Corporations’ words and cash clash in Indiana

Last week, corporate America appeared to take a rare stand on principle. After Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a law permitting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, various companies expressed outrage and tried to position themselves as bold defenders of social justice.

There was just one little problem: Many of the same companies have been donating to the public officials who have long opposed the effort to outlaw such discrimination. That campaign cash has flowed to those politicians as they have very publicly led the fight against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Pence provides a perfect example. During his congressional career, he led the GOP’s fight against a federal proposal to extend civil rights protections to LGBT people, arguing that they are not “entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also supported a ban on same-sex marriage, voted against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and argued that legislation to prevent companies from discriminating against gay and lesbian employees would “wage war on the free exercise of religion in the workplace.”

In light of that record, his move as governor to sign Indiana’s so-called “religious freedom” bill permitting discrimination is not surprising. It is instead the culmination of his larger crusade waged over an entire career — one financed by many of the same companies now claiming they are outraged by the governor’s actions.

Take, for instance, Angie’s List. The company’s top executive, William Oesterle, was one of nine CEOs who signed an open letter to Pence demanding he revise the “religious freedom” legislation so that it does not allow discrimination. Oesterle also threatened to cancel plans for a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis if Indiana legislators did not change the law. “It’s very disappointing to us that it passed and was signed by the governor,” Oesterle said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Yet, Pence’s record didn’t stop Oesterle from giving $150,000 to his 2012 gubernatorial campaign.

Similarly, Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s CEO signed the letter bashing Pence’s bill, and a company spokesperson declared that “discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business.” But the company’s political action committee has given Pence’s congressional campaigns $50,200 and his gubernatorial campaign another $21,500. The latter contributions came after Eli Lilly publicly urged lawmakers to pass the Employment and Non-Discrimination Act over the opposition of Pence and other Republicans.

In all, six of the nine corporate executives who signed the letter criticizing Pence’s legislation represent companies whose CEOs or political action committees donated to Pence while he was campaigning against LGBT rights.

Heather Cronk, co-director of the pro-equality group GetEQUAL, says the disconnect between the companies’ rhetoric and their campaign contributions is an illustrative example of hypocrisy.

“One of the key missing pieces in the conversation around Indiana’s (law) over the past two weeks has been the role of companies now slamming the bill in putting Gov. Pence in office to begin with,” she told International Business Times. “While it has been heartening to see companies defending fairness as a value,” Cronk said, the companies are “having their cake and eating it, too.”

Of course, many of the companies railing on Pence likely gave to him for reasons that had nothing to do with his position on discrimination — a lot of them probably donated because of his support for tax cuts, deregulation and other priorities on corporate America’s economic agenda. But that is hardly a valid excuse absolving those firms of their culpability in helping the fight against equality.

Perhaps more of those companies and others will now appreciate that truism — and better align their campaign donations with their purported anti-discrimination principles.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times. Email him at

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