Billion Dollar Story: Campaign Finance in Indiana

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Money in politics: It’s cited by presidential candidates, pundits and citizens alike as a problem in the United States, particularly since the landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling, in which the Supreme Court cleared the way for unlimited independent spending on elections by corporations and unions.

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.

In Indiana, since 2000, contributors have given close to a billion dollars to candidates for state office and various other political committees. Despite such huge amounts flowing through Indiana’s political process, the system governing campaign contributions is particularly loose. In fact, one watchdog organization ranked the state among the worst in the nation for campaign finance oversight.


A class of under­graduate students spent the spring 2016 semester digging into the campaign finance in Indiana and have produced five in-depth stories detailing aspects of the issue.

Using data and interviews, students in assistant professor Gerry Lanosga’s Investigative Reporting class looked at inconsistencies in reporting and regulating campaign finance, effects of corporate and organizational contributions and campaign spending.

Their reporting explored 16 years worth of state campaign contributions and spending data (reflecting the available data through 2015), revealing problems that include poor data quality, spotty enforcement of the rules, and loopholes that render statutory limitations virtually meaningless.

Four students

Among the students who worked on the project were Leah Carter, Xuan Li, Anne Halliwell and Noah Deitchley. (Gena Asher | The Media School)

Students contributing to this project included James Benedict, Leah Carter, Noah Deitchley, Connor Faul, Paige Ferguson, Kendall Gilbert, Anne Halliwell, Madison Hogan, Mary Jamerson, Emily Koval, Xuan Li, Katherine MacDonell, Lindsay Moore, Sarah Panfil, David Pecar, Shakara Williams and David Wood.

Lanosga, a former investigative reporter who worked in print and TV, guided the students’ work and worked with them to edit their final projects.

 

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