Indiana AG keeps job with health benefits firmFebruary 18, 2021
By The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's newly elected attorney general says state ethics officials have cleared his ongoing role with a health benefits consulting firm in which he has an ownership stake, but he has declined to release that opinion.
Republican Todd Rokita began his term as state government’s top lawyer in early January while still working for Indianapolis-based Apex Benefits, a company he joined as a top executive in 2019 after ending 10 years in Congress following an unsuccessful 2018 run for U.S. Senate.
Attorney general’s office spokesperson Lauren Houck said Rokita is working with Apex “in a limited capacity” as a strategic policy adviser and remains a director or executive board member with other businesses.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for government-accountability watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, called the dual roles “quite concerning.”
“Hoosiers need an attorney general who is fully focused on protecting the public interest and given that he isn’t being transparent about the situation, how can we be assured there are no conflicts of interest involved in this?” Vaughn said.
Rokita, whose attorney general salary is about $107,000 a year, defends his continued private sector employment, which was first reported Tuesday by the political newsletter Importantville, as an asset in his state role.
“Attorney General Rokita has sought and obtained an advisory opinion from the Inspector General’s office, indicating that his interests and outside employment are all squarely within the boundaries of the law and do not conflict with his official duties,” his office said in a statement. “Todd Rokita has built up private sector business interests that he will maintain.”
Stephanie McFarland, spokeswoman for the Inspector General’s Office, said all of its informal advisory opinions are signed by either the state ethics director or one of two staff attorneys, not the inspector general.
Rokita won election to a four-year term in November and announced in late December he had picked then-state Inspector General Lori Torres as his chief deputy attorney general and chief of staff.
Molly Deuberry Craft, Rokita’s communications director, said he requested the opinion on Jan. 12, the day after he took office and Torres joined his staff. Craft said Torres “was not involved whatsoever” in the ethics review.
Houck said Rokita would abide by the state’s financial disclosure laws but that “disclosing information contained in the advisory opinion would violate the standard non-disclosure agreements signed previously with these entities, therefore the advisory opinion will not be made public.”
Rokita has faced several past controversies, including allegations that his congressional staffers often felt obligated to do political work to help his campaigns. And a 2018 Associated Press analysis of state and congressional spending records revealed that Rokita had spent more than $3 million in public money on advertising campaigns that often coincided with his bids for office.
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