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Indiana businesses launch alliance to improve civic engagement

Nathan Gotsch is in profile as he speaks at a lectern. Gotsch is a White man, bald, wearing glasses and a suit. In the background is a sign with a quote from President Benjamin Harrison that reads "An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart."
Brandon Smith
/
IPB News
Business For America Indiana State Director Nathan Gotsch helps launch the Indiana Business Alliance for Civics at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.

A coalition of businesses wants to improve civic engagement among Hoosiers, getting more people registered to vote and educated on government.

The Indiana Business Alliance for Civics will provide resources to businesses to help get employees registered to vote and educate them about civics, and help connect businesses with schools, to encourage civics education.

The alliance is led by Business For America, a national nonprofit. State director Nathan Gotsch said his organization has already been working on this issue.

“We are seeing a demand for this across the state,” Gotsch said. “We did a lunch-and-learn for a Fortune 500 company based here in Indiana recently just on the basics of separation of powers. They did not require any employee to show up; 300 came to the event. So, we want to provide those resources to every business.”

The alliance currently counts among its founding members Eli Lilly, Cummins and Salesforce.

Eli Lilly Associate Vice President Susan Brock Williams said companies like hers have a substantial impact on communities and supporting civic engagement helps contribute positively to community well-being.

“It also leads to a better educated and healthier workforce for our company,” Williams said. “Civic engagement is the basis for dialogue and collaboration between the private sector, government and a civil society.”

Interested businesses can sign up to participate at IndianaBusinessAlliance.org.

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues.

The alliance’s work is meant to be nonpartisan. And that goal was put in the spotlight during its launch event Monday.

Speakers were invited to share why civic engagement is important to them. One of those speakers was Dr. Elicia Harris, an OB-GYN who’s part of a medical technology startup aimed at improving maternal mortality.

Harris told the audience that it was a need for advocacy that brought her to the group and specifically mentioned abortion.

Gotsch then paused her speech and quietly asked her to stay nonpartisan. Gotsch said the alliance wants to encourage people from across the political spectrum to participate.

“The reality is, people across the state — we have strong opinions about things,” Gotsch said. “But where people can come together is more folks being engaged.”

Harris said she understood Gotsch’s perspective and didn’t want to negatively impact the launch of the group.

“I think I was just coming from the lens that health care policy is definitely impacted by legislation,” Harris said.

Gotsch said it was his fault for not talking with Harris beforehand to explain more fully the alliance’s purpose. He also said, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the alliance is barred from political advocacy.

That’s only partly true. The IRS bans 501(c)3 groups from participating in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to political candidates. But such nonprofit groups can take positions on public policy issues.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.