Sunday, November 02, 2003

Evidence of a One-Newspaper City

First, let's be fair and give credit where credit is due. Today's Star has an excellent pull-out Voters' Guide section that identifies all of the candidates on the ballot, and carries their brief answers to four 'key' questions. This is good stuff, and sadly absent in many other top newspapers.

That highlight is tarnished by a horrible City & State section that features the following:

- Just two days before the election of the Indianapolis Mayor, 29 City-County Council positions, and a host of other offices in communities in the greater Indy area, the only "Election 2003" article on the front page of that prominent section covers one of three underdog Republicans candidates for Governor... a 2004 race. Couldn't that have waited just one more week? Or five? Shouldn't the space have been for any of the races in the election two days away, rather than the one 367 days away? The Star got the '2004' graffic right on the website, by the way.

- As if that wasn't enough, on page B3, there is a second article on the same man, in the same race 367 days away, by the same writer, Mary Beth Schneider. Wow.

- In the interest of fairness, I guess, there is an article on the two Republicans who are extreme underdogs in the race that is 367 days away and not two days away, on B7.

One can only surmise that stories on the minor Republican contestants in the far-off governors race somehow hits the target with the Star's demographic(s) of choice for the race that is 367 days away to be so highlighted in the City & State section over the race that is two days away. One can further conclude that if there was another real daily paper in town, the crucial City-County Council races would get proper coverage. Good as the capsule coverage is, it still could have been so much more.

Speaking of proper coverage, I find the coverage of the Marion County LP's press conference, and the substance contained therein, appalling.

Here is the LP press release:

Patrice Abduallah lists donation from city fund

Libertarians call for Abduallah to exit city-county council race, seek investigation of mayor’s GIPC actions

As a usual practice, the Libertarian Party will occasionally pull Republican and Democrat campaign finance reports.

While reviewing the campaign finance report of Patrice Abduallah (Democrat seeking the City-County Council District 15 seat) that was filed with the Marion County Election board Oct. 17, we noted a donation of $3,450 made to Mr. Abduallah on Sept. 13 by the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC).

This donation is inappropriate for the following reasons:

GIPC is a 501c3 corporation. All corporations are limited by Indiana law to giving no more than $2,000 combined in a calendar year to all candidates who are seeking local offices. Mr. Abduallah received almost 1½ times that amount.

Quoting the GIPC’s own website, "Funding for (GIPC) Action Grants comes from application fees paid to the city by businesses requesting tax abatement." Most importantly, we believe that some of those public funds may have been used to help fund Mr. Abduallah’s campaign.

Additionally, Mr. Abduallah’s campaign finance report indicates that there is $755 in cash missing from his campaign fund between April and October. It also lists the repayment of a loan for $500 when no loan has ever been listed in his report.

The Libertarian Party will be requesting that the following actions occur:

That the entire $3,450 be immediately returned to the City of Indianapolis.

That Mr. Abduallah withdraws from his city-county council race.

That Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi begins an investigation into the $3,450 donation from GIPC to Mr. Abduallah.

Additionally, the Libertarian Party of Marion County will be filing a complaint with the Marion County Election Board regarding the improper donation from GIPC to Mr. Abduallah.

GIPC is a nonprofit organization that implements the Neighborhood Action Grant program. Application fees for tax abatement and other private donations fund these grants. GIPC is run out of Mayor Bart Peterson’s office on the 25th floor of the City-County Building. It falls under the responsibility of the Deputy Mayor for Public Policy.

The Libertarian Party of Marion County finds this all very disturbing. We also have the following questions regarding GIPC:

Why is an organization housed within Mayor Bart Peterson’s office making political donations?

Why is GIPC using public funds for projects that are not included in the city budget? This puts spending outside of the control of the City-County Council, which by law is supposed to control the pursestrings.

Why is it that when organizations default on the conditions of their abatement, the clawback penalty is awarded as a grant by the mayor to community organizations instead of being returned to the county budget? Amounts from organizations like United Airlines and Bindley-Western make a substantial impact on the county budget.

How could Marion County Treasurer Greg Jordan and Marion County Auditor Marty Womacks not be aware of this sketchy revenue stream?

Are there other questionable uses of grant money by GIPC?

Are there other agencies that bestow public funds upon candidates?

To the objective reader: Does this release contain a personal attack on any individual? Does it contain a smear? Is it a slam? Or, does it ask questions? Should these questions be asked, given the information provided? Do the questions merit investigation by public officials in a position of oversight, by watchdog groups, and by the press? When filling out the forms, the applicant is warned that they are to be filled out correctly, for to do otherwise is to commit perjury.

The LP could have inferred the possibility of incompetence on the part of the person filling out the form, but did not. Lying could have been inferred, but was not. Questions were asked, with restraint, and in the interest of the public.

Here is the Star's original story:

Candidate fixes error as Libertarians complain

October 29, 2003

The Marion County Libertarian Party on Tuesday criticized Democratic City-County Council candidate Patrice Abduallah for an error on a recent campaign-finance filing.

The statement, filed Oct. 17, included a $3,450 contribution from the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, an arm of city government that is not allowed to make political contributions.

Abduallah said the listing was a typo -- it should have read "Greater Islamic Progress Committee" -- and filed an amendment Tuesday correcting the error.

Abduallah is running in the heavily Democratic 15th District, which includes portions of Downtown, the Near Northside and the Westside.

Just a typo. No problem, folks. Nothing to see here. Move along. Picture the cop in South Park, as I do.

Remembering that this was a non-story, here is what the Star wrote several days later, in their Sunday edition:

No pulling punches

Politicians, and the people who work for them, become different people in the days leading up to Election Day. This year has been no different.

The week started off with Brad Klopfenstein, executive director of the Indiana Libertarian Party and a City-County Council candidate in Downtown's District 15, holding a news conference to slam Democratic opponent Patrice Abduallah.

Libertarians held forth at the Indianapolis Press Club to attack Abduallah for a $3,400 contribution that appeared on his campaign finance statement as coming from the "Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee" -- a quasi-governmental agency legally barred from giving contributions.

Of course, by the time cameras were rolling, Abduallah had said the item was a typo -- it should have read "Greater Islamic Progress Committee" -- and had filed an amendment. A reporter called Klopfenstein the night before to see whether he would still hold the news conference.

He would, he said, admitting that the move might be "a little sensationalistic."

So, who is guilty here of a slam? The unnamed Star reporter or the LP? Who is guilty of an attack? The unnamed Star reporter or the LP? No pulling punches: that would be John Fritze, who is the unnamed reporter. He, along with the anonymous editor, appear to be different 'reporters' when writing collectively under the cloak of the 'Public Interest' column.

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