INDIANAPOLIS – Despite her high name recognition and well documented entry into the Indiana gubernatorial race, Glenda Ritz has astonished observers by raising very little money for her campaign thus far.
And it appears that some of the money she has managed to raise might have been gained illegally, since the contributions came during the recent state legislative session.
That apparently was also the case in 2013 when Ritz was running for her current position, state superintendent of public instruction.
Indiana law makes it illegal for candidates for statewide office to accept campaign donations when the legislature is in session in odd years, when they create the two-year state budget.
It’s obvious that most observers expected Ritz to attract a lot of money from admiring Democrats, following her high-profile fight with Gov. Mike Pence over control of state education policy.
Ritz, Gregg and State Sen. Karen Tallian will square off in the Democratic primary next May.
According to the Indianapolis Star, “Ritz reported raising $30,529 for her campaign for governor during the first half of the year — a fraction of what fellow Democrat John Gregg and Republican Gov. Mike Pence reported.
“The state schools chief ended the reporting period on June 30 with $112,219 in her campaign bank account. Her campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment.”
While Ritz was an underfunded unknown when she toppled former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in the 2012 general election, she has been a major star on the Democratic political scene since Pence and legislative Republicans attempted to pass a bill earlier this year that would have allowed the state Board of Education to appoint its own chairperson.
That would have almost guaranteed that Ritz would have been replaced as chair, since most board members were appointed by Pence. Traditionally the elected state superintendent serves as board chair.
Angry Democrats claimed Republicans were trying to strip Ritz of her power in retaliation for her upset victory over Bennett.
In the end the GOP legislature backed down and passed a bill that will allow the board to choose its own chair starting in 2017, but Ritz still gained a great deal of public relations traction from the controversy.
That’s why her small contribution total – less than two percent of the $1.76 million raised by Gregg – caught so many by surprise, according to media reports.
“Can a stealth campaign overcome that kind of difference in cash? Probably not,” Andy Downs, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, was quoted as saying by the Star.
“In terms of the fundraising reports, I think they do signal a major challenge in the Ritz campaign,” Laura Albright, a political science professor at the University of Indianapolis, was quoted as saying by the Star.
Meanwhile, Ritz may have even bigger problems on her hands, since it appears that much of the small amount of money she has raised may have been raised illegally.
According to a report from the Star published last week, “More than a fourth of the contributions received by Glenda Ritz’s campaign for governor came during this year’s legislative session — a potential violation of Indiana’s campaign finance laws.
“Ritz, who raised about $30,000 during the first half of the year, received 28 donations totaling $8,150 during the legislative session, which ran from Jan. 6 and April 29.
“State law prohibits candidates running for statewide office from accepting campaign contributions during the session in odd numbered years, when lawmakers craft the state’s two-year budget.
“An Indianapolis Star review of Ritz’s campaign finance filings also found that her campaign for superintendent of public instruction received more than $82,000 in contributions during the 2013 legislative session, mostly from the Indiana Democratic Party and PACs affiliated with the Indiana State Teachers Association.
“The penalty for violating the law is a civil fine of up to twice the amount of any improper contributions that were received, plus any costs incurred by the state’s election division. In Ritz’s case, that could be up to $180,000 — more than the $112,220 her campaign currently has in its bank account.”
Ritz reportedly told the media last week that her campaign staff had made a “clerical error” on the campaign finance report and it would be corrected, according to the Star.
Her campaign spokesman also reportedly said that most of the campaign contributions were received before the legislative session and were simply deposited during the session, the newspaper reported.
But the law may not recognize the legitimacy of that excuse, according to the Star.
“The critical moment is when the check or cash is deposited into a bank account,” said Bradley King, co-director of the state election division.