INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Gov. Mike Pence is in Japan for a week-long mission meant to drum up investment in Indiana by touting its business-friendly climate.
The trip, which kicks off with a Sunday reception in Tokyo, is being paid for by a coterie of powerful interests that sent representatives who will join the governor and first lady Karen Pence during cultural exchanges and business meetings with major manufacturers including Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru.
Pence has long maintained that these international trips — this is his seventh — are crucial to attracting new businesses and jobs to the state at no cost to taxpayers.
Critics say those who donate the money to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation that goes toward funding these trips, among other things, are purchasing outsized influence at the expense of the public good.
Some things to know about Pence’s trip:
The IEDC budgeted $280,000 for the 40-member trade delegation, which departed Friday and is heavily represented by energy interests, including representatives from Duke Energy, indiana Michigan Power, Hoosier Energy and the Vectren Corporation. Two cultural ambassadors from the Japan-America Society of Indiana also traveled with the group, as did several municipal officials, other state officials and guards from Pence’s security detail.
Supporters of such trade missions say they are an invaluable way to make friends and connections while promoting the state. Pence said one reason he was going to Japan was because more than 250 Japanese businesses operate in Indiana, employing thousands while bringing millions in investment to the state.
Most of the companies represented on the trip also helped finance Pence’s previous trade missions at home and abroad, donating roughly $2.1 million to the cause since 2014, records show. “I think it says that it’s yet another opportunity for special interests and their big money to build relationships with government officials,” says Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a left leaning citizens’ advocacy group. “It’s a business decision. It’s an investment in positive relationship with this administration.”
Since 2014, Pence’s trips abroad have cost an estimated $880,000, which has been paid for through donations made to the IEDC’s fundraising organization. In 2014, he visited Germany, London and Toronto, where he treated guests to an NHL game. This year, before going to Japan, Pence visited Israel and China, which cost about $310,000, total. On a recent domestic “jobs mission,” Pence treated his business relocation prospects and his entourage of state envoys to a $24,000 outing at a Yankees baseball game in New York.