IFI President Curt Smith told Roll Call that Souder was the driving force behind the training sessions a half-dozen years ago. Smith and Souder had previously worked together for Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) years before Smith joined the IFI, and Souder believed that while there were other leadership programs in the Hoosier state, “there is kind of a conservative leadership thing missing.” The institute’s training series is designed to “create a network across the state of like-minded conservative grass-roots folks” who will focus on “community-based instead of government-based” solutions to problems.
The group now has about 100 alumni, including a dozen or so former and current Congressional staff, and part of the idea is to “try to keep the class connected over the years so there would be a directory and some cross-pollination,” Smith said. He noted that if Pence wins the Indiana gubernatorial race next year, the IFI will have a list of leadership trainees who could be good candidates to fill jobs in a Pence administration.
Smith argues that as a training program, Congress is more than getting its money’s worth, with staffers receiving thousands of dollars’ worth of experience and education for $500 apiece.
Aside from sending their staff, the Members also offer their time to the IFI for the training sessions. Burton has spoken to the group on its annual trips to Washington, and Rokita spokesman Timothy Edson said the Congressman is scheduled to speak to the group when it comes to D.C. in October. He said the IFI training “is something that, to our knowledge, is completely acceptable as far as an official expense. ... There is value in bringing people together from nonprofit and faith-based communities to advance things.”
Smith said the training is nonpolitical and emphasizes that it is run by the IFI, which is separate from the PAC — though the organizations have the same board of directors and Smith and other IFI employees are also part of the PAC.
“I think it is good for a Congressional office to make modest investments in the professional development of their staff,” Smith said. He also said that when the program was first created, the Members involved cleared it with the House Administration Committee to make sure it would be an appropriate relationship.
“It was a rewarding experience … personally, I was able to connect with other people within the conservative movement” as well as sharing with the group his experiences of working with a Member of Congress, Gillespie said.
He added, “They went through all the ethics rules and guidelines to make sure that it was within the boundaries of the proper use of funds.”