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Democrats want Pence to release details of PR firm's work

July 6, 2015

Indiana Democrats have sent the Republican Pence administration a formal request to release documents showing what the state got for its money when it hired a New York public relations firm to deal with any damage inflicted by the new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Monday that he wants Gov. Mike Pence's office to release contracts, messages and emails related to the agreement with Porter Novelli.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced Thursday that it was canceling its contract with the firm, which it hired in May to assess the damage to the state's image following the RFRA flap that sparked calls to boycott Indiana. Critics feared the law that Pence signed in March could be used as a legal defense for discrimination against gays, lesbians and others.

In announcing the decision to hire Porter Novelli, IEDC officials said the state would spend up to $2 million with the firm, plus more for advertising as needed.

But the agency cited strong employment numbers, national recognition for the state's business-friendly climate and cost-management efforts in announcing it was canceling the contract. It said Porter Novelli would be paid $365,000, but the quasi-public agency has denied requests to release details of the work the firm did, citing an exemption in Indiana's open records law for "deliberative" materials.

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, told The Indianapolis Star the exception doesn't allow the state to issue an across-the-board denial of all records.

"I have trouble imagining that all the documents and every part of those documents was opinion or speculation," he said. "There should be a document showing they did some work."

Zody said in a letter sent to Pence on Monday that "far too many questions are still left unanswered for Hoosiers."

"Indiana must find out the true rationale for the contract with Porter Novelli and the reasoning behind its termination," he said.

The governor's office didn't immediately respond to a request seeking comment. IEDC spokeswoman Abby Gras has said the agreement with Porter Novelli didn't involve policy or legislation, but she stopped short of saying whether or not a human rights statute was discussed or recommended by the PR firm.

Democrats and some Republican business leaders say a state law that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is the best way to improve Indiana's reputation.

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