 2008 and 2009 (years when the Mayor wasn't even a candidate), Conner individually donated $22,500 to Mayor Ballard's Campaign. American Structurepoint executive Marlin A. Knowles, Jr. contributed $30,000. There are probably others from American Structurepoint who contributed to the Ballard campaign as well.
The McLaughlin article contains a handy table listing professional contractors, the size of the contract they received from Indianapolis city government and contributions to the Ballard during he 2011 and 2012 election year.  The table shows American Structurepoint receiving $16.5 million in city contracts and contributing $55,000.  R.W. Armstrong received contracts worth $14.5 million and gave $35,000, Beam Longest & Neff obtained $8.6 million in contracts and gave $26,000 to Ballard, United Consulting Engineers was awarded $8.2 million in contracts and donated $58,000, DLZ Corp. received $5.4 million in contracts and donated $44,625, Bernardin Lochmueller and Associates was given $4.7 million in contracts and gave $62,500 to Ballard.

It should be noted that it is very difficult to track these contributions.  Many executives and middle level employees of the company simply give in their own name.  Unless you know that the donor works for a particular company (which information is often not public) it is hard to link the contribution to the company for which the person works.  Thus, many more contributors might actually have links to particular contractors without that relationship being uncovered during the undoubtedly diligent search detailed in the McLaughlin IBJ article.

The article is certainly worth a read.  In fact, several articles in this past week's IBJ are worth reading.  Pick it up before it leaves the newsstands.


Louis Mahern said...

R.W. Armstrong gave Ballard $135,000 in 08,09 and 10. These figures are not in her story. What does it take to rouse the public on this Pay to Play scandal?

Racoon said...

Local municipal elections are 'paved' with asphalt contracts.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Actually Racoon, asphalt contracts are probably competitively bid. It's the professional contracts that don't have to be bid out.

IndyDem said...

I wonder how many are donors are members of the Indiana Cricket Association..