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Indiana congressional candidate faces campaign finance scrutiny

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Indiana congressional candidate faces campaign finance scrutiny

Feb 21, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Casey Smith
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Indiana congressional candidate faces campaign finance scrutiny
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Complaints obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle accuse Gabe Whitley’s “Honest Gabe for Congress” committee of false campaign contributions and fraudulent finance reporting. (Photo illustration by Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Complaints filed against Seventh Congressional District GOP candidate Gabriel “Gabe” Whitley allege excessive campaign contributions and fraudulent finance reporting — and it’s not the first time he’s faced scrutiny over his donors.

The accusations were filed last week with the Indiana Election Division (IED) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by Gabrielle Kendall, wife of WIBC radio host Rob Kendall. 

The IED and FEC complaints obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle accuse Whitley’s “Honest Gabe for Congress” committee of accepting “excessive contributions” greater than the $3,300 limit an individual is permitted to give to a campaign committee each election.

Further, the complaints allege Whitley violated a regulation about contributions made in the name of another. That includes donations from doctors in New York and Utah, as well as real estate agents in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Indiana congressional candidate faces campaign finance scrutiny
“Maskless Protest” organizer Gabe Whitley addresses the crowd during a protest against mask orders outside of the Civic Center in Evansville, Ind., on July 15, 2020. (Photo from Evansville Courier & Press)

The congressional hopeful told the Capital Chronicle he was “limited” in what he could say but called the complaints “absurd.”

“I’m not surprised that [Rob Kendall] would do something like this. I did talk with my lawyers, and we are going over some things, but it should be fine,” said Whitley. He’s seeking to run against Democratic incumbent Rep. André Carson, who has represented the district comprising much of Indianapolis since 2008.

Feuding between Whitley and the radio host is years in the making, however.

In 2022, Whitley was sued by Kendall for defamation after reportedly calling him a pedophile. Whitley won dismissal of the claims against him.

“I’m not worried about it. I’m not going to be worried about it. And I don’t think the FEC is worried about it, because last time we talked to them, they were fine — everything was up to date,” Whitley continued. 

He pointed to the previous legal tussle and said, “I’m not surprised that he’s doing it.”

But questions about Whitley’s campaign finances were raised last year, too, by The Evansville Courier & Press.

I'm not worried about it. I'm not going to be worried about it. And I don't think the FEC is worried about it, because last time we talked to them, they were fine — everything was up to date.

– Seventh Congressional District GOP candidate Gabe Whitley

The paper reported Whitley’s fundraising reports filed with the state in 2021 and 2022 raised questions that he may have violated Indiana election law by documenting he raised thousands of dollars in campaign cash from people who denied giving him donations. The contributions in question stemmed from Whitley’s short-lived Evansville mayoral campaign.

Whitley told The Courier & Press he hired an unnamed political consulting firm to solicit contributions via email on his behalf. Whitley reported no such expenditures on his 2021 and 2022 campaign finance filings, however.

Gabrielle Kendall’s complaints also point to the 2023 news story, saying it adds to Whitley’s “demonstrated pattern of conduct that initially began within the jurisdictions of Vanderburgh County and the State of Indiana, that has proceeded to the United States federal jurisdiction.”

Who is ‘Honest Gabe,’ and who are the donors?

Whitley has sought financial donations for his campaigns on the Honest Gabe for Indiana Facebook page and on his campaign website, which says he is running “to bring unity and change in D.C.”

The 26-year-old told the Capital Chronicle he originally hails from Fresno, California. He lived in Evansville from 2017 to 2022 before moving to Indianapolis last year.

He said he holds an associate degree in pipe welding and is currently enrolled online at the University of Phoenix to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Story continues below.

FEC Complaint

 

Whitley said he was appointed as precinct committeeman in Vanderburgh County in 2019 and elected to the same seat in 2020.

He said he additionally served as chairman of the Young Conservatives of Southern Indiana in 2020, but later left in 2021. His other political endeavors include grassroots work for multiple federal, state and local political candidates 

Whitley describes himself as a “political consultant,” currently serving as a board member for the Republican-centric “Save The USA” political consulting firm.

Publicly available details about Save the USA are limited, though. Whitley said he was CEO of the limited liability company until he stepped down at the end of 2023 “ to focus on the campaign.” 

Whitley said he, along with acquaintance Spencer McDaniel, founded the organization in February 2023. 

