Chambers’ record for donations shows bipartisan support

The latest governor entrant doesn’t always vote in primaries

By: - August 28, 2023 7:00 am

A review of gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers’ voting and donating reveals a bipartisan record. (Photo from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Flickr)

At first blush, a $5,000 contribution from a Republican gubernatorial hopeful to former President Barack Obama might raise eyebrows.

But a review of businessman Brad Chambers’ voting and donation records spanning nearly three decades reveal a history of support for both major parties spanning the ideological spectrum.

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Chambers, who stepped down as the Secretary of Commerce earlier this month, doesn’t have the same political record as his opponents. He faces an assortment of serious contenders, many of whom have a lengthy political history or have released detailed policy proposals to help voters understand their stances.

As owner of Buckingham Companies, a real estate firm, Chambers made 51 contributions between 1997 and 2022, according to records from the Federal Election Commission, as well as nine additional donations detailed by the Indiana Secretary of State’s campaign finance portal.

Chambers has a more consistent voting record in the general election with sporadic participation in primary elections. Going back to 1994, he only pulled primary ballots for the years 1996, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2019 — and they were all Republican, according to records obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

But Andrew Downs, a former political science professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said Chambers’ record might not matter too much to some voters.

“Absolutely (it will) for some voters. But whether that segment is large enough to affect the outcome if the real question,” Downs said. “Keep in mind, Donald Trump gave money to Hillary Clinton. So it’s not a death sentence but it’s something that gets talked about.”

A breakdown of Chambers’ donations

Chambers’ earliest contributions focused on state politicians — including Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican David Yount, in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

But in 2008, Chambers’ donations rapidly pick up and he gave to 16 Democrat committees — mostly state parties in other states as well as a maximum $5,000 contribution to the committee to elect former President Barak Obama in his first term. The Indiana Republican State Committee and John McCain’s election campaign also received checks. Combined, he gave $17,358 that year.

Story continues below chart.

Chambers’ overall contributions to Democrats are less than one-third of his donations to Republicans, or $17,558 compared to $59,825. In the last ten years, Chambers has only donated to one Democrat — $1,000 to former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2015, which falls between election cycles.

Donnelly lost in 2018 to Republican newcomer Mike Braun. In that year, Chambers declined to support Donnelly and instead gave Braun’s campaign $2,700.

Braun is one of Chambers’ competitors in the 2024 race for governor, along with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden.

Of the four, the wealthy Doden is the only other candidate to make substantial contributions logged in the federal database and contributed more than $58,000 to Indiana Republican parties and candidate committees. The FEC logged less than $1,000 in contributions for Braun, Crouch and Hill as individuals.

Chambers declined to comment directly for this article but Marty Obst, the co-chair of Chambers for Indiana, defended Chambers’ record over his lengthy career.

“Brad Chambers is a lifelong Republican and the overwhelming majority of his financial support has gone to Republicans, but over a 40-year career as a business owner, Brad has occasionally donated to Democrat candidates,” Obst said in a statement.

Will it matter?

Downs said Chambers’ bipartisan record might not matter so much in a multi-candidate race since Chambers only needs to obtain a plurality of votes, not the majority. In other words, even if Chambers only nets 35% of the vote he’d win so long as no other candidate pulled more votes.

If there were only two candidates or the winner needed a majority vote, one would need to pull the majority of voters or 51% in order to win.

“If this were Chambers against Braun, then those contributions to Democrats would be characterized as him not being loyal to the party and a bad fit,” Downs said. “But since we’re talking about a race that could have as many as (five) ‘quality’ candidates and people were able to raise significant money and actually campaigned pretty hard, it’s less effective.”

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Chambers could even attract Democratic voters since the primary for the Democrat party only has one candidate so far — former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick.

“There will be some Democrats who might say, ‘You know what, I’m going to crossover vote in that Republican primary because McCormick is going to get the nomination. I don’t need to worry about her but I’m worried about the Republican nomination,'” Downs said.

But that will depend on what sort of policies and issues Chambers decides to champion. In the current race, Braun, Crouch and Hill have painted themselves as the more conservative candidates and have a political record supporting that description.

Doden, who ran the Indiana Economic Development Corporation under the Pence administration, has similarly adopted a conservative tone on abortion and gun issues but appears to be a more moderate option.

“I’m not sure you can run much further to the right than Braun or Hill will; so that only leaves you the moderate lane,” Downs said. “If you are able to deliver that message somewhat effectively and the Democratic primary stays relatively quiet … then you will cross voters because there will be Democrats who will say, ‘I’m afraid that one of the far right (candidates) is going to get the nomination.”

Most notably, the general public will select who wins the Republican nomination, not a group of delegates who represent a slim and more traditionally partisan party faction. This allows someone with a bipartisan record a better shot when, as recently as 2020, a Republican candidate lost the nomination over a past Democratic donation.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

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

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