INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita has spent or plans to spend more than $2 million on TV and radio ad campaigns in which he appears.
Rokita says most of the money _ more than $1.5 million _ is being spent on ads designed to spread awareness of investor fraud. But some believe the Republican, whose term ends next year, is trying to build name recognition for a 2012 run for governor and question whether the money would be better spent on employee training, investigations and other tasks.
None of the money comes from the secretary of state's annual $2.4 million annual general fund budget and isn't eligible to be transferred to the state's cash-strapped general fund.
Even so, state Rep. Jeb Bardon says the secretary of state's fund wasn't intended to be used for Rokita to build name recognition. Bardon told The Indianapolis Star that lawmakers have had "serious discussions" about whether to use the fund to pay for financial counseling for those facing foreclosure.
"It was not my intention that that money go into an advertising fund for the secretary of state to build name ID," said Bardon, who authored a 2007 bill that included a section reaffirming the fund Rokita has tapped.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker says Rokita is starring in the commercials for political gain.
"He's running for governor and he's going to be out of office for two years (before 2012), so he needs to," Parker said. "It's all about building name recognition for a political campaign."
Rokita calls that idea "absurd."
"Who in the world thinks a commercial running in 2009 is going to have a name ID component in 2012?" he said. "But I do think people like to know and deserve to know who their officeholders are."
Rokita spokesman Jim Gavin said the fund paying for the ads also is used to hire and train staff, pay investigative costs and develop new technology.
Rokita says the ads are an important component of those activities.
"I'm proud of it. I don't apologize for it," he said of the ad campaign. "When the economy is bad like this, that's when the perpetrators are out there. That's when we really have to be vigilant about education and enforcement."
He says the number of visitors to the office's investment watch Web site each month grew to 4,276 in October, more than five times the activity prior to the ad campaign.
If Rokita runs for governor in 2012, the field also could include Republican Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.
Skillman has done no TV ads as lieutenant governor. A radio ad about the federal stimulus program that helps people buy foreclosed homes was paid for with federal money.
Other statewide officeholders who have run TV ads include Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has spent more than $500,000 on commercials to tout the state's college savings plan.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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