INDIANAPOLIS - I’m opening this column by acknowledging a mistake I made last week. I attributed a news story that detailed Indiana pension fund losses of $1.2 billion since last June, or 11.2 percent, to the Indianapolis Business Journal, when it should have been the Evansville Courier & Press.
The U.S. Senate campaign of Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock has asked me to make a second correction, when I said that he “presides” over the Indiana Public Retirement System, which lost the $1.2 billion.
Prior to writing that column, based on an Aug. 15 HPI news story, I had asked the Mourdock campaign several questions on the subject that were ignored. The Mourdock campaign is in a snit over analysis I wrote in July about the campaign’s “June swoon” about his poor fundraising, his campaign manager’s altercation with a blogger and failed bids by his staff for the Indiana Republican Central Committee.
I’ve been writing this political column since 1985 and in that time, I’ve probably spent less than an hour concentrating on the Treasurer of State office. It is a Constitutional office, but in reality a bureaucratic backwater that shouldn’t even be elected. It should be part of a gubernatorial administration. It’s like an overloaded electrical circuit with a mishmash of boards and quasi-government entities.
Since Mourdock’s campaign says he doesn’t “preside” over the IPRS investments, I asked for a detailed account of his portfolio. Rather than answer my specific questions, spokesman Chris Conner instructed me to read the Treasurer’s 2010 annual report. In doing so, I’ve learned he chairs the Indiana Bond Bank, the Indiana Education Authority, Wireless Enhanced 911 Advisory Board, is trustee of the Indiana State Police Pension Fund and is investment manager/secretary of the Indiana Board of Depositories. He serves on about 10 other financial boards.
In an Oct. 20, 2010 press released from the Treasurer’s office, Mourdock claimed credit for a 6.99 percent return - or $480 million - in interest on “state investments.”
In an interview with the Wabash Conservative Union in 2007, Mourdock was asked to define his duties. He responded, “Simultaneously very narrow, which is to say, in the constitution the only description of this office, is that the State Treasurer shall serve as the state’s chief financial officer. The only constitutional duty I have is to make sure we earn the highest possible grade of interest on the funds of the State of Indiana.”
He added, “I believe that I have the greatest job in all of Indiana government because I have huge responsibilities, which I like, I have tremendous latitude, I get to be creative, and I don’t think any newspaper reporter knows we exist. It can’t get any better than that.”
Just as the current secretary of state says he’s not the state’s chief elections officer, Mourdock appears to be saying he’s the state’s chief financial officer - but only for the good parts.
Now the reason I was even writing about Treasurer Mourdock’s state duties, as opposed to his challenge to U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, stem from his comment to the Huffington Post on Aug. 12: “Ten days ago, I sold all my stock. I spend two hours every morning looking at market indicators.” And he told the Indianapolis Star, “I kept my energy stocks, my oil stocks, but everything else I sold, because I kept looking at what was happening in Washington, D.C., and I saw what its potential was on the markets, and I’m too old to have the volatility that we see today and what I expect the longer term will be.”
I can’t remember a single politician ever talking about his own personal stock portfolios. And Mourdock is no ordinary politician. He’s the treasurer of Indiana.
Why aren’t his personal stocks in a blind trust, so those wires don’t get crossed with his state duties? I thought the timing of his personal sell off - three days before Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating - was curious. And it made me wonder about Mourdock’s temperament for office. His challenge to the Chrysler/Fiat merger after bankruptcy, he claims, was based on principle, but it smacked of political grandstanding with thousands of Indiana jobs (and future tax revenue) at stake. If he had won, it would have cratered the Indiana auto sector. A prudent leader would have looked for another way.
I agree with the assessment of Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus on the Lugar/Mourdock showdown that primary challenges are good for the process. As an opinion columnist, however, as I look at the Indiana GOP universe when it comes to a successor for Lugar, Mourdock would not make my top 10. I see him as overly ambitious, very emotional, and he always seems to be running for something.
I have an array of questions for candidate Mourdock, which his campaign has ignored, so I will ask them here: How does Treasurer Mourdock define, in detail, his duties? Is he still investing state funds in junk bonds, as he did with Chrysler? What is Treasurer Mourdock’s attendance at his own Statehouse office, with the Indiana State Board of Finance, and the Public Employee Retirement Fund? Is his treasurer’s office chief of staff bonded? Can he provide a detailed account of his oversight, investment, spending and withholdings of the Emergency 911 fund?
If I hear anything, I’ll let all of you know.