Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Mislabeling a ‘Liberal Insider’

The anti-tax group Club for Growth Action is attacking an Indiana Republican candidate for the House, Kip Tom, as a “liberal insider.” We find the evidence doesn’t support that claim.

  • The ad says Tom “is on the board of a corporate group that donates to liberals, including Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.” That ethanol lobby’s PAC actually gave more to Republican leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell than to Democratic leaders Pelosi and Reid.
  • The ad also says Tom “sat on a quasi-governmental board that doled out corporate welfare.” The board oversaw Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ signature job-creation initiative.
  • The ad accuses that group of “hiding how it spent taxpayer dollars.” Actually, it was criticized for puffing up the number of jobs created, not for hiding any misuse of tax money.

Tom is a multimillionaire corporate farm executive from Northeast Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. His stated policy positions are far from liberal: He supports gun rights, term limits, paying down the federal debt, cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example.

Club for Growth has endorsed one of Tom’s five opponents in the May 3 GOP primary, state Sen. Jim Banks. All are vying for the GOP nomination to fill a House seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

 ‘Donates to Liberals’

The ad, announced April 19, sandwiches Tom’s photo between photos of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, as though they were three peas in a pod.

The narrator says Tom is on the board of a “corporate group” that donated to them and other liberals.

That’s true as far as it goes. The ad identifies the group in graphics as “Growth Energy.” It’s not obvious from the ad, but this group promotes the use of ethanol as a fuel, and like many business lobbying groups, its political action committee donates heavily to incumbents of both parties.

Since its formation in the 2010 election cycle, the Growth Energy PAC has donated $3,000 to Pelosi, according to tallies by OpenSecrets.org. But it has also donated $7,000 to Republican Rep. John Boehner, who retired last year as House speaker and resigned from his House seat.

During the same period, the PAC gave $4,400 to Reid. But it also gave $5,500 to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Overall, counting donations to all federal candidates and to party committees and partisan PACs, the Growth Energy PAC has given $241,400 to Democrats and $225,000 to Republicans (including $5,000 to Tom’s current campaign for the House).

So we’re not exactly looking at MoveOn.org here.

‘Corporate Welfare’

The ad’s claim about “corporate welfare” refers to Tom’s service on the board of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation from its formation in 2005 until last year.

That public-private partnership was created by Republican Mitch Daniels soon after he took office as Indiana’s governor. It replaced the state’s former Department of Commerce, and its mission is to attract and support new business investment to create jobs. The corporation has continued under Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who succeeded Daniels in 2013.

It’s true that the IEDC uses incentives including job-training grants and tax credits to businesses agreeing to create new jobs in Indiana. Whether that’s “corporate welfare” or “job creation” is a matter of opinion.

‘Hiding … Tax Dollars’

The ad also accuses the IEDC of “hiding how it actually spent tax dollars.” And the ad shows on screen an editorial that appeared in Indiana’s Madison Courier Dec. 29, 2012, under the headline “More IEDC oversight is needed.”

The issue raised by the editorial, however, was whether the IEDC has supported as much job creation as the Daniels administration was claiming, not whether tax dollars were being misused.

The editorial was a follow-up to a 2010 investigative story by an Indianapolis TV station that found “as many as 40% of statewide jobs listed [by IEDC] as so-called economic successes have not happened — and most of them never will.”

But no misuse of money was alleged. The story quoted Indiana Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob as saying companies didn’t get tax money for jobs that failed to materialize. “If a company commits to create 100 jobs and it only creates 80, it gets 80 percent of its incentives,” Roob said. “We audit every company before we give out a dime of taxpayer money.”

Neither the 2012 editorial nor the 2010 investigative story made any mention of Tom, who was one of a dozen members of a board chaired by Daniels, and later by Pence. As a board member, Tom had no control over the corporation’s day-to-day operations.

So does serving on the boards of the ethanol lobby and a Republican governor’s job-creation initiative make Tom a “liberal insider”? We think not.