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Indiana U.S. Senate primary candidates call out potential ethics violations

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — the gloves are coming off as the end of Indiana’s Republican U.S. Senate primary draws near.

Todd Rokita, Luke Messer and Mike Braun are calling out potential ethics violations against each other just weeks away from Election Day.

No punches were pulled during the last debate hosted by WISH-TV as the heated race to the U.S Senate continues.

Conflict of interest?

Being an outsider has been a big talking point for Mike Braun but his opponents say he’s a part of “the swamp” for a potential conflict of interest during his time in the Statehouse.

In 2017, then-State Rep. Mike Braun voted yes on House Bill 1089. It’s legislation that would reduce government regulation on forestry management.

Braun is the owner of Maple Land, LLC, one of the state’s largest logging companies with several thousand acres of timberland.

So Messer and Rokita are alleging he cut taxes to benefit his own business.

Usually elected officials disclose information about potential conflicts before a vote.

After checking with the State Ethics Commission, Braun did not submit a disclosure.

His campaign did not respond to ABC 57 News’ request for a comment.

But in Sunday’s debate, Braun brushed off any wrongdoings.

“It had no impact on my holdings,” said Braun.

Abuse of power?

Rokita is under fire for his time in Indianapolis as well.

He denied allegations that he accessed Republican donor records as Secretary of State.

ABC 57 News filed a records request with the state’s Office of the Inspector General for any complaints of ethics violations filed against former Secretary of State during his tenure.

Nathan Brand, a spokesperson for Rokita’s campaign, told ABC 57 News in a statement:

"Everything in this story is baseless, unsubstantiated, and ultimately false.  This is a dirty trick from never-Trumper Luke Messer and his corrupt political establishment allies who are desperate to help his failing campaign. These "anonymous sources" in this hit job are all tied to Messer's campaign and they should be embarrassed by their Clintonian tactics."

Messer vehemently denied Rokita’s accusations.

Past run-ins with the law?

Rokita’s campaign piled on the accusations against Messer, saying he did not disclose his criminal record.

Back in 2003, a caucus installed Messer to represent the 57th district in the Indiana House of Representatives in order to fill the remainder of William Ronald Stine’s term after being killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.

But according to Delaware County and Marion County courts, Messer had two DUIs on his record.

The counties’ clerks and confirmed he was charged in 1990 and 1995.

A spokesperson from his camp said he has spoken publicly about the incidents before.

The spokesperson said in a statement sent to ABC 57 News:

“Luke has acknowledged and apologized for these mistakes which occurred more than 23 years ago. Both instances have been public and were used unsuccessfully by Republican and Democrat opponents in past campaigns. Indiana voters will see the latest attack for what it is: more last minute dirty tricks from Rokita's supporters.”

Allegations and voters

Will these latest cases of mudslinging by all three candidates matter to voters?

“Voters always say they hate attack ads but a lot of things that come out of attack ads stick with voters,” said Rick Klein, Political Director for ABC News. “I don’t think many minds get made up on individual ads but in terms of the broad impressions that you form as a voter about these candidates a lot of it is informed by television advertisement, digital advertisement and frankly attack ads are a big piece of that.”

Pete Seat, Communications Director for Indiana’s Republican Party said the party is not concerned these allegations could hurt the nominee in the general election in a statement sent to ABC 57 News:

“There is no evidence in recent years to suggest that a contentious Republican primary leads to anything other than our candidate winning in November. We are confident that our eventual nominee will defeat Democrat Joe Donnelly and give Hoosiers another conservative voice representing them in the U.S. Senate.”

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