A political action committee with ties to a trades union is spending tens of thousands of dollars to try to defeat the man who leads a group representing non-union builders.
Believe in Indiana—which shares an address and its leader with the Indiana State Building & Construction Trades Council—has spent more than $51,000 in recent weeks to run TV commercials criticizing JR Gaylor, who is seeking the Republican nomination in Senate District 20.
Gaylor is president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors of Indiana and Kentucky, where he’s worked for 30 years. He is running against Scott Baldwin, president and owner of developer and construction management firm, Envoy Inc.
The ABC represents builders and contractors that are so-called merit shops, meaning they do not have contracts with unions to supply their labor. The trades council represents about 75,000 craftsmen and women who are members of 127 affiliated trades unions across the state. They work with contractors that are so-called union shops.
The groups have been at odds for years, clashing over issues including a right-to-work law that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in 2012 over union objections. Gaylor has also pushed to repeal a prevailing wage law that requires contractors to pay union-scale wages for public projects, including schools, roads and other infrastructure—even if they do not use union workers.
“This race is a proxy for those issues,” Gaylor said.
Pete Rimsans, who leads Believe in Indiana as well as the Indiana State Building & Construction Trades Council, did not respond to IBJ’s request for comment about the ads.
The group is attacking Gaylor for his work at the Statehouse on behalf of the Associated Builders and Contractors.
One of the group’s 30-second animated ads—which is scheduled to run through Election Day on Tuesday—describes Gaylor as a “lifetime lobbyist” and says he wants to “cut out the middleman” by becoming a state lawmaker.
“We need someone who will represent our interests, not their own,” a voiceover in the ad says. “We can’t trust JR Gaylor.”
Gaylor told IBJ the ads are misleading and inaccurate. He said he had been registered as a non-compensated lobbyist for years because of his position with the organization. He de-registered when he started running for state Senate.
“I haven’t made a dime off of lobbying,” he said. “It’s all for the organization.”
He also took issue with an ad’s characterization that he has made money through contracts with the state. “We have no contracts with the state at all,” Gaylor said of the association. “That’s just a blatant misrepresentation.”
The race is already one of the most expensive legislative primaries in the state, based just on what the candidates are spending.
According to pre-primary reports—which detail the campaigns’ spending through May 8—Baldwin had raised nearly $263,000 and spent more than $173,000. He had nearly $90,000 to spend in the last weeks of the primary. Since then, the campaign borrowed $50,000 from Wildcat Urban Development, which has the same address as his company, Envoy.
Through May 8, Gaylor raised more than $420,000, including $15,000 he gave the campaign, and spent more than $286,000. He had nearly $134,000 going into the last weeks.
The candidates are competing to fill the seat that will be vacated by Sen. Victoria Spartz, a Republican who is running in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District race instead of seeking reelection. The district includes Noblesville, Westfield and parts of Fishers and Carmel.
Both candidates are also trying to reach voters through commercials. Gaylor has spent more than $25,000 to air TV ads, and Baldwin has spent close to $21,500, according to records with the Federal Communications Commission.
In one 30-second ad, Gaylor seems to attack Baldwin for the support from Believe in Indiana and criticizes Baldwin for his endorsements from local mayors, such as Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness and Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen, who are interested in establishing regional development authority. The proposal would allow local governments to impose new taxes.
“Don’t be fooled. Vote for a real conservative. Vote JR Gaylor,” the ad says.
Baldwin’s latest ad emphasizes his past experience in the military, as a police officer and starting his own business.
“I think that’s exactly what we need at the Statehouse,” Baldwin says in the ad.
It’s not the first time that Believe in Indiana has gotten involved in elections. In 2012, the group spent $284,976 to oppose Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. One of the ads that year tried to link Mourdock and his controversial comment about rape and abortion to Mike Pence, who at the time was running for governor.
And in 2016, it spent more than $107,000 to oppose Donald Trump in his presidential run and to support Republican Brent Waltz’s campaign for Congress.
In 2014, the group went after state Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, for his position on mass transit. Torr defeated Don Meier in the GOP primary that year.
In previous years, Believe in Indiana’s donors have included national and state union organizations.