Louisiana Politics: The Battle of the PACs begins in Baton Rouge
An “armed and ready,” Louisiana-based super PAC called Truth In Politics started taking aim at Gov. John Bel Edwards last week not long after lawmakers convened their spring regular session.
With startup funding from a group of well-connected donors like Cajun Industries founder Lane Grigsby and a fundraising operation being headed up by Allee Bautsch, who helped build the campaign war chests of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, the group will operate under a large umbrella that will include 501(c)3, 501(c)4 and 527 structures.
Media consultants have already been hired as well.
While such threats are not uncommon across today’s political landscape, those involved with Truth In Politics insist the effort is not a flash in the pan and that organizers are committed to three years of engagement.
Television, radio, billboards and polling are all part of the larger game plan as Edwards inches toward re-election and navigates one tumultuous session after another.
Kelli Bottger, currently the state director of the Louisiana Federation for Children, will be transitioning away from that position to lead Truth In Politics.
“We’re going to be an accountability hub,” she said. “And we have the whole kitchen sink coming. We’re ready.”
While the focus will be on Edwards, his politics and his policy agenda, Bottger said other elected officials may be taken to task as well by the group.
This creates a possible PAC-against-PAC face-off with Rebuild Louisiana, the pro-Edwards organization being operated by Baton Rouge consultant Trey Ourso.
He said he welcomes the competition and plans to place “an emphasis on truth” as the anti-JBE group gears up.
“We wouldn’t want a PAC named that telling lies about the governor,” he said with a laugh.
The attacks actually started last week with a Truth In Politics digital ad called “Louisiana’s Hurting.”
It claims that the governor “raised taxes on nearly everything” last year.
The spot also seeks to undermine the administration’s session agenda.
Meanwhile, Ourso’s outfit, Rebuild Louisiana, started circulating an internal poll that showed wide support for the governor’s session plan.
A PAC is a political action committee regulated by the state Ethics Administration. Sometimes they oppose or support candidates. In other instances they might just push a single issue.
PACs can be structured in different ways — for example, a super PAC is allowed to raise unlimited donations and does not have to follow the same giving guidelines as standard PACs.
JBE has leadership PAC, too
Not to be outdone by the donor forces acting against him — and in an effort to help groups like Rebuild Louisiana — supporters of Gov. John Bel Edwards quietly established a leadership PAC last year to help further his agenda.
The John Bel Edwards For Louisiana Leadership PAC is definitely off to a much slower start compared to the official Edwards campaign, which raised an impressive $3.3 million last year with roughly that much in the bank as of Feb. 15.
The leadership PAC, being run by Robert and Gwen Barsley of Ponchatoula, raised $77,000 in 2016 and has $65,000 cash on hand.
The governor’s special guest
Gov. John Bel Edwards had a special guest on the House floor with him last week during his session-opening speech — his brother, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards.
It was yet another show of support from the governor for his sibling.
According to The Advocate, “the FBI has launched an investigation into a fraudulent bail-bond scheme within the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, bringing fresh federal scrutiny to the administration of Sheriff Daniel Edwards.”
The sheriff is declining to comment on the investigation while still confirming it, while the governor told Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper in December, “Without any fear of contradiction or ever being proven wrong, I will tell you now, he did not engage in anything improper, much less illegal.”
North Louisiana runoff still hot
Raymond Crews continues his charmed candidacy in the House District 8 runoff with endorsements from U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, Congressman Mike Johnson, Attorney General Jeff Landry and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness.
With the bulk of Baton Rouge’s business lobby behind him as well, Crews enters the April 29 runoff against Robbie Gatti with a political wind at his back.
But Gatti, a fellow Republican, is by no means going at it alone. His brother — Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City — is a legislator, he’s well-liked in his church community, Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker is behind him and the American Physical Therapist Association has endorsed his campaign.
The Louisiana Federation for Children, however, has been pouring money into the race to help Crews push past the finish line, with radio and mail continuing in the runoff.
That total investment could potentially end up being somewhere north of $80,000.
Locally, you couldn’t find a hotter race, especially after the opposition research dump on Gatti in the primary, which largely surfaced on TheHayride.com.
That research questioned everything from personal to business decisions.
Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, among others, have been hands-on. Seabaugh, for his part, recently took to Facebook with this line: “Louisiana can not afford another Gatti in the Louisiana Legislature.”
Political history: Sessions
weren’t always like this
Historically Louisiana lawmakers are fond of making changes to when they meet in legislative sessions.
From its inception in 1812 until 1879 the Louisiana Legislature met on an annual basis. Just like it does now.
The exception was a span of time between 1845 and 1852 when lawmakers decided to go with a biennial 60-day session, meaning every other year.
In fact, lawmakers liked it so much that the Legislature went back to that biennial format in 1880 and stuck with it all the way up until 1954, when Robert F. Kennon was governor.
It was during the 1954 session that lawmakers advanced a constitutional amendment that set up the session framework we’re all familiar with today.
That legislation called for annual sessions, with those held in odd-numbered years hosting budget and fiscal matters.
Over the years lawmakers have reversed that order, going to tax matters only in even-numbered years and, more recently, switching back to the 1954 model of having fiscal sessions in odd-numbered years.
The December 1954 edition of the Louisiana Law Review dives into a bit of this history and also made this observation, which serves as a reminder that some things never change at the Capitol:
“Anyone surveying the total of the legislative product cannot fail to be impressed with the large number of relatively trivial matters upon which the legislature is compelled to expend time during each session.”
They said it
“A good tax is one someone else pays and a bad one is one I pay.”
—Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville
“This hearing gives me a headache every year. I’m sorry. It’s horrific.”
—Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, during a higher education budget meeting
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.