An in-depth analysis of campaign contributions from Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates (BLA) shows that the state's I-69 consultant has greased the palms of politicians on both sides of the aisle at a $55,000-a-year clip over the past three years.
The analysis, conducted by the Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest (ELPC), shows that BLA and key employees reported $175,078 in campaign contributions to Indiana politicians between February 1999 and April 2002. ELPC lawyer John Moore said the information was culled from a search of the Indiana Secretary of State's office Web page - http://www.indianacampaignfinance.com/search/start.htm.
The ELPC analysis shows that while BLA lavished money on 24 separate campaign committees from both parties, the state Democratic Party, Gov. Frank O'Bannon and Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan received the bulk of the cash.
- Indiana Democratic State Central Committee - $55,830
- O'Bannon for Indiana - $43,365
- Kernan for Indiana - $30,200
That total equals $129,395, or 74 percent of BLA's total contributions over that 38-month period. That's $41,861 per year just to the Democrats, the governor and lieutenant governor.
For perspective, the latest U.S. Census figures show that the median income for Indiana households is $37,909. For most families, that's the combined salaries of both parents.
Kernan is the state party's choice for governor in 2004. In 2001 and 2002, BLA gave $2,250 to the Friends of Mayor Fernandez, the party's choice for Secretary of State this year.
Highway opponents do not how exactly how much BLA contributed to political campaigns prior to February 1999, nor do they know how much state work the firm has received. But they know it's between $11 million and $12 million on the I-69 project alone.
Tom and Sandra Tokarski from Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads say the company received between $2 million and $3 million for the first draft Environmental Impact Statement for the I-69 project released in 1996. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rejected that document as inadequate, state Democrats awarded BLA another $9.1 million in contracts to create the second draft EIS, which was released two weeks ago.
The Bloomington Alternative last week submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Indiana Department of Transportation seeking the following information:
1/ Copies of all INDOT documents listing annual INDOT expenditures on consultants for the last five fiscal years.
2/ Copies of all INDOT contracts with Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates signed during the last five years (including all amendments and addenda to such contracts).
3. Copies of all correspondence, invoices and all other public records dated since 1990 relating to services performed for INDOT by Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates, Inc. in connection with the Interstate-69 Project.
Tom Tokarski noted that BLA is not the only pro-highway organization to be financially underwritten by state Democrats. The January 1997 edition of the magazine "Issues In Business" contained the following quote:
"Indiana's new governor, Frank O'Bannon, is also committed to the initiative. 'I-69 is vital for the long-term growth and economic success of all of Indiana. This road is about Indiana's continued growth and prosperity. Our future depends on it,' he says. As lieutenant governor and director of the Indiana Department of Commerce, O'Bannon committed $20,000 each of the last three years to the Mid-Continent Highway Coalition."
The Mid-Continent Highway Coalition is a multi-state consortium of vested highway interests pushing I-69 as a link between Mexico and Canada.
While no one knows just how much taxpayer money state Democrats have stuffed into BLA's private bank account, the company's Web site -- ... - suggests that its fortunes have soared while feeding at the public trough.
"The firm was founded by Mr. Vincent Bernardin and Mr. Keith Lochmueller in February of 1980 in Evansville, Indiana," the BLA Web site says. "At that time, BLA was exclusively in planning and environmental analysis. In 1982, two new departments were added to the firm: civil engineering and land surveying."
BLA's growth apparently exploded soon after state Democrats started keeping its coffers filled to overflowing.
"In 1994 the traffic engineering department was expanded with the addition of personnel and a branch office in West Lafayette, Indiana," the Web site narrative continues. "A second branch office, located in Frankfort, Kentucky, also opened in 1994.
"BLA built its new corporate office, in 1996. The office was remodeled in 1999, adding more than 8,000 sq. feet. Three branch offices were opened in 1999: Louisville, Kentucky; Indianapolis, Indiana; and, Charleston, Illinois. The firm now employs a staff of over 100."