A former state Republican Party chairman's pledge to provide campaign cash to protect House members who were considering voting against a constitutional gay marriage ban offers a rare look at the private power game that plays out on tough issues at the Statehouse.
Jim Kittle offered "unlimited" campaign help to House Speaker Brian Bosma as part of a push to defeat the proposed amendment, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the discussion. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose the private discussions.
Kittle withdrew his offer after Bosma questioned its legality, and it turns out the money wasn't needed after all. Only four House Republicans targeted by ban supporters face primary challenges, and changes to the proposed amendment's language will keep the issue off the ballot until at least 2016. But the back-room intrigue illustrates how election-year politics and campaign dollars shape some of the state's most important decisions.
The fight over the proposed marriage ban was always tinged by the 2014 election cycle, if not always on the surface. Voters must decide all 100 House seats this year, and supporters of the marriage ban used the threat of election challenges to try to secure a November vote on the issue.
Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute and a leading supporter of the ban, sent an email to supporters Jan. 28, shortly after the House stripped language barring civil unions from the proposed amendment. That move forced lawmakers to restart the amendment process and kept the issue off the November ballot.
The email listed Republicans who had voted to remove the civil unions ban and closed with a reminder that Indiana's primary election filing deadline was Feb. 7. It also included a link to the form needed to file for office.
"Please immediately contact the following 23 House Republicans who voted to gut the Marriage Amendment, by removing the second sentence, and let them know that when the Marriage Amendment comes back over from the Senate you want them to vote for the Marriage Amendment," Smith wrote. "The voters should be allowed to decide the future of marriage, not activists in Indianapolis funded by George Soros and other liberals from the coasts."
Bosma also has said a potential candidate notified him that he had been offered $500,000 from an out-of-state source to challenge the speaker in the May primary.
But Kittle's offer is the one that raised some eyebrows. Bosma first announced an offer of campaign dollars in a January news conference but did not identify the potential contributor.
"I received a pledge of unlimited campaign funding if I were to make this issue go away," Bosma announced.
Bosma said he rejected the offer and expressed concern that it might have violated state or federal law. He has worn his decision as a badge of pride throughout the session, telling reporters he does not bow to threats or intimidation.
Bosma told The Associated Press last week that he didn't think the offer constituted a crime. But the speaker, who has never said Kittle made the offer, acknowledged voicing some concerns.
"I did bring to that individual's attention what it sounded like he was saying and I think he was pretty concerned about it after he said it," Bosma said.
The money would have been an effective balm for House Republicans feeling vulnerable if they voted against the ban. Kittle has been a prolific Republican fundraiser for more than a decade and was Republican Gov. Mike Pence's finance chairman during his 2012 campaign.
Kittle, the owner of the Kittle's Furniture retail chain, was state GOP chairman from 2002 to 2006. He did not return calls seeking comment.
But the threat of election challenges hasn't materialized — at least not this year.