Political donations unlikely to sway Indiana lawmakers on abortion

Pro-choice and anti-abortion groups have donated more than $250,000 to Hoosier campaigns

By: - July 12, 2022 6:25 am

Pro-life and pro-choice groups have given thousands to Indiana legislators. (Getty Images)

Leading pro-choice and anti-abortion groups have donated more than a quarter million dollars to Indiana political candidates and committees over the last 20 years, although political experts say that’s unlikely to sway state lawmakers in the coming weeks as they develop abortion-restricting legislation.

While campaign contributions are usually an effective means for advocacy organizations to influence policy, the abortion issue is different, said Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, a nonpartisan election watchdog.

“It’s so based on ideology and individual beliefs,” she said. “Contributions from the groups … aren’t likely to influence legislation and legislators. Most legislators know exactly where they stand and are not going to change positions at this point.”

Democrats get boost from pro-choice groups

Democratic campaigns and committees reported donations of roughly $230,000 from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund — an advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood — which supports candidates in favor of abortion rights.

Since 2008, political campaigns to Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne were $8,500 from the pro-choice group, according to data collected by the Indiana Secretary of State.

Other House Democrats have received similar contributions.

Planned Parenthood PAC contributions to current Indiana Democratic lawmakers:

Rep. Terri Austin: $7,199

Rep. Sue Errington: $7,150

Sen. David Niezgodski: $99

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta: $8,550

Sen. Fady Qaddoura: $500

Rep. Matt Pierce: $6,799

Rep. Gregory W. Porter: $3,250

Rep. Cherrish Pryor: $7,625

Rep. Robin Shackleford: $125

Rep. Vanessa Summers: $800

Planned Parenthood PAC contributions to Indiana Republican lawmakers:

Sen. Vaneta Becker: $3,250

Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, has received roughly $7,200 from Planned Parenthood’s PAC since 2004. She has been outspoken against plans by Republican state lawmakers to introduce any legislation that would further restrict access to abortions in Indiana. 

Fellow Democratic Reps. Cherrish Pryor of Indianapolis, and Sue Errington of Muncie, have also each received total donations in excess of $7,000, according to the Indiana Secretary of State.

One Republican, Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville, additionally reported $3,250 in Planned Parenthood PAC contributions between 2004 and 2009.

Andrew Downs, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said that although year-by-year contributions to candidates on either side of the aisle “might not seem like much,” in aggregate, “those numbers do often matter.”

“When an organization is giving money, they are giving it with the expectation that you are in alignment with their position on issues,” Downs said, noting that donations from individuals, on the other hand, are typically smaller and personally-driven.

“When an organization gives money, especially like an advocacy group of some kind, there is an expectation that you’re going to vote, ‘the right way.’ And if you don’t, then there will be punishment for that — they won’t give you money next time.”

Contributions to Indiana Republicans

Just over $46,000 has come from the political action committee for Indiana Right to Life, a pro-life nonprofit with county and regional affiliates around the state.

The group is a state-level affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, which provides model bill services, legal counsel and advocacy efforts for the anti-abortion movement. Currently, the organization is leading a nationwide effort to craft anti-abortion legislation following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, received the most donations from the group, reporting $2,175 in contributions since 2012.

Republican Rep. Dave Heine of Fort Wayne logged $550 in contributions from 2016 to 2021.

Right to Life PAC contributions to current Indiana Republican lawmakers:

Sen. Justin Busch: $100

Sen. Rodric Bray: $300

Rep. Martin Carbaugh: $2,175

Sen. Ed Charbonneau: $250

Rep. Dave Heine: $550

Sen. Travis Holdman: $75

Sen. Jean Leising: $700

Sen. Jim Tomes: $423

Sen. Andy Zay: $500

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, reported a single $700 donation from Allen County’s Right to Life Committee in 2000. Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, additionally received a single $300 donation from Indiana Right to Life PAC in 2018.

None of the lawmakers contacted by the Indiana Capital Chronicle returned requests for comment.

Indiana Right to Life President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Fichter said in a statement that the group endorses candidates through its political action committee “based on candidate surveys that look at voting records and other criteria.”

It’s not yet clear just how much Indiana lawmakers have received from such groups this year, including since last month’s high court decision on abortion.

The next campaign finance deadline in Indiana is in October. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb initially called for legislators to convene for a special legislative session to consider a taxpayer refund on July 6 but leadership delayed the start date until July 25 to give themselves more time to craft anti-abortion legislation.

What donations could mean for abortion legislation

It’s uncertain where Republican lawmakers will land on abortion-related bills, but possible proposals include a full ban on the procedure. Previously, the Republican governor said he had no “red lines” when it came to abortion legislation. 

Downs said advocacy groups organized around “highly controversial issues,” like abortion or guns, typically vet candidates before giving them money. That means those receiving donations from groups like Planned Parenthood and Right to Life often already have aligned views with those organizations and “are not ambiguous about their position on the issue.”

Still, Downs maintained that advocacy groups will likely continue to use their funds as a way to “tie down legislators’ positions” on abortion, even if lawmakers are already likely to vote favorably to the groups on related proposals.

Downs said that might not mean much for Democrats, who are a super-minority in Indiana and are already “mostly unified” against restricting abortions. 

For Republicans, though, internal caucus debates could put additional pressure on some lawmakers to make clear their stances on the specifics of a possible ban on abortions, such as on exceptions to a ban, or criminal penalties for those who assist women seeking abortions.

“These groups will be interested to get legislators on the record, supporting or opposing things. That aspect of this is not going away,” Downs said. “Ultimately, legislators are going to have to weigh out their own personal opinions on the issue with what their constituents have had to say, and what the supporting groups have said and done for them.”

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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