What will failed Indiana candidates do with campaign loans, contributions?

In the aftermath of the most expensive primary in Indiana history, how will unsuccessful candidates settle millions of loaned dollars?

The campaigns have so far kept mum about next steps for debts. That includes Republican gubernatorial competitor Brad Chambers, who loaned his 2024 campaign more than $10 million.

The businessman’s campaign did not reply to multiple requests for comment regarding his personal lending.

Eric Doden, who additionally sought the state’s top executive seat, received a seven-figure campaign loan and similarly large contributions from his mother and father. His campaign declined to comment about post-election plans for loaned monies.

Per the Indiana Election Division, committees can either repay their loans, or the person or entity that made the loan can choose to forgive it.

Angie Nussmeyer, the election division’s co-director, noted that all loans owed to or by a committee must have a zero dollar balance — and the cash-on-hand must also be zero — to ultimately disband a candidate’s committee.

But there’s no deadline on disbanding, she said — that can be done at any time. So far, no candidates who failed to earn statewide nominations in the May primary have filed the necessary paperwork to officially disband, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.

Second quarter reports indicating campaign contributions, spending and other financial activity from April 1 through June 30 aren’t due until July 15.

But it’s also possible for candidates to delay loan settlements and keep hold of their political contributions for a later campaign run.

It was a notable move by former Democratic governor Evan Bayh, who had $9.2 million ready to spend in his campaign coffer when he announced his run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Although Bayh hadn’t been in office for six years, his previous campaign funds had been left untouched.

Even so, he ultimately lost his bid to Republican Todd Young, now Indiana’s senior senator.

In the same election cycle, Tennessee Republican Trey Hollingsworth spent more than $3 million of his own money, and his father added $1.5 million through a political action committee, to win Indiana’s 9th Congressional District.

Once elected, however, Hollingsworth looked to his new colleagues for donations to repay nearly a quarter million dollars he owed to his pollster and other political consultants.

Self-funding not enough for governor’s race

Despite pouring millions of dollars into their own campaigns, Chambers and Doden fell short at the polls earlier this month, losing to U.S. Sen. Mike Braun.

Now the GOP pick in the governor’s race, Braun will face off against Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Libertarian Donald Rainwater in the November election.

Campaign finance reports indicate Chambers — who paid for the bulk of his bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — fronted a total of $10.5 million for his campaign between Sept. 1, 2023 and May 3, just days before voters took to the polls.

State campaign finance records further show Doden gave $200,000 to his campaign, and his family members chipped in $4,875,000 in both loans and direct contributions.

That included several $1 million donations from his father, Daryle Doden, and his mother, Brenda Doden. A separate $1 million loan from his parents is still outstanding, records show.

The other candidates who ran in the crowded Republican primary for governor — Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and faith-motivated Jamie Reitenour — did not take loans from themselves or others, according to the latest state filings.

To date, Braun has raised close to $13 million. His campaign has not reported any loans or outstanding debts.

Any unspent campaign donations by candidates can’t be used for personal expenses but can be put towards other political or charitable uses. Among the those options is forwarding any leftover monies to other candidates.

Big spending in other races

Republican candidates in the 5th and 6th Congressional District primaries additionally funneled millions of dollars to their own campaigns.

In the 5th District, Gaylor Electric CEO and exiting state Rep. Chuck Goodrich loaned $4.6 million to his campaign since March 2023, according to federal election reports. Goodrich lost his nomination bid to incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz.

In the Republican primary for the 6th District, wealthy businessman Jefferson Shreve loaned $4.5 million to his successful primary campaign. Indianapolis state Rep. Mike Speedy, who is leaving his post at the Statehouse, threw $1.3 million to his campaign. Richmond businessman Jamison Carrier, meanwhile, self-funded $750,000 to his campaign for the 6th District.

Significant self-spending among Indiana candidates appears to be part of a national trend.

From 2002 to 2022, the amount of self-funding in congressional races ― the total dollar figure across all races ― has quadrupled, according to nonprofit OpenSecrets, which tracks election spending.

The practice has been boosted, in part, by the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeated decisions to protect candidates’ unlimited ability to lend or donate to themselves.

By Casey Smith – The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.