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The big money behind the big campaigns: A report from The Indiana Citizen

In our continuing mission to provide accurate and impartial information about the civic life of Indiana, The Indiana Citizen is reporting on the money contributed to the campaigns of key state officials in 2020, based upon the latest round of campaign finance reports filed with the Indiana Secretary of State.

The following report was written by veteran Indiana journalists Janet Williams and Bob Caylor for The Indiana Citizen.

For more information: A very basic primer on Indiana campaign finance

February 16, 2021

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Indiana’s 2020 election cycle drew huge sums of money into the campaigns for governor, attorney general and key leadership positions in the Indiana General Assembly as lawmakers prepared to set the state’s priorities in the next two-year budget.

 Much of that money streamed through party committees, business and labor PACs, and out-of-state groups or came from wealthy individuals, among them four out-of-state billionaires who contributed $1.4 million to school reform efforts in Indiana. The data, filed by the Jan. 25 deadline, covers contributions made to candidates, caucuses and political action committees from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020 and maintained by the Indiana Election Division. 

Contributions were made because the stakes are high.

This year, lawmakers will redraw legislative boundaries for Indiana’s nine congressional districts and 150 seats in the Indiana General Assembly. How those boundaries are drawn will affect control of the legislature and congressional seats for the next decade.

It is also the year the legislature will write a two-year budget expected to exceed $30 billion. Funding for the state’s schools and voucher programs consumes more than half of the two-year budget and — though policies affecting energy, banks, insurance, health and business are also on the agenda — how that money is divided will dominate the session. 

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Education draws some of the biggest, highest-profile donors. For example, data show that three billionaires are responsible for much of the money raised in 2020 by the Hoosiers for Great Public Schools PAC and the RISE INDY PAC.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated $700,000 in two installments to the Hoosiers for Great Public Schools PAC, which was founded in 2010 to promote charter schools. John Arnold, a Texas-based former Enron trader and hedge fund manager, also gave that organization $200,000 plus another $15,000 to the campaign committee of Republican House Speaker Todd Huston of Fishers.

Alice Walton contributed $200,000 to the RISE INDY PAC, which was created in mid-2019 to support candidates for the legislature, Indianapolis Public Schools Board and City-County Council who support school choice. 

Alice Walton also contributed $200,000 to another education PAC, Hoosiers for Quality Education, which advocates for school choice. A donor recorded as “Jim Walton Walton,” providing the same Bentonville, Arkansas, post office box as Alice Walton, also contributed $100,000 to Hoosiers for Quality Education. Jim Walton and Alice Walton are two of the three surviving children of Sam Walton, who founded Walmart.

A review of the state’s campaign database shows that, unlike the contributions to the education-related PACs, it’s not always clear where the money is coming from.

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The 2020 campaign of Gov. Eric Holcomb was more than an example of how money cycles through various political committees, it also shows how a heavily favored incumbent dominates in fundraising. 

Holcomb started 2020 with more than $4 million in his campaign account, raised more than $7 million through the year and ended with close to $1.8 million in cash on hand. The PAC in his name, Team Holcomb, raised another $1.17 million, campaign finance records show.

His campaign far outraised those of Democrat Woody Myers and Libertarian Donald Rainwater, both of whom he handily beat in the November election. Records show that Myers started the year with a little less than $15,000 and raised about $1.4 million through the year while Rainwater’s committee raised a little more than $400,000 in 2020.

Myers’ biggest sources of revenue were from loans he made to his own campaign and about $100,000 of in-kind support from former Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s Senate campaign committee in 2020. Rainwater’s single biggest contribution was $150,000 from Texas hedge-fund manager and professional poker player William O. Perkins.

The biggest donors to the Eric Holcomb for Indiana Committee include the Indiana Republican State Committee, which spent nearly $400,000 on mailings plus another $450,000 in two direct contributions, while Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s campaign donated $250,000 to the governor.

The RGA Right Direction PAC, a conservative super political action committee in Washington, D.C., sent $400,000 to Holcomb’s campaign in three installments last year, data from the Federal Election Commission show. RGA, an arm of the Republican Governors Association, spent more than $22.7 million on political campaigns across the country over the past two years, including Holcomb’s.

