By Chelsea Schneider and Tony Cook
Donors have paid for Gov. Mike Pence to travel overseas, rent luxury sports suites, lobby lawmakers and fly to Iowa ahead of its first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest.
But those donors and the amounts they've given have been a closely guarded secret -- until now.
For the first time, the Pence administration has released a list of donors and the amounts they've contributed to the Indiana Economic Development Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the state's economic development agency. The disclosure comes in response to repeated public record requests from The Indianapolis Star.
The list reveals that more than 50 companies, trade groups and governmental entities contributed $2.19 million to the foundation from January 2014 to June 2015.
The majority of that money -- about $1.7 million -- came from utility companies. Duke Energy and its foundation gave the most -- more than $456,000. Other contributors included lobbying firms, industry groups, regional economic development agencies, universities and large Indianapolis companies such as Eli Lilly and Co. and Dow Agro Sciences.
Pence has tapped the money for six international trade missions to China, Israel, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and Canada, where, for example, he hosted about 30 business executives and government officials at a hospitality suite during the Toronto Maple Leafs' season opener.
The Pence administration says the international travel and job creation efforts are paying off. Since his last trip to Japan, for example, six Japanese companies have announced plans to invest $290 million in Indiana and create more than 1,200 jobs. That trip was funded with $165,000 from the foundation -- money that allows the administration to avoid using taxpayer money.
"We continuously seek donations for the foundation to support our business development efforts," said Indiana Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Abby Gras. "As you can see, there are a number of donors from economic development groups to businesses who donate to the foundation. I can't speak for those donors, but I imagine they donate because they see the value of the state's economic development efforts and support the continued growth of business and job creation in Indiana."
The foundation also will pay for Pence's second jobs trip to Japan next week. The budget for that trip is $280,000, but IEDC officials emphasized it could end up costing far less.
The donations also have covered the cost of Pence's travels inside the country.
Earlier this month, the foundation paid for a two-day job hunting trip to the East Coast, where Pence hosted 65 people for a ballgame at Yankee Stadium. The cost for tickets and food was about $24,000, the IEDC said. And in September, before he had ruled out a run for president, Pence used money from the foundation to pay for a trip to Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential nominating contest. Pence spoke at a Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference and headlined a lunchtime fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a fellow Republican.
The foundation's funds have even been utilized for lobbying efforts. During this year's legislative session, the Pence administration spent $2,300 on a slick, campaign-style website in an effort to save one of his top priorities -- a new $84 million "regional cities" initiative intended to boost economic development across the state by leveraging private investment.
The website criticized Pence's fellow Republican lawmakers and urged people to "TAKE ACTION!" by sending a form letter to their legislators. Foundation money also was used to purchase gift bags for 25 key lawmakers. The bags included letters of support for the initiative from local mayors and a magnetic paperweight with paper-clip men.
The Star has requested a full list of foundation expenditures, but the information was not immediately available.
While the administration touts the trade missions as vital to attracting jobs, critics contend that when utilities and other companies pay for such trips, they gain an unfair edge in influencing public policy.
"It creates another opportunity, for example, with utility companies, which are heavily regulated at the state level, whose profits are really dependent on how they are treated by state government, it gives them the opportunity again to build relationships to be seen more as friends than somebody who needs some careful watching," said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana.
Executives from the same companies that fund the trade missions often accompany Pence on those trips, providing valuable access to the state's top executive.
"What they are effectively doing is looking for business, and so what we have as a result are policies at the administration level and the legislative level that favor the utility business plan, which isn't necessarily in the interest of the public," said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition.
But companies interviewed by The Star said they give because they believe in the group's mission. They don't earmark specific uses for their contributions, they said.
"Economic development benefits everyone," said Brian Bergsma, director of communications and government affairs for Indiana Michigan Power. "Job creation creates better streets, better schools, better economic opportunities for everyone."
Duke Energy spokesman Lew Middleton said the company has an ongoing relationship with the IEDC, where it meets with state economic development officials on a regular basis.
"We do hope to attract new businesses to our service area," Middleton said, "and at the same time, then be able to increase the number of jobs in any given community where a business might be thinking about locating. It sort of helps raise the quality of life for all the citizens in a particular community when new jobs come to the area."
The state's decision to disclose the foundation's donors and contribution amounts breaks several years of relative silence on the matter. Pence's predecessor, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, disclosed a list of foundation donors in an annual IEDC report in 2011. That list included donors that gave at least $5,000 but did not list the amount of each donor's contributions.
Top 10 donors
Private companies and others have given $2.19 million to the Indiana Economic Development Foundation since 2014*. Here are largest contributors. Go to IndyStar.com for a full list of donors.
1. Indiana Michigan Power, $424,000.
2. Duke Energy. $381,654.
3. Vectren, $267,150.
4. Northern Indiana Public Service Co., $260,000.
5. Indianapolis Power & Light Co., $157,500.
6. Duke Energy Foundation. $75,000.
7. ISDA, $50,000**.
8. NIPSCO, $50,000.
9. Purdue Research Foundation, $50,000.
10. Hoosier Energy, $37,500.
*Jan. 1, 2014, to June 10, 2015
**The Indiana State Department of Agriculture donation was composed of the following: BioTown Ag ($5,000), Hoosier Energy ($10,000), IPDP/Dairy Producers ($5,000), Beck's ($10,000), Agribusiness Council ($5,000), Premier Companies ($2,500), Jackson Jennings ($2,500), Wabash Valley Power ($5,000), Cargill ($2,500), Farm Credit ($2,500). Source: Indiana Economic Development Corp.
(c)2015 The Indianapolis Star