Indiana AG Rokita facing scrutiny for ties to health benefits firm

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is facing scrutiny over his financial involvement in the private sector after it was revealed that he is still employed by a health benefits company and maintains high-ranking roles at several other undisclosed entities.

Before being elected to office in November 2020 Rokita worked as general counsel and vice president of external affairs at Apex Benefits Group, a health insurance brokerage company. His ongoing relationship with Apex was first reported on Tuesday by political newsletter Importantville, and a spokesperson for Rokita confirmed for IndyStar that he is a strategic policy advisor and part owner of the company.

The spokesperson also said Rokita is a “director or executive board member of several other entities.” But they declined to identify to IndyStar which entities those are, only saying that they will appear on the financial disclosure documents Rokita is required to submit to the state’s Inspector General office by March.

“Todd Rokita has built up private sector business interests that he will maintain as Indiana Attorney General, which were and will continue to be disclosed as required in publicly available financial disclosure reports and which reflect income from several sources,” read a statement from the attorney general’s office.

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Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb responded to questioning about the controversy during a news conference on Wednesday.

"I trust the attorney general to follow the letter of the law in a spot that is legal and protected and I will leave it to him to make the calls on where he works in addition to his full time job here," Holcomb told reporters.

The most recent financial disclosure document from Rokita was filed in 2020 when he was still a candidate for the attorney general office. The only non-state organizations he said he was affiliated with at that time were Apex and Hoosier Seneca LLC, a company he allegedly co-owns for the use of his private plane, according to Politico.

Rokita requested an informal advisory opinion from the Inspector General’s office to review potential conflicts of interest on Jan. 12, a day after he was sworn into office. That opinion came back in his favor, according to Rokita’s spokesperson, because it found that “his interests and outside employment are all squarely within the boundaries of the law and do not conflict with his official duties."

Now Indiana Democrats are trying to get access to that informal opinion. They submitted a records request to Rokita’s office on Wednesday asking for it.

“Public trust in state government regulators is paramount in ensuring the integrity of our justice system,” Lauren Ganapini, executive director for the Indiana Democratic Party, wrote in the request. “If that system appears to protect special interests at the expense of Hoosier families, it has failed the state.”

According to a spokesperson for the Inspector General, they won’t have any luck. Indiana law says informal advisory opinions are confidential and not subject to public records requests. The advisory opinion will be made public only if Rokita approves, which he hasn’t done so far and doesn’t show any indication of doing.

"Disclosing information contained in the advisory opinion would violate the standard non-disclosure agreements signed previously with these entities, therefore the advisory opinion will not be made public," said Rokita's spokesperson.

The difference between an informal and a formal advisory opinion is that a formal advisory opinion is issued by the five-member State Ethics Commission. An informal opinion is produced by staff from the Inspector General’s office and signed off on by a staff attorney or the State Ethics Director.

Rokita has not yet requested a formal advisory opinion from the ethics commission.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne political science professor Andy Downs said Indiana has less strict conflict of interest requirements than other states when it comes to politicians.

"Being on the board of directors, or involved with a company, before you get elected, and even a little while into your time in office is probably one of those things that for the most part, we would be willing to look the other way on,” Downs said.

Politicians here — and everywhere — wade into threatening waters when it turns out that legal conflicts of interest weren’t disclosed from the start. But his relationship with Apex likely won’t have an impact on the perception his supporters have of him, Downs added.

by Johnny Magdaleno

Indianapolis Star