Auto dealer donation dispute divides candidates for Indiana secretary of state



INDIANAPOLIS — The Democratic nominee for Indiana secretary of state believes the current Republican officeholder should be prohibited from accepting campaign donations from auto dealers, since that industry is regulated by the secretary of state’s office.

Jim Harper, of Valparaiso, told reporters Thursday that state campaign finance records show Secretary of State Connie Lawson has received more than $250,000 in auto dealer donations since taking office six years ago.

“At the very least this creates an impression of impropriety,” Harper said.

“We shouldn’t have to wonder, as Hoosiers, whether our government leaders are on the side of those that they seek to regulate, or on the side of those they are seeking to serve.”

Harper admitted he has no evidence that Lawson is engaged in any kind of pay-to-play scheme with auto dealers, which are licensed, inspected and investigated by the secretary of state’s office following consumer complaints.

But Harper insisted, “There must be a reason that auto dealers have given over a quarter-million dollars to Secretary Lawson.”

Harper vowed if he’s elected secretary of state next month he will not accept campaign contributions from any industry the office regulates.

He also pledged to give to charity the $1,000 campaign donation he received in March from an auto dealers industry group.

“This is a simple non-partisan notion,” Harper said. “Hoosiers shouldn’t have to wonder whether large corporations are held accountable based on the sum of their campaign contributions.”

Brian Gamache, Lawson’s campaign manager, rejected Harper’s implication that something untoward is afoot.

“Secretary Lawson is proud to have the support of individuals and businesses from across the state who back her record of cracking down on scam artists, streamlining government services and securing elections for all Hoosiers,” Gamache said.

Mark Rutherford, the Libertarian secretary of state candidate, said Indiana should not have any campaign finance reporting requirements for individual donors, as it causes Hoosiers to fear retaliation if they donate to the “wrong” candidate.

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