DOUG ROSS: Feds should launch Bennett investigation

2013-09-20T00:00:00Z 2013-12-28T21:27:42Z DOUG ROSS: Feds should launch Bennett investigationBy Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

The latest allegations against former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett — that state computers and possibly staff were used for his campaign fundraising — sound like something that might have happened in Lake County.

In fact, that's what Lake County Surveyor George Van Til is accused of doing. U.S. Attorney David Capp said in announcing the indictment last May that Van Til paid an employee $100 to swap out a hard drive on a county computer to cover his tracks.

Van Til, a Democrat, pleaded not guilty in Hammond federal court to six counts of wire fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice. We'll have to wait for the verdict after Van Til's trial to see whether he is guilty as charged.

We'll have to wait months, presumably, to see whether Bennett, a Republican, or any of his staff will face charges of campaigning on the state's time and using the state's equipment.

But the examination of emails — which are public records — by the Associated Press found evidence that Bennett's staff had access to a detailed, coveted database of top GOP donors on the Department of Education's computer server.

Among the names on the list is Dean White, a name very familiar in Northwest Indiana. The file gave instructions on how to contact White, one of the wealthiest people in the United States.

It also had the name of Christel DeHaan, another name that has become very familiar since the Bennett scandals began. DeHaan founded the charter school for which Bennett instructed his staff to raise the school's accountability grade to A. That has since prompted an examination of how the A-F grading system is administered.

I support many of the initiatives begun during the Bennett administration, in concert with Gov. Mitch Daniels, to improve the quality of education in Indiana. Let's not forget the reason for education reform. Drastic action has been taken, but it was needed to shake up the status quo.

But supporting the education reform mission doesn't mean looking the other way when allegations of official misconduct surface.

Bennett's actions should be investigated as thoroughly as if he were a Democrat in Lake County.

That might already be happening. Investigators are a lot better at obtaining information than they are at sharing it.

But if a federal investigation isn't happening, it should be. Wrong is wrong, regardless of geography and regardless of political party.

If he and his staff are exonerated, fine. But if prosecution is warranted, don't assume that Lake County is the only place where this can happen.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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