Other substantial donations to Holcomb’s regular campaign committee came from school-choice advocates, businesses with state contracts, and real estate and investment companies.

William E. Oberndorf, of San Francisco, and Rex A. Sinquefield of Westphalia, Missouri, are advocates for school choice and have contributed to conservative causes. Oberndorf donated $50,000 while Sinquefield gave $25,000 to the Holcomb campaign.

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Of the many businesses and firms that have contracts with the state, three rank among the Holcomb campaign’s largest contributors–Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, a law firm headquartered in Philadelphia with a large presence in Indianapolis; Grant Verstandig, an Optum Health executive from Arlington, Virginia; and Beam, Longest and Neff, LLC., an Indianapolis consulting firm.

Faegre, whose donations totaled $131,000, contributed $50,000 to Holcomb’s campaign, another $5,000 to Team Holcomb, plus $10,000 each to the House Republican Campaign Committee, the Senate Majority Campaign Committee and the campaign of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, among others. Faegre has had contracts worth more than $600,000 from 2015 to 2018 providing services to the Family and Social Services Administration, the Department of Transportation and the attorney general’s office.

Optum, Verstandig’s company, signed a contract in March 2020 with the State Department of Health worth $900,000 to administer COVID-19 tests. Verstandig contributed $50,000 to Holcomb’s committee.

Beam, Longest and Neff, which donated $55,000 in 2020, has had more than 300 contracts with the state Department of Transportation to provide engineering services for infrastructure projects across Indiana over the past two decades totaling more than $160 million, according to a database of state contracts. Beam donated $35,000 to the Holcomb campaign as well as smaller sums to members of both political parties in 2020.

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Mall developer Herbert Simon, chair emeritus of Simon Property Group, contributed $50,000 while Douglas C. Rose of Irwin R. Rose and Company gave $26,000 and Michael G. Browning of Browning Investments donated $25,000. All three are in real estate development.

The Holcomb campaign also took in more than $1.1 million from Team Holcomb, which raised funds in conjunction with the state Republicans.

Large donors to Team Holcomb include $50,000 each from Silver Eagle Aviation of Valparaiso; the Indiana Realtors Political Action Committee; dotStaff LLC, a vendor management company; and Sunrise Coal LLC, the campaign report shows.

In addition to the Team Holcomb donation, dotStaff also contributed $7,500 to Huston, $2,500 to the committee of Sen. Kyle Walker — an Indianapolis Republican appointed to an open seat after the election — and $1,000 to former Sen. John Ruckelshaus, an Indianapolis Republican who lost his re-election bid to Indianapolis Democrat Fady Qaddoura. 

 

Sunrise Coal also contributed $6,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, $5,000 each to the Senate Majority Campaign Committee, and the campaigns of Attorney General Todd Rokita, Sen. Jon Ford of Terre Haute and Huston, all Republicans.

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Outside money poured into the contest between Rokita and Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel  for attorney general, which was expected to be the most competitive statewide race. Rokita raised a total of $2 million while Weinzapfel, the former mayor of Evansville, raised almost $2.5 million.

The Washington-based Republican Attorneys General Associations spent nearly $1 million to help Rokita, a former member of Congress, get elected as Indiana’s top lawyer. The Democratic Attorneys General Association pumped a little more than $350,000 directly into Weinzapfel’s campaign and another $280,000 from an affiliate, DAGA Indiana.

The position, once regarded as little more than an office that handled the state’s legal business, has become politically charged over the past several election cycles. The conservative RAGA used the resources of Republican attorneys general across the country to challenge policies of more liberal Democratic administrations and Congress while DAGA enlisted Democratic attorneys general to challenge the policies of conservative administrations.

Rokita’s campaign received other donations from outside Indiana, including $10,000 each from Anil Diwan, president of NanoViricides Inc. of New Haven, Connecticut; the Cajun PAC of Louisiana; and the congressional campaign of U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican. Blue Chip Financial of North Dakota donated $5,000.

