Another viewpoint: Secret giving is foundation for mistrust


Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

In 2005, when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation establishing the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the agency tasked with state business attraction and retention efforts, Hoosiers likely were unaware a corresponding Indiana Economic Development Foundation also was created.

It collects donations to help support IEDC activities, but neither the foundation’s donors nor its spending are available for public scrutiny.

Critics believe the foundation’s opacity is by design, giving corporate entities — which already have a deafening voice in state government through campaign contributions and lobbying — yet another path to add to their influence.

“I don’t think there’s any legitimate reason to keep these donations from the public,” Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, which advocates for open, honest and accountable government, told The Journal Gazette. “It may be what the donors want. But it’s certainly not healthy in terms of providing information to the public and letting us decide whether these contributions have bought access, have bought favorable decision-making from the IEDC.”

Organizations donated $2.7 million to the Indiana Economic Development Foundation over the past three years, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported last month.

The IEDC did not respond to a request for an interview, but spokeswoman Erin Sweitzer told the Capital Chronicle, “The foundation … is able to accept private donations, supplementing the IEDC’s funding appropriated by the Indiana General Assembly and enabling the IEDC to pursue its goals more aggressively.”

Nonprofit organizations typically file Internal Revenue Service Form 990 with information on their missions, structures, revenue, expenditures, assets and liabilities. But foundation deputy counsel Andrew Lang told the Capital Chronicle the agency is exempt “as a nonprofit associated with a governmental unit” and that the foundation was “not in possession” of such filings.

“Unfortunately, everything is tightly sealed off behind this heavy, dark curtain,” Vaughn said. “Any time you have that kind of situation in government, it creates suspicion.”

Leaders of the Indiana Economic Development Foundation are well aware of that kind of mistrust. Near the bottom of its website, the agency posted this disclaimer: “The decision by a company to make a donation, or to not make a donation, to the foundation will be given no consideration whatsoever by the IEDC should that company ever apply for economic incentives.”

“How do we know that if we don’t know who gave the contributions?” Vaughn said. “They’re trying to get out ahead of the criticism. These statements, these assurances, these disclaimers don’t mean anything if we don’t have a complete set of information.”

The Indiana Economic Development Foundation’s legislative shield from donor, spending and tax disclosures appears yet another route for monied interests to buy influence in state government. Yet in the face of suspicion, the foundation’s leaders say with straight faces, “Oh, no. We’d never do that.”

“Prove it” should be every Hoosier’s response.

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