“Spencer took it over after I started my run for Congress. Right now, I just serve on the board. He was supposed to set up a website, but I don’t know what’s going on with that,” Whitley said. “But as far as I know, he has the office down in Houston. And then I just do remote work out here.” 

But the Capital Chronicle could not find a business license or address registered with either the Texas or Indiana secretaries of state. Internet searches otherwise produced sparse details about the LLC. No website or social media could be found, and a LinkedIn page for “Save the U.S.A. Inc” shows only Whitley as an associate.

The Capital Chronicle additionally sent a message to the Facebook page for McDaniel seeking comment. At the time of publication, no response was received.

McDaniel’s Facebook page, along with one purported to be his wife, uses photos of models originally published in online news articles and blog sites. An address for McDaniel in Texas, via an FEC donation filing, shows the property belongs to a trust with a different name.

Story continues below.

IED Complaint

 

Whitley described Save the USA’s work as vetting signatures for various political candidates in Indiana, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He said Save the USA “does work with different vendors,” like technology company i360 and an unidentified website company in Virginia.

Save the USA originally donated $15,000 to Whitley in June 2023, but the FEC sent a letter saying the organization was not registered with the commission. He then returned the $15,000 in an amended filing. 

Much of Whitley’s spending in his congressional race — more than $8,600 — has gone to Save the USA, according to FEC records, for fundraising and polling. Besides Whitley, no other candidates list expenditures with Save the USA on the FEC website.

New complaints raise additional questions

The complaints from Gabrielle Kendall highlight in Whitley’s financial filings a dozen contributors who reportedly gave more than the $3,300 limit, in amounts ranging from $4,500 to $6,600. Whitley later amended reports to rectify the overpayments.

She also claims six contributors are fraudulent. The Capital Chronicle additionally investigated those six contributors and researched other donors but also could not verify their identities through public records or open-source Internet searches.

One such contributor, Angela Daily from Phoenix, Arizona, provides her employment as “realtor.” Realtors require professional licensing to practice, and in Daily’s case, she should be registered with the state of Arizona. But no such Realtor records exist.

Professional licensing is also required for doctors, like New York City emergency room surgeon Jerry Snyder Sr., who was also listed among Whitley’s contributors. No matching licensing results for Snyder could be found in records for New York or bordering states, either.

Indiana congressional candidate faces campaign finance scrutiny
Gabe Whitley (Ballotpedia)

Among the other unverifiable contributors are real estate agents in Florida and Texas, as well as a physician in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Most of Whitley’s other campaign donors are described in FEC records as “retired,” “unemployed,” or “self-employed,” and almost all are from outside Indiana. 

According to his latest financial report, Whitley’s congressional campaign amassed more than $263,000 in 2023 between April 1 and Dec. 31. Of that, nearly $244,000 came from donations and $20,000 was loaned by Whitley himself. 

That’s not far off from his opponent, Carson, who over the full year of 2023 raised $327,000 from donors.

When asked by the Capital Chronicle if the contested donors are real, Whitley said only that Rob Kendall “is playing his dirty tricks.”

“There’s no more comment I’m going to say on that,” Whitley said. “We’ve been in compliance with the FEC. We talked with them. We have a good relationship with them.”

Since moving to Evansville in 2017, Whitley has declared his candidacy for various city, county, state and federal offices — but he never actually mounted any campaigns.

Although it had no other candidate to run against Democratic Rep. Ryan Hatfield in 2022, the Vanderburgh County GOP blocked Whitley’s bid to challenge Hatfield on the grounds he couldn’t show he had voted in two party primary elections in Indiana. Whitley later declared his candidacy for Evansville mayor in 2022 only to drop that campaign six months later.

He said he is also running currently for GOP precinct committeeman and state delegate seats in the Indianapolis area. He made the Republican ballot for the Seventh Congressional District along with three other candidates.

Whitley’s campaign website emphasizes his commitment to election integrity, securing the southern U.S. border, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), improving access to housing and legalizing marijuana. Also included on the site are photos of Whitley with various key Republicans, like U.S. Sens. Mike Braun and Rand Paul (R-KY), as well as Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Secretary of State Diego Morales, Treasurer Dan Elliot and former state attorney general Curtis Hill.

Enforcement cases can come from audits, complaints, referrals or self-submissions, according to the agency website. The FEC website says its jurisdiction is limited to civil enforcement of the federal campaign finance laws. Contributions in the name of another can result in civil penalties and/or jail time. Criminal cases are handled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Complaints filed with the Indiana Election Division are referred to the Indiana Election Commission for action.