Individual donors include Ronda Hanning, owner of a Fort Wayne real estate business, who gave Rokita’s campaign $20,000, and Michael Leep of Gurley Leep Automotive Group in Mishawaka, who contributed $15,000.

Donating $10,000 each to Rokita were Anthony Alderson of Alderson Investment Group in Bargersville, Kelley Automotive Group of Fort Wayne, Robert Koch II of Evansville and Russell Fortune III of Indianapolis.

Weinzapfel’s campaign received substantial donations from labor organizations, including  $50,000 each from the Indiana Kentucky Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, Indiana Laborers District Council PAC and UAW Region 3 Victory Fund; $30,000 from I-PACE, the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education; and $25,000 each from Boilermakers Local 374, Indiana State Ironworkers and CWA-COPE PCC, the Communications Workers of American in Washington D.C.

Rokita had nearly $380,000 left in his campaign at the end of the year while Weinzapfel had a little less than $42,000.

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While the races for governor and attorney general drew more attention in the 2020 election cycle, large sums of campaign cash, mostly from business interests, flowed into the campaign war chests of top leaders in the Indiana House and Senate.   

House and Senate leaders as well as the chairs of key committees, such as Ways and Means in the House and Appropriations in the Senate, have the power to control which bills get hearings or advance for a vote.

The top fundraiser in the House was Huston, the Fishers Republican who replaced Brian Bosma of Indianapolis as speaker. The speaker’s position wields more power than any other lawmaker to shape the budget, which originates in the House. Bosma, of Indianapolis, who retired from the General Assembly last year, raised large sums of money during his tenure and turned over $700,000 from his campaign to the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Huston reported contributions of a little more than $1.5 million, including more than $232,000 from the House Republican Campaign Committee and more than $193,000 from the Indiana Republican State Committee.

An array of political action committees also donated, including the $40,000 from Build Indiana, which represents mainly businesses involved in road construction; $45,000 from the Indiana Realtors PAC; $17,000 from the NiSource PAC; $25,000 from the Indiana Multi-Family Housing PAC.

Huston also got $22,500 and $15,000, respectively, from mall developer Herbert Simon and Texas education activist Arnold.

He ended 2020 with a little less than $131,000 in cash on hand. 

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, has little ability to steer legislation against a Republican supermajority. But in the years since Democrats became so small a minority that they can’t even deny the House a quorum, GiaQuinta has continued using his position to present Democratic alternatives in the legislature.

He still attracts healthy support from contributors. GiaQuinta was unopposed last year, but still raised nearly $240,000     .

His largest contributions were $15,000 from Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 in Indianapolis and $16,000 from Lawyers PAC, a committee representing trial lawyers who donate primarily to Democrats. He received $5,000 in contributions from business interests, including utilities American Electric Power and NiSource, General Motors PAC, Indiana Realtors PAC, and Indiana Credit Union PAC, among others.

GiaQuinta had a little more than $7,000 in his campaign account at the end of the year.

 

The Republican leaders of important committees in the House were not automatically showered with money. 

For example, Rep. Robert Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, reported only $19,700 in contributions last year, including $1,000 each from business PACs in several sectors, including AT&T Indiana PAC, Indiana CPA PAC, NiSource Inc. PAC, Optometry PAC and Indiana Bank PAC, among others.

While Behning is in a relatively safe district in Indianapolis, Martin Carbaugh, chair of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee ran for re-election in a competitive Fort Wayne district. He faced an energetic and relatively well-funded candidate last year in Democrat Kyle Miller, who reported contributions of nearly $200,000     .

Two big Republican campaign organizations that solicit and distribute funds across the state stepped in to help Carbaugh, who reported more than $366,000 in contributions last year. The House Republican Campaign Committee gave Carbaugh a little more than $115,000, and the Indiana Republican State Committee donated $67,676. Their help provided half of Carbaugh’s war chest while the House Democratic Caucus provided Miller with only a third of his campaign cash.

Carbaugh won by about 1,000 votes, a margin slightly smaller than the one he enjoyed over Miller in 2018.

