When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) ran for governor in 2012, he received massive support from Bill Oesterle of Indianapolis, to the tune of at least $150,000, according to state records. It's not a surprise that Oesterle backed Pence; he'd served as campaign manager for Mitch Daniels, the Republican who preceded Pence in that job, when Daniels first ran in 2004. In his day job, Oesterle is the CEO of the recommendation site Angie's List, which itself made in-kind contributions to a group called "Frugal Hoosiers for Mitch."
But Oesterle also dealt one of the most damaging political blows of Pence's career over the weekend. Pence and Indiana have faced national outcry following the passage of a bill that would critics say would allow businesses to openly discriminate against gay couples by raising religious objections.
In his role as Angie's List CEO, Oesterle announced that the company would halt plans to expand its headquarters in the state's capital -- a plan that would have generated about $40 million in economic activity and added hundreds of jobs -- pointing to the "so-called religious freedom restoration act."
"It's very disappointing to us that it passed and was signed by the governor," Oesterle said. He continued: "We believe that the impacts of that bill on our ability to hire and continue to build a high-growth technology company are material and are inconsistent with the state's activities to encourage growth."
Angie's List isn't alone in that sentiment; since the the bill was signed last week, businesses like the NCAA and Apple have expressed similar concerns. But Angie's List's opposition hits much closer to home. Oesterle himself noted the politics, telling the Indianapolis Star, "I'm very proud to be a Republican."
Several years ago, Angie's List faced a smaller-scale version of the backlash that Indiana is now experiencing. After conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh criticized college student and activist Sandra Fluke's advocacy of contraception in 2012, Limbaugh called her a "prostitute," leading to a widespread campaign to pressure advertisers into pulling their support from the program. Many did, but Angie's List resisted for some time, resistance that some found particularly strange given that the company is so heavily identified with a woman -- the eponymous Angie Hicks. When Angie's List's contract with the program was up at the end of the year, it didn't renew its sponsorship.
By his account, Oesterle decided to get out in front of the new controversy -- to the political detriment of someone he supported -- out of business concerns. It hasn't spared Angie's List from criticism; the conservative website Daily Caller ran an article on Monday that listed lawsuits filed against the company for allegedly letting businesses buy their way out of bad reviews. As we noted over the weekend, however, public opinion has shifted dramatically against opposition to gay marriage and gay relationships over the past few years, making a demonstration of opposition to bill receiving national outcry seem like a smart move for a national company.
Put another way: Oesterle is in the business of business, not politics. And the politically smart move for his business, it seems, was to throw the politician he supported under the bus.