A review of gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers’ voting and donating reveals a bipartisan record. (Photo from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Flickr)
A review of gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers’ voting and donating reveals a bipartisan record. (Photo from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Flickr)

Indiana gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers’ campaign is likely to receive tens of thousands of dollars from an upcoming fundraiser hosted by racing legend Michael Andretti, adding to the Republican hopeful’s support from the state’s top business leaders.

While a common event for a political candidate, it’s Chambers’ previous working relationship with the Andretti empire that’s causing some to raise eyebrows.

Chambers — who is seeking the Republican nomination — led the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) as Secretary of Commerce until he stepped down from that position in August. While there, Andretti Autosport received millions in contracts, grants and tax incentives.

“It’s purely a function of — Brad worked for a couple of years on the deal … I think they’re supporting someone they’d see as being a terrific governor,” said Marty Obst, senior strategist for Chambers’ campaign.

Accepting money in this way is legally sound, said Andrew Downs, a former political science professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, but some might have ethical concerns, given Chambers ran an agency that brokered deals with Andretti.

“This is very common. When you work with somebody professionally, you develop a relationship. If they liked the work you’ve done, that is usually a place to go for contributions to a political campaign — you’ve got to raise money, and you raise money within the network,” Downs told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “But that will, of course, not look so good if you are involved in government money, and that was your business relationship.”

Big donations from top industry officials

Admission to the evening reception, scheduled for Tuesday on the northwest side of Indianapolis, starts at $50 per person, according to an event handout obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle. Three additional sponsorship levels offer additional perks.

Couples who give at least $10,000, for example, are invited to a private cocktail reception and receive “VIP swag.” Food, drinks, music and access to a fireside chat with Chambers and Andretti are offered to all of those in attendance.

In 2022, the IEDC committed up to $19 million in the form of conditional tax credits, as well as up to $125,000 in training grants, to incentivize the Andretti company to bring its universal motorsports headquarters to central Indiana — specifically the Fishers area. The IEDC said Andretti’s investment will create up to 500 new jobs by the end of 2026.

The company has also signed two Formula E car sponsorship contracts with the IEDC. One valued at $1 million was finalized in early 2022. A similar but separate $550,000 contract with Andretti followed this September.

 “Obviously, it’s an iconic brand, and the opportunity for Andretti to build a $200 billion, 575,000–square-foot facility to keep him in Indiana, not going elsewhere, like North Carolina or Texas, was a huge win for the state, and huge win for the racing industry,” Obst said. “And so, obviously, those are the types of deals that Brad would lean into, and it all resulted in record-smashing economic development and capital investment in the state. We’re proud of the deal and proud to have (Andretti’s) support.”

Andretti Autosport did not reply to the Indiana Capital Chronicle’s requests for comment.

While leading the IEDC, Chambers additionally spearheaded the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District in Boone County and distributed hundreds of millions of state dollars in regional investments known as READI.

Based on Eli Lilly’s plans to create 700 new jobs in the project zone, the IEDC announced earlier this year that it plans to invest up to $4.5 million to the company in the form of incentive-based training grants. The quasi-state agency also committed an investment of up to $17 million in redevelopment tax credits.

Indiana campaign finance records show that Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks made a $100,000 donation to Chamber’s campaign in September. 

Other major contributions have come from Pacers owner and Simon Property Group co-founder Herbert Simon, auto dealer Andy Mohr, construction industry executive Chris Reid, housing developer Jeff Kittle, Indianapolis investor John Ackerman, and Merchants Bank CEO Michael Petrie, among others.

“Brad’s had an impeccable business record and high degree of integrity — that’s never really been called into question until he decided to run for governor,” Obst said. “But he’s going to continue to raise money at a record pace because he has a great reputation in the business community.”

Plans to run Indiana ‘like a business’

Among Chambers’ GOP competitors in the 2024 race for governor are U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, along with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden.

But Chambers doesn’t have the same record as his opponents, many of whom have a lengthy political history or have released detailed policy proposals to help voters understand their stances.

Julia Vaughn, who leads elections watchdog Common Cause Indiana, said that while it “isn’t surprising” that Chambers is “turning to the friends” he made while at the IEDC, “it will certainly raise eyebrows if it continues.”

 Julia Vaughn, director of Common Cause Indiana.


“He rubbed elbows with many of Indiana’s wealthiest and most well-connected citizens. It’s not surprising that as he is now running for governor, he’s turning to many of these same people to help finance his political campaign,” she said. “I think the interesting thing, if this continues to happen, is how’s going to continue to maintain that he’s an outsider, because he may have never run for political office before, but the IEDC is an awfully political place. He’s certainly led a political life the past few years.”

Vaughn called Indiana’s political donation sphere “a high roller’s game,” noting that “a very small universe of people actually fund political campaigns” in the state. She said that raises questions about how well political candidates can relate to everyday Hoosiers when they’ve lived lifestyles “very different for most of us.”

And while accepting campaign favors and donations from past business associates “has a funny smell to it” and can “give an appearance of impropriety,” Vaughn emphasized that “there’s nothing improper about it in Indiana law.”

Downs agreed there’s nothing in statute barring such hobnobbing but echoed similar cautions.

“When you’re in government, and you’re in charge of contracts and grants, then people start to say that smells a little bit, even though it may be that everything was above board, and the reason people want to give you money is because you actually did a good job, and not just because they got preferential treatment,” Downs said. “All of that could still be true, but there’s a smell test issue there.”

Chambers released his first policy proposal in late October with an emphasis on increasing online safety for Hoosier children. He has so far made a $5 million personal loan to his own campaign but has amassed nearly $1.5 million in outside large donations since officially launching his campaign in August.

Obst held that over a four-decade career, Chambers has “built a really deep level of relationships,” and pointed out that “many of his competitors are now investing in his campaign.”

He said, too, that Chambers’ successful business background is what bolsters his ability to “manage processes and people effectively” — characteristics Obst said Indiana’s governor should have.

“I think there are a lot of people that want to see a self-made business person come in and help take Indiana the next step and continue to move the state forward. And I think somebody with his background and experience resonates with them, because they want the government to run more like a business.”

“The state’s definitely in good shape,” Obst added, “but I think he has the ability — and I think you’ll see that with the business community, as well — to really take Indiana to new heights.”

© Indiana Capital Chronicle, 2024 The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.