INDIANAPOLIS -- As Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett prepares to be sworn in on January 1, questions are emerging about whether he’s already broken a campaign promise regarding “downtown insiders.”
“I’ll take on the downtown insiders who cheat the system and steal your tax dollars,” said Hogsett in a campaign advertisement.
“The downtown insiders think they’re on top of the world. I’m Joe Hogsett, and I think the priority should be out there— in our neighborhoods,” Hogsett said in another ad.
Hundreds of people received invitations to Joe Hogsett’s January 9th inaugural ball, held at the Indianapolis downtown Marriott ballroom, which is co-sponsored by a commercial developer.
The invitation says “the inaugural committee and Browning Investments cordially invite you to celebrate the swearing-in of our city’s 49th mayor at the inaugural ball.”
Common Cause Indiana, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, said it sends a confusing message for a well-known commercial developer to bankroll a mayor’s gala.
“Browning Investments is one of those downtown insiders that has profited over the years from public private partnerships,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana. “If you’re going to get tough with the downtown insiders, don’t embrace them as you come into office. I was a bit disheartened to see the inaugural invitation and see it’s co-sponsored by Browning Investments.”
The commercial developer is benefiting from a $5.7 million bond resolution to help finance an apartment and retail project in Broad Ripple.
“It seems to me to be a confusing message that the Hogsett administration is sending,” said Vaughn. “How are you going to keep these downtown insiders at arm’s length if you’re cozying up to them as you’re taking office, and allowing them to co-sponsor your inaugural gala? It’s a concern.”
Call 6 Investigates did some checking and learned the invitation is factually incorrect.
Browning Investments did not write the $30,000 check for the gala, but rather, it was board chairman Michael Browning.
Hogsett spokesperson Taylor Schaffer told Call 6 Investigates there was a “slight miscommunication.”
“I can confirm it was a personal check from Michael Browning,” said Schaffer.
Browning Investments called the mistake an “oversight” and issued a statement to RTV6.
“Browning Investments has been an integral part of helping Indianapolis grow for nearly 40 years, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in crucial projects that have contributed to economic development,” said John Hirschman, Browning Investments’ President/CEO, in a statement to Call 6 Investigates.“We're very dedicated to seeing the city be as successful as it can be. As part of that aim, Browning Investments supports the local election and political process -- for both parties and across issues.”
Hirschman said the company has contributed just under $8,000 to both candidate election campaigns in 2015.
As for Hogsett, his team pointed out the inaugural ball is completely separate from the January 1, bipartisan swearing in ceremony.
"In the tradition of numerous Indianapolis mayors, the campaign will be hosting an inaugural gala as a fundraising event,” said Hogsett for Indianapolis finance director, Emily Gurwitz. “This celebration is political in nature and separate from the efforts underway by Mayor-elect Hogsett and his transition team to address critical community issues like public safety and neighborhood development."
Common Cause Indiana said Hogsett has a good reputation for ethics and transparency and they hope that continues, especially when it comes to downtown insiders.
"We've got faith that Joe Hogsett is going to keep his promises," said Vaughn. “We’re expecting he will require more competitive bidding and that there will be more transparency.”
Browning’s donation and other campaign contributions will become public record as part of campaign finance reports released next year.