Rep. Tim Brown, chair of the powerful budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, won re-election with 75% of the vote over his Democratic challenger, Greg Woods. He began 2020 with more than $42,000 in his campaign account and raised nearly $114,000. Brown, a physician, received $10,000 each from the Indiana Society of Anesthesiologists PAC and Wal PAC, Walmart’s political action committee.

He also received $7,500 from the Build Indiana PAC and $5,000 each from the Indiana Realtors PAC and the Indiana Bank PAC. Brown ended the year with a little more than $53,000 in his campaign fund. 

The Republican party committees had far more money to spend on behalf of their candidates than Democrats. The House Republican Campaign Committee reported about $4 million in contributions last year, compared with about $1.4 million for the Indiana House Democratic Caucus. And the Indiana Democratic State Central Committee raised about $2.1 million last year, compared with nearly $4 million for the Indiana Republican State Committee.

The difference in fundraising prowess is even more evident in the Senate, where Republicans have maintained control since 1976.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, serves in a heavily Republican district yet raised more than $300,000 for a re-election campaign that he easily won with more than 77% of the vote. His campaign started the year with nearly $368,000 cash on hand.

Three of his top campaign donors were political action committees that donated $10,000 each to his campaign: the Indiana Realtors PAC, the Indiana Bank PAC and Build Indiana PAC. A fourth $10,000 donation came from Steve A. Sorrel, a businessman from Indianapolis.

PACs representing energy companies were among Bray’s top donors. NiSource, in northwest Indiana, donated $10,000, while American Electric Power and Duke Energy contributed $5,000 each.

LAW PAC, a political action committee of the state’s lawyers that gives mostly to Republicans, donated $7,500 while Hoosiers for Quality Education, the Indiana Builders PAC, Eli Lilly, Monarch Beverage and the Bose Public Affairs Group contributed $5,000 each.

Much of Bray’s campaign cash went to other candidates or to the Republican Party committees, such as the Senate Majority Campaign Committee, to help elect other Republicans to the General Assembly. He had more than $418,000 left at the end of the year.

Democrat Greg Taylor of Indianapolis, named Senate minority leader after the election, ran unopposed but raised about $45,000 in 2020. Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson, who held the post for most of last year, was not on the ballot but raised about $100,000 from some of the same business PACs as his Republican counterparts.

Taylor’s biggest donors included $5,000 from Michael and Mary Ann Browning of Indianapolis and nearly $5,000 from Act Blue, a Democrat-leaning not-for-profit based in Massachusetts. He had $5,700 left in his campaign at the end of the year.

Among Lanane’s large donors were the Indiana Realtors PAC and I-PACE, an education PAC affiliated with the Indiana State Teachers Association, which each donated $7,500, and an array of business and labor committees. He had a little more than $34,000 left in his campaign account at the end of the year.

The top contributors to the campaigns of Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, chair of Appropriations, and Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, chair of Education, were also dominated by political action committees and business groups.

Mishler raised more than $330,000 for his campaign in his safe Republican district. He beat his Democratic opponent, Brandon Cavanaugh, with nearly 75% of the vote. Raatz, who was not on the ballot in 2020, raised a little less than $31,000 in 2020.

Mishler, who will lead the Senate in writing the state’s two-year budget, received $5,000 each from the Build Indiana PAC, Indiana Realtors PAC and the Indiana Bank PAC. Contributing $2,500 each were the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, Indiana Friends of Rural Electrification and the Miller PAC.

In a competitive — and expensive — Senate race centered on the Indianapolis Northside, incumbent Republican John Ruckelshaus and Democrat Fady Qaddoura relied on the money from their respective party committees to largely fund their campaigns. 

Ruckelshaus received more than $990,000 in in-kind donations such as mailings and other support from the Senate Majority Campaign Committee. Qaddoura’s biggest donor was the Indiana Senate Democrats Committee, which pumped more than $290,000 into his campaign through in-kind contributions.

Previously:

Campaign finance and the General Assembly:  A report from The Indiana Citizen