News and analysis
July 15, 2016

Trump Running Mate Raised Hackles on Abortion, LGBT Issues

Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pictured campaigning with Donald Trump earlier this week, brings a record of conservative stands on social issues to the Republican ticket.

Putative Republican vice presidential nominee Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has raised alarms among foundations and nonprofits for his policies on abortion and issues that affect the LGBT community.

However, some nonprofits may find a sympathetic ear with Mr. Pence’s wife, Karen, who is chief executive officer of the Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation. The organization, which supports children and family groups in the Hoosier State, made $134,500 in grants and scholarships last year, according to its Internal Revenue Service filings.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump announced via Twitter Friday morning that Mr. Pence would be his running mate.

Mr. Pence, a former radio talk-show host who served in the House of Representatives before being elected governor, attracted criticism from foundation leaders after he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, in March 2015. Critics argue that the state law allows Indiana businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

Within a week of signing the bill, Mr. Pence signed additional legislation aimed at clarifying that RFRA did not create a license to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The changes did not satisfy many liberal groups, who said the new language did not go far enough, and attracted criticism from many Christian conservatives who slammed Mr. Pence for not standing firm.

Robert Ross, president of the California Endowment, wrote an open letter to Mr. Pence slamming the law as originally passed "By adopting this discriminatory legislation, Indiana has taken this nation a step backwards in the civil-rights movement through the use of an all-too-clever and cowardly form of Jim Crow," wrote Dr. Ross, who is an M.D.

Jamie Merisotis, president of the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, was also critical of the bill. In February 2014, Lumina and the governor’s office jointly announced that the foundation had selected Indiana as one of three states to receive a $1 million "Guided Pathways to Success" grant to help college students graduate on time. Two years later, Mr. Merisotis wrote in a letter to the Indianapolis Star that the national controversy over RFRA was making it harder for the state to attract educated professionals and special events.

"Indiana won’t get to the level of talent required for success in today’s economy if we treat LGBT citizens as anything less than equal partners," he wrote.

Leslie Lenkowsky, professor emeritus of public affairs and philanthropy at Indiana University, has known Mr. Pence for more than two decades. One early encounter came when Mr. Lenkowsky, a Chronicle columnist, was the chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service under President George W. Bush.

He met with then-Rep. Pence and a group of conservative House members to ask for their support. While he says Mr. Pence, was supportive, many in the group worried that the effort would lead to the use of government funds to support paid volunteers at family-planning organizations that provide abortions.

In 2007, while still a member of the House, Mr. Pence sponsored legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood.

"He does believe that philanthropy is a Christian virtue," Mr. Lenkowsky said. "How much he knows of the actual workings of the nonprofit and philanthropic world, I don’t know — but that’s true of most politicians."