Valuable GOP list becomes public document

INDIANAPOLIS - With just a few clicks, staffers in former school Superintendent Tony Bennett's office made one of the Indiana Republican Party's most valuable tools a public document -- free to anyone.

The master fundraising list is extensive, containing contact information for thousands of Republicans from grassroots supporters and precinct committee leaders to top-dollar lobbyists and donors. Cellphones, personal emails and other valuable notes are included in the spreadsheet, two versions of which were found on Department of Education servers.

The fundraising lists, campaign emails and more than 100 "campaign calls" entries on Bennett's calendar were obtained by The Associated Press through multiple public records requests last week.

News of the documents led Democrats to call for an investigation. Inspector General David Thomas confirmed he is investigating Bennett, but declined to provide details of the investigation's focus.

Whether Bennett and his staff broke any laws will be a question for investigators and local prosecutors. But it's clear they left valuable information on state-owned computers.

Among the files were two downloaded from the GOP's Salesforce database, one dubbed the "Indiana Republican Party's Red Meat List"; another includes an entry titled "Mitch's 'Red Meat' List." The database is a crucial element of any campaign, as demonstrated last year when party leaders launched an investigation into whether then-Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's campaign wrongly downloaded information.

Jim Holden, Mourdock's former campaign manager, wrote an email last April to campaign consultants and top staff to "start pillaging email addresses," but accidentally included a party staffer on the email. The campaign was temporarily blocked from using the list. Party leaders ultimately decided against sanctioning Mourdock's staff.

After the AP reported last week that Bennett had downloads of the Salesforce list on state computers, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry said Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz will have to explain how her office fulfilled public records requests. A Ritz spokesman declined comment on Berry's request.

Bennett and his staff have said they did nothing wrong. Bennett has said there was no campaigning happening on his watch, nor did he order staff to do campaign work for him.

Heather Neal, Bennett's former chief of staff, said last week that the discovery of the fundraising lists was likely due to confusion on the part of staff -- not because of campaigning.

"Indiana law makes allowances for these minor occurrences, but we regret the error," she said in an email.

Neal resigned as Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist last month after the publication of emails showing that she, Bennett and a few other top staffers rewrote the state's school grading formula to benefit a Republican donor's charter school. Neal then took a job with the campaign firm run by Cam Savage, Bennett's former communications director, who downloaded one of the fundraising lists in 2009.

One file, called the "Big Hitter List" includes valuable inside knowledge about how to reach out to some of the state's biggest donors. Bennett's former fundraising director, Julie Southworth, left notes about how much Bennett should ask for and how much the donor gave in 2008.

One note explains how to contact Dean White, the northwest Indiana hotel tycoon who has given more than $4.6 million to Republicans in the last 15 years. Another note on southwest Indiana fundraiser Steve Chancellor points out he gave $1,000 to Bennett in 2008, but that Bennett should "ASK for more!"

Whether careless or criminal, Bennett and his staff have unwittingly given Indiana residents a tremendous look behind the scenes, as well a chance to get in the game -- if they're willing to file a records request.

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