Former Senator Brent Steele voted in favor of Indiana vaping laws that essentially create an e-juice monopoly for the Mulhaupt’s security firm and a select few e-liquid suppliers. This week, Steele announced that he is leaving politics for a new position with an organization that represents those very companies that benefited from the controversial legislation.
Steele will start his new job on January 1 as Executive Director of the lobbying group, Vapor Association of Indiana. Understandably, the move is raising more than a few eyebrows.
A legal restriction in the Indiana constitution prevents lawmakers from lobbying other politicians for a full year after leaving office. The intent of the rule is to prevent former legislators from capitalizing on their past public service for personal financial gain.
Indiana vaping laws and conflicts of interest
Steele sees no conflict of interest in his taking of the new position because he says that intends to hire an outside lobbying firm to represent the special interests of his new firm, which represents the very few e-liquid manufacturers in Indiana who have been fortunate enough to be granted state licensing.
“I think I was hired not because of my vote, but because of my reputation for honesty and integrity in the Senate,” Says Steele. “People know I wouldn’t be associated with anything improper.”
Many in the Indian vaping industry worry that Steele may use his strong political ties to influence future legislative decisions which favor these elite e-liquid companies. Julia Vaughn, the policy director for a government accountability group Common Cause Indiana, believes that Steele’s new arrangement “reeks of impropriety.”
“It’s walking up right to the ethics laws and getting your toe just about as close as you possibly can,” Vaughn says.
Due to overwhelmingly negative public criticism from multiple companies who feel that they were unjustly shut out of the Indiana vaping market, many legislative leaders have promised to revisit the legislation upon reelection. Steele’s new job places him right in the center of the storm. If the laws are changed to allow more suppliers to gain licenses, then Steele’s clients will lose a significant amount of market share.
Steele is not the only former Indiana politician to take such a controversial position. In September of 2015, State Representative Alan Morrison took a new job with the security firm right in the middle of the scandal – Mulhaupt’s. To make matters even worse, he took the new position while simultaneously running for re-election, which he won with 56.6% of the vote.
Article Credit: Matt Rowland