By Doug Martin
Riding on the sudden fame of Mike Pence as Vice President, one of the former governor’s top officials is now lobbying in D.C. for the GEO Foundation and the Gülen-affiliated Washington Strategy Group, led by Bilal Eksili, a Pence campaign donor and Gülen’s chief operative for charter schools and Turkish affairs in Indiana who is detailed in my book Hoosier School Heist.
As the Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly first noted, in May 2014 Smith left Governor Pence’s office to launch Sextons Creek LLC “to work with the governor's political campaign for re-election”, at that time the firm’s only client, and later raked in “almost $262,000 from May 2014 through April 2016” from Pence’s campaign chest. In February 2015, Smith told the Indianapolis Monthly that although Pence was a client, “I’m actually trying to expand into more of a ministry-based area, working with people in need. That’s sort of where my heart has been leading me lately.”
As past director of the Indiana Family Institute, the rightwing, religious State Policy Network-connected organization, Smith’s “need” translated quickly into “greed.” As Politico wrote in November 2016, Smith, “riding” Pence’s “coattails,” is now working with another former Indiana Family Institute friend Terry Allen, whose firm, Fidelis Government Relations, is registered to lobby for Microsoft, “Verizon and AT&T, for whom he is advocating on their proposed deal with Time Warner”.
In August 2017, the International Business Times’ Alex Kotchand David SirotaWho Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? Health Insurers and Big Oil Seek To Influence Vice President,” note that Smith is now “lobbying his former boss” and gave more details on Gülen and GEO:
Smith is registered to lobby for Indianapolis-based Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, a charter school management company that accepted a $1 million federal grant in 2010 and had a school closed for poor performance the following year. As Indiana governor, Pence pushed for increased funding for charter schools and for publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, both key initiatives in Trump and Education Sec. Betsy DeVos’ education plan.
Another client of Smith is the new Turkish-American lobbying firm Washington Strategy, which has links to the controversial Turkish-American imam, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of being the mastermind behind the failed Turkish coup in 2016. Two members of Washington Strategy are former charter school administrators, according to pro-government Turkish paper, the Daily Sabah. One member is reportedly the former board president of a charter school company, Indiana-based Concept Schools, which was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2014.
According to Open Secrets.com, the GEO Foundation, in 2017, paid Sextons Creek $43,710 to lobby in D.C. on its behalf. Smith is listed as a board member of the GEO Foundation. The GEO Foundation, also highlighted in Hoosier School Heist, operates the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Indiana, where secretary of education Betsy DeVos visited last month. So far, Washington Strategy, the Turkish one, has slid $72,000 to Sextons Creek. Supposedly, for the group, Smith is lobbying on “international human rights.”
But Bill Smith isn’t the only former Pence official to take advantage of Pence’s new role as Vice President. Jeff Cardwell, the former Pence aide who the then-governor, upon leaving office, handed the Sagamore of the Wabash award to, is Senior Vice President of Sextons Creek. Cardwell, a few years ago, was handpicked by Pence to chair the Indiana Republican Party and was the past Indianapolis City-County Councilman for District 23. The CEO of Cardwell Do-it Best Home Center, Cardwell was appointed by Pence to be the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives’ executive director in 2012 and in 2013 was Pence’s Senior Advisor and Special Assistant to the Governor.
There is, of course, much, much more to this story. It will all appear in my new book (still in progress), a follow-up to Hoosier School Heist. Stay tuned.