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Did Indiana Cancel Contract Because Firm Supports LGBT Rights?

Did Indiana Cancel Contract Because Firm Supports LGBT Rights?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence is getting more bad press, after firing the company the state hired to fix that problem.

Pence canceled a $750,000 contract with a pro-LGBT public relations firm meant to shore up the state's image after the "religious freedom" debacle earlier this year. The state will pay New York-based Porter Novelli $365,000 for work already completed, but the administration won't say what that work entailed.

"Mike Pence wasn’t being transparent with Hoosiers when he terminated the taxpayer-funded contract with Porter Novelli the day before a long holiday weekend. This move, as even the media described it, leaves Hoosiers asking more questions than getting answers," said John Zody, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party. "I’m formally calling on Mike Pence to release all documents, including contracts, message memos, and emails related to his contract with Porter Novelli to ‘repair’ the $250 million economic panic he caused the state."

Pence's administration said previously that they would spend up to $2 million dollars with the PR firm to repair the state's reputation, after Republicans rammed through a "religious freedom" law that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT people and would have repealed all local ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination. After national outcry, the law was "fixed" to say it couldn't be used as an excuse for discriminating against LGBT people.

Pence's administration touted a recent CNBC ranking naming the state best in the nation for the cost of doing business, strong employment numbers, and cost reduction efforts. Any further information, however, was denied - including requests by the media for details on what work was actually performed by the company.

Open records requests by the Indianapolis Star were denied by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. After first saying the request was "too broad," the IEDC also rejected another more narrow request, saying state law allows the agency to keep confidential any records that "are expressions of opinion or are of a speculative nature" and "are communicated for the purpose of decision making."

Indiana Democrats charge that the administration may have canceled the contract because they didn't like the firm's advice on LGBT issues. The Pence administration has adamantly stated that protecting LGBT Hoosiers from discrimination is "not a priority" and put out a press release condemning the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. Porter Novelli is a strong supporter of the LGBT community; the company recently changed its logo to include a rainbow, as a show of support following the court's decision.

IEDC spokesperson Abby Gras denied that charge in a statement to the Star, saying "Our agreement did not involve policy or legislation. Any speculation to the contrary is incorrect." Gras would not say whether a nondiscrimination law was recommended by the firm before the contract was canceled.

In a letter delivered to the Governor's office this week, state Democrats have demanded that the administration release all pertinent documents related to the contract. Under Indiana law, any results of polling, focus groups, or surveys, as well as any invoices or contract negotiation details are not considered speculative and should have been released as requested.

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