Featured

Billion Dollar Story: Campaign Finance in Indiana

With much of the intense scrutiny focused on national campaigns, political financing at the state level can be an afterthought. But state elections constitute an enormous share of the campaign finance complex, and often the reporting and regulation of contributions is lax at best.

No limits: Political action committees pump millions into state elections

The influence of political action committees in Indiana politics in recent years readily can be spotted in the state’s campaign finance database. The largest single contribution, in fact, is from a PAC, the Republic Governors Association Ohio, or RGA Ohio PAC. The organization made a $1 million gift to Mike Pence during his campaign for governor in 2012. RGA Ohio PAC is one of hundreds of PACs that have contributed more than $51 million to Indiana political campaigns between 2010 and 2015, according to the state’s database. Before 2010, the state did not track the type of contributors, and irregularities in the data make it impractical to assess the full extent of PAC activity in the nearly $1 billion worth of campaign contributions since 2000.

How the system works – or doesn’t

Under Indiana law, any candidate, party committee, or political action committee must report its contributions and expenses at least once a year (candidate and party committees must file more frequently during election years). Committees file their financial reports with the Election Division either electronically or on paper.

A quick primer on the big numbers in Indiana state politics

It’s been said that money is the mother’s milk of politics. In Indiana politics, the milk is abundant thanks to what critics say is one of the loosest regulatory systems in the nation.

According to a review of campaign finance data from 2000 through 2015, state-level political committees have taken in a total of $942 million in contributions. That’s nearly a billion dollars raised to run campaigns and influence election contests for the Indiana General Assembly, the governor’s office and other statewide positions such as state superintendent of public instruction.

The site of a new nitrogen fertilizer plant in Tuscola, Ill. The plant is slated to be built on 240-acres of farmland and bring 2,000 construction jobs and 175 permanent jobs to the area.

Construction of Cronus fertilizer plant delayed as costs soar

In October 2014, state and local officials and Cronus Chemicals CEO Erzin Atac donned hard hats in an empty farm field to announce a deal to bring a $1.4 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant to central Illinois.

Atac said he hoped to break ground in 2015 in Tuscola, Ill., with plans to complete the plant by early 2017.

But this spring Cronus Chemicals quietly announced on its website that the estimated cost is now $1.9 billion – more than 30 percent above the original estimate. The website also says the plant will not be finished until the last quarter of 2019 – or at least 30 months later than the initial completion date.