Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

September 17, 2013

Valuable party list becomes public document

(Continued)

Bennett and his staff have said they did nothing wrong. Bennett has said there was no campaigning happening on his watch, nor did he order staff to do campaign work for him.

Heather Neal, Bennett's former chief of staff, said last week that the discovery of the fundraising lists was likely due to confusion on the part of staff — not because of campaigning.

"Indiana law makes allowances for these minor occurrences, but we regret the error," she said in an email.

Neal resigned as Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist last month after the publication of emails showing that she, Bennett and a few other top staffers rewrote the state's school grading formula to benefit a Republican donor's charter school. Neal then took a job with the campaign firm run by Cam Savage, Bennett's former communications director, who downloaded one of the fundraising lists in 2009.

One file, called the "Big Hitter List" includes valuable inside knowledge about how to reach out to some of the state's biggest donors. Bennett's former fundraising director, Julie Southworth, left notes about how much Bennett should ask for and how much the donor gave in 2008.

One note explains how to contact Dean White, the northwest Indiana hotel tycoon who has given more than $4.6 million to Republicans in the last 15 years. Another note on southwest Indiana fundraiser Steve Chancellor points out he gave $1,000 to Bennett in 2008, but that Bennett should "ASK for more!"

Whether careless or criminal, Bennett and his staff have unwittingly given Indiana residents a tremendous look behind the scenes, as well a chance to get in the game — if they're willing to file a records request.

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