Indiana considered Edelman, Levick, Sitrick before hiring Porter Novelli last spring for 'Religious Freedom' response

The state hired Porter Novelli, then fired the firm three months later, after backlash to the passage of a "religious freedom" bill many considered anti-gay last spring.

Downtown Indianapolis (Image via Wikimedia Commons).
Downtown Indianapolis (Image via Wikimedia Commons).

Indiana officials arranged interviews with agencies including Edelman, Levick, and Sitrick before hiring Porter Novelli last spring as backlash grew to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said was discriminatory against LGBT individuals.

The state set up meetings with nine firms in the immediate aftermath of the bill’s passage, according to the Indianapolis Star, which obtained economic development documents about the decision to hire Porter, then dismiss the agency three months later. The Omnicom Group agency was paid $365,000.

The documents showed the state called in nine firms in a single day, citing Edelman’s work with Penn State University, Levick’s support of the Vatican and work on the Gulf Oil Spill, and Sitrick’s communications around the Ground Zero Mosque, according to the Star.

The newspaper also found references to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were struck from earlier drafts of statements announcing the firm’s hire. At the time, Indiana Economic Development Corporation EVP and general counsel Chris Cotterill told PRWeek that hiring Porter was not a direct result of the outcry over the law.

"The IEDC and our partners in state tourism had been talking about making a more aggressive and strategic investment in Indiana’s brand across the nation," Cotterill said, though he noted the hire "reflects a signal we’re moving in a different direction."

After the law’s passage, critics said the bill gave businesses an opening to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of religion. Public figures from basketball legend Charles Barkley to Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke out against the law immediately after its passage. About a week later, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed an amended version with several fixes designed to stop discrimination into law.

The documents obtained by the Indianapolis Star also noted that Porter suggested the state sponsor content in Pride magazine and back the Silicon Valley Pride Festival, but both ideas were rejected. They did not say why the state terminated its contract with Porter nearly three months later.  

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