After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law the state’s controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Angie’s List CEO William Oesterle criticized the legislation for condoning discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people and threatened to cancel plans for his company's $40 million expansion in Indianapolis. But from December 2011 to November 2012, as former Congressman Pence was opposing a federal bill to extend civil rights protections to gay workers, Oesterle donated $150,000 to Pence’s gubernatorial campaign.
In addition to Oesterle, eight other high-profile CEOs published an open letter earlier this week, criticizing Gov. Pence and demanding he revise the new statute. The letter touts a general corporate commitment to equal rights, but it fails to mention that the majority of CEOs who signed the missive lead companies whose employees and corporate political action committees have funneled campaign cash to Pence.
CEOs from Angie's List, Anthem, Cummins, Dow AgroSciences, Eli Lilly, Emmis Communications, Indiana University Health, Roche Diagnostics and Salesforce signed the letter. The only companies whose CEOs or political action committees have not given directly to Pence are Emmis Communications, Indiana University Health and Salesforce, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
An International Business Times review of campaign finance records shows the donations are among a larger tranche of hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars that have flowed to Pence from companies that publicly say they support equal rights. That cash landed in the Republican’s election campaign coffers even as he outspokenly opposed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage and to outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"One of the key missing pieces in the conversation around Indiana's RFRA over the past two weeks has been the role of companies now slamming the bill in putting Gov. Pence in office to begin with,” says Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, which supports the passage of federal and state measures to prevent employers from discriminating against LGBT workers.
“While it has been heartening to see companies defending fairness as a value,” Cronk says, the businesses are “having their cake and eating it, too.”
Pence’s office declined IBTimes' request for comment, though earlier this week Pence said, “I don’t support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else -- I abhor discrimination.” Facing a national backlash, Indiana state legislators on Thursday introduced a Pence-backed measure that says the new law cannot be used to discriminate against gay people. That proposal does not, however, establish gay, lesbian and transgender people as protected classes.
While many corporate leaders have recently expressed surprise at Pence’s position, his views on gay rights are no secret.
In the early stages of his congressional career, Pence emerged as a leading voice against a federal proposal to extend civil rights protections to LGBT people, saying they are not “entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” In Congress, he backed proposals to ban 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.”
Despite those declarations, Pence raised large sums of money from political action committees and employees of at least 30 companies that publicly support equal rights.
Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is one company that has long supported Pence. Now criticizing the Pence-backed state law, Lilly this week declared that "discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business” and added that “one of our long-held values is respect for people.” Yet since Pence first began running for office in 2000, on a promise to oppose gay rights, the company’s political action committee has given his congressional campaigns $50,200, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In that time, its individual employees gave an additional $14,150 to Pence’s campaigns.
In 2007, Pence voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and said the legislation was an attempt to “wage war on the free exercise of religion in the workplace.” Two years later, Eli Lilly published a letter to federal lawmakers, asking them to pass the bill. Despite Pence’s opposition, and his party's then blocking it from coming to a vote, Eli Lilly employees kept donating to Pence's congressional campaign. The company’s political action committees also contributed $21,500 to his 2012 gubernatorial bid, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Eli Lilly did not respond to IBTimes’ request for comment about its donations to Pence.
Employees and political action committees at Cummins, a Columbus, Indiana, engine manufacturer, have combined to give more money to Pence’s congressional campaigns than those of any other corporation. Cummins, whose CEO signed the open letter, joined a statewide coalition in 2003 in support of a bill to extend civil rights protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity. At the same time, the firm’s employees were financially backing Pence’s bids for re-election, giving the lawmaker a total of $62,000 during his congressional career, in addition to $16,000 from Cummins political action committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“We’ve been opposed to this bill from the onset, and our opposition has been very clear,” a Cummins spokesman said about the Indiana law. He did not respond to questions about why the company has backed Pence.
Texas-based AT&T’s company policy has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since the 1970s, and the telecom giant went on record in support of a federal ban in 2000. When religious activist shareholders tried to get rid of the company’s long-standing protections for gay workers in 2008, a spokeswoman defended them as “one of the business’s many ways to obtain and keep employees.”
Still, over the decade, AT&T’s political action committees contributed $58,500 to Pence’s various congressional campaigns. The same year that the company sponsored an award at a Los Angeles gala for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, AT&T political action committees started contributing money to Pence’s gubernatorial bid, eventually giving $30,000.
Representatives for AT&T did not respond to request for comment.
Heather Cronk says the gay rights commitments of the corporations that spoke out against the law "will be revealed when we see those same companies either support or remain silent on passing LGBT non-discrimination protections.”