INDIANAPOLIS – Congressman Rokita’s recent pay-for-play scandal involving tribal gambling contributions raises serious questions about his campaign’s central message, Dave Bangert wrote in a column Friday for the Journal & Courier. Bangert’s column follows last week’s Associated Press report that Congressman Rokita has received more than $160,000 from tribal gambling groups while repeatedly advocating for a bill would strip protections for tribal casino workers. Asking whether the new scandal undercuts Congressman Rokita’s anti-elitist message, the answer is clear, as Purdue professor Jay McCann calls it the candidate’s new “Achilles’ heel.”
“LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The folks at Hoosiers for Rokita were cringing this week when a signature legislative win for U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita turned back on him with the sort of follow-the-money accusations he’s centerpieced in a volatile U.S. Senate race all about insidious lobbying, money-fed politics, rigged systems and business as usual in Washington, D.C.
So far in the 2018 cycle, based on figures reported as of Nov. 6, 2017, he’s No. 1 among everyone in Congress in Indian gaming contributions, despite having no tribal casino interests in or even near a district that includes Greater Lafayette. That money came from 19 tribes in nine states, none of which was Indiana.
The question is: Does that cash actually undercut Rokita’s Defeat the Elite claims that he is the true outsider willing to upend how lobbying works on Capitol Hill?
“It is an Achilles’ heel for Todd Rokita,” said Jay McCann, a political science professor at Purdue University. “Candidates do set the standard on which they will be judged. By styling himself as this sort of campaign of grievances, the way Donald Trump did, he’s told voters he’s one thing. … If that’s the way he decides to run, he certainly leaves himself open. Because, the record of campaign money says that maybe he’s not all that.”
Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a political watchdog group, was more blunt.
“He’s found good friends in this industry,” Vaughn said. “He’s probably got their attention through his activity on the legislation. That attracted their money. I’m sure he’s going back to the trough for more, given that he’s involved in this extremely competitive race for the U.S. Senate.
“It’s sort of the way Washington works, sadly,” Vaughn said. “It’s sadly like cogs in a machine, and they can talk all they want about how we’re going to drain the swamp, but it’s even swampier and somewhat less transparent than it’s been in the past. Just really sleazy.”