JOHN LIVELSBERGER — MARCH 6, 2016
Porter Novelli was hired by Indiana after national outrage over the state’s anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence.
According reports that were released last week from Indiana Economic Development Corporation, there was no real reason given as to why taxpayers were stuck with a $365,000 bill from New York-based public relations giant.
The record totaling 1,100 pages gave little to no information what was exactly gained by the hiring of the firm, or how the Hoosier State benefited from it, or why Pence terminated the contract just weeks after retaining them.
Porter Novelli did provide the state with a monitoring radar and daily reports on what was being said about the state in traditional media and social media.
This tracking system kept tabs on influential social media users like Republican pollster Christine Matthews, political strategist Donna Brazile, and Huffington Post senior political reporter Amanda Terkel.
An Apr. 15, 2015 report said that “a number of opinion writers and LGBT community leaders believe spending $2 million in taxpayer money is unnecessary, and that the state should instead pass non-discrimination laws.”
Indiana has so far failed to pass such laws during the current legislative session.
Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the IEDC, spins the hiring of Porter Novelli as nothing to do with RFRA. He explained, “The reason [to hire the firm] was there before. It’s not to make up for something.”
According to a press release that was scrapped just hours before it was sent out, Indiana Commerce Secretary Victor Smith said, “We must acknowledge the recent political controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has damaged our reputation.”
The release went on to mention RFRA several times.
According to the report, IEDC officials and Porter Novelli edited out any mention of RFRA and the quote attributed to Secretary Smith.
When asked why this version of the release was not used, IEDC Spokeswoman Abby Gras said, “Various word choices were considered in the development of this particular release. All of our press releases at the IEDC go through several rounds of edits; this is pretty standard.”
The documents provided by the IEDC were only released because of a formal complaint issued to Public Access Counselor Luke Britt. He argued that the IEDC had violated the states’ public records law by not releasing the records after they were requested eight months earlier.
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, submitted a public records request to Pence in July of 2015, seeking all documents and e-mails from Porter Novelli.
According to Zody, “Pence wasn’t being transparent with Hoosiers when he terminated the taxpayer funded contract with Porter Novelli the day before a long holiday weekend. Hoosiers need to know their tax dollars are being managed properly.”
According to Indiana law, public records requests need to rereleased to the requesting parties in a “reasonable” amount of time.
“Simply put, a reasonable period of time has long since elapsed,” Brit wrote in his opinion against the IEDC.
When the IEDC finally complied with the request, what it provided was a document that had either partially, or completely redacted, pages.
Fifty other documents were completely withheld.
According to Cotterill, the reason so much of the report was not made available was to keep top-secret marketing strategies out of the hands of other states.
“If, for example, the IEDC had to reveal all it’s marketing plans, then other states that are competing with Indiana for jobs would have Indiana’s playbook,” Cotterill said. “More than that, they would have the underlying opinions and analyses that lead to the development of our ‘plays’”.
Even after the $365,000 price tag, the RFRA law is still in place. Advocates say that the only damage control the state needed to do was pass LGBT non-discrimination laws, a solution that would have been much less costly both in finical terms and in terms of reputation.