March 16, 2022
The following report was written for The Indiana Citizen by veteran Indiana legal journalist Marilyn Odendahl.
Despite the public fallout from his decision to hold onto his job with Apex Benefits after taking office, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita continues to maintain strong ties in the private sector.
Rokita’s 2022 financial disclosure statement, filed in January 2023 with the Office of the Inspector General, reflects more outside interests than the statements filed by other statewide elected offices of governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor and secretary of state.
His statement shows he owns a consulting business that carries his name and identifies himself as a partner in a handful of other businesses. The filing lists only his ownership and partnerships but does not provide any financial information.
When he was sworn into office in January 2021, Rokita retained his position as a strategic policy advisor with Apex Benefits, Indiana’s largest advisory firm focused on employee benefits. He left the company almost two months later amid questions about potential conflicts of interest.
However, the financial disclosure indicates he is still linked to private businesses, sits on the board of a pharmaceutical company, holds stock in a mix of ventures and owns three residential properties in Marion County. In response to a request for a list of his consulting business’s clients and for how much income he earned from his private interests, the attorney general’s office did not directly respond but said Rokita had not compromised his performance of his official duties.
“The financial disclosure statement was fully completed and filed on time according to the law,” a spokesperson for the attorney general stated in an email.
Elizabeth Bennion, professor of political science at Indiana University South Bend, pointed to the concern that elected officials could be influenced in their public decisions or policy initiatives by their financial interests in private businesses.
The issue is not unique to Indiana. Members of Congress have come under fresh scrutiny for making lucrative stock trades by allegedly using non-public information they received in private meetings. After failing last year, another bill to limit lawmakers’ ability to buy and sell stocks while in office was re-introduced in January.
Rokita disclosed the four corporations in which he owns stock or stock options in excess of $10,000. The holdings are Buckler Family Vineyards in California which does business as Adobe Road Winery and was founded by race car driver Kevin Buckler and his wife Debra; WishBone Medical, a manufacturer of pediatric orthopaedics based in Warsaw, Indiana; Marley’s Chains LLC, based in New York, and Tesla.
Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch disclosed that in 2022 she held stock in Phillip Morris, Alphabet and Amazon.
Bennion said whether Indiana officials should be allowed to have private business interests and investments is a question for voters.
“We are the ones who can talk to state lawmakers about what our state laws will require of office holders and whether or not they will be allowed to maintain financial interests in businesses that would be affected by their own decisions,” Bennion said. “…So this really is a matter of public perception, public opinion and public action about what those laws will look like. And then people also have an opportunity to make a decision at the ballot box about whether or not somebody … was weighed by personal financial gains.”
Ties to private businesses
In both his 2022 and 2021 financial disclosure forms, Rokita identified himself as the sole proprietor of Theodore Rokita Esq. Consulting. Other than his own description of the business as a “corporate advisory and investment vehicle,” little is known about the consulting firm.
Sole proprietorships are not required to register with the Indiana Secretary of State. While many businesses operating today are limited liability corporations, sole proprietorships are simpler to establish and, from a tax perspective, are treated similarly to a LLC with only one owner.
The attorney general also listed on his 2022 financial disclosure three businesses in which he is a partner — Hoosier Seneca LLC, Theodore Rex LLC and Slate Stone and Gravel LLC. All three are described as “investment vehicles” and have the same registered agent, Indianapolis attorney James Ammeen, and the same address as Ammeen’s downtown law firm.
Slate Stone and Gravel’s filing with the secretary of state’s office listed Rokita as a manager and his address as that of his consulting firm.
Hoosier Seneca became fodder before the start of the 2018 race for the U.S. Senate which pitted Rokita against former Republican congressman Luke Messer and businessman and former state representative Mike Braun, who ultimately won the primary and general election. According to Politico Pro, Rokita is co-owner of the limited liability company and he used nearly $100,000 in campaign funds to reimburse the LLC for use of a private plane. Both Messer and Indiana Democrats attacked him over the payment but Politico noted, Rokita did not break any laws or ethics rules.
During his 2020 campaign for attorney general, Rokita paid Hoosier Seneca $14,140, according to Transparency USA.
Hoosier Seneca was registered in Indiana in 2003 when Rokita was secretary of state. Documents filed with the secretary of state show Rokita signed the company’s certificate of organization and identify him as the registered agent for the business. In 2016, the registered agent was changed to Ammeen.
Rokita is not the only statewide elected official with ties to the private sector. Indiana’s newly elected treasurer, Daniel Elliott, and secretary of state, Diego Morales, both listed private business interests on their 2022 financial disclosure forms.
Elliott stated he is the sole proprietor of The Source CoWork, a co-working space in Martinsville. Also, the information technology company he started in Martinsville, Intelli-Leap, is listed as his spouse’s employer.
Morales disclosed he is serving as an officer or director of Aiming Higher Services, LLC, a consulting business. The documents on file with the secretary of state list Morales as the president of Aiming Higher.
The disclosure forms for Indiana Auditor Tera Klutz and Gov. Eric Holcomb do not list any private sector connections.
Klutz stated she turned her former family residence in Fort Wayne into a rental property. Holcomb identified himself as serving as an officer or director of the nonprofits Jobs for America’s Graduates, Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site and Western Governors University.
Along with his ties to the small businesses, Rokita sits on the board of directors for NanoViricides, Inc., a pharmaceutical company based in Connecticut. According to the company’s 2022 annual report, the attorney general owns 9,339 shares of common stock.
NanoViricides filed its latest quarterly report in February and announced it is preparing for clinical trials for its “lead drug candidate” which, the company says, will treat SARS-CoV-2 infection that causes COVID-19 disease and what is known as “long COVID.” Also, the drug maker has started the paperwork needed to make an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials of NV-CoV-2 in COVID-19 patients.
Rokita’s position with a maker of COVID-19 drugs contrasts with his resistance to vaccine mandates during the worst of the pandemic.
The attorney general’s Parents’ Bill of Right includes a provision that his office has the authority to prohibit vaccine mandates for school children. Also, in the federal lawsuit, Louisiana et al. v. Joseph R. Biden, el al., 22-30019, Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi won their challenge to the Biden Administration’s directive that anyone working for a federal contractor had to be vaccinated.
Moreover, Rokita drew criticism from Holcomb when he called the state-collected COVID data “politicized since day one” and said he no longer believed the state’s reported numbers of COVID infections.
Asked if his stance against vaccine mandates conflicted with his work for vaccine-maker NanoViricides, Rokits’s office replied, “Your inaccurate depiction aside, none of the attorney general’s out-of-state board work and investments conflict with or detract from the strong leadership and obvious intensity he brings to his daily work on behalf of the great people of Indiana.”
Marilyn Odendahl has spent her journalism career writing for newspapers and magazines in Indiana and Kentucky. She has focused her reporting on business, the law and poverty issues.