Louisiana politics: Super PACs slow to take off

By Jeremy Alford LaPolitics.com

A few of the home-brewed super PACs created in Louisiana to support candidates in the fall U.S. Senate race experienced a very bumpy second quarter of fundraising this year.
That may allow other super PACs backed by national organizations, from outside of Louisiana, to steal some of the political thunder in the coming months.
Super PACs are a special breed of political action committees that are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. They played a critical role in the 2015 governor’s race and are back again to make what is so far a questionable impact.
In the race to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the senior senator’s top political aide has been hired by a Florida-based super PAC supporting Treasurer John Kennedy’s bid. Kyle Ruckert, Vitter’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, will be leading up the Louisiana arm of ESAFund’s efforts.
Kennedy has transferred $2 million from his state campaign account, which cannot be used directly on a federal race, to ESAFund’s PAC — and he has another $800,000 ready to go as needed. ESAFund, though, will likewise bring its own resources to the table in Louisiana to support Kennedy.
ESAFund is filling a vacuum left by Make Louisiana Proud PAC, which was being run by a former Kennedy advisor inside the state and was shuttered last month. But before that happened, Make Louisiana Proud transferred its remaining cash and a batch of in-kind services to ESAFund totaling nearly $120,000.
On the Democratic side, the in-state Defend Louisiana PAC raised and held onto $54,650 in the second quarter. It is advocating for Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.
The name of the pro-Campbell super PAC — Defend Louisiana — has caught the attention of District Court Judge Jeff Thompson. As a former state representative in 2013 he established Defend Louisiana Inc., a pro-gun nonprofit.
He said he wants to make sure there aren’t any issues with the duplication.
“I’m looking into it to make sure we’re all using the name appropriately,” he said in an interview two weeks ago.
Better Louisiana PAC, which was formed to support Congressman John Fleming, has just $63,600 in the bank. It has benefitted from a single donation of $100,000 from Morris & Dixon in Shreveport and is making consulting payments to Long Nyquist in Pennsylvania.
The bigger player in the Fleming tent may end up being Club For Growth’s super PAC, which has already endorsed Fleming. The D.C.-based PAC is also actively attacking Congressman Charles Boustany via media buys.
Warrior PAC, which is being run out of California, is backing retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness. It has raised $10,000 from Bo Reily of the William B. Reily Company in New Orleans and has roughly that same amount in the bank. PAC director Robert San Luis said via email that Reily has also paid for polling.
Back inside the state, the Louisiana Prosperity Fund, which has a Lafayette base of operations, is trying to offer support to Boustany. It has $98,000 in cash on hand and raised around $75,000 from April through June, mostly from the Acadiana area.
The numbers for the localized super PACs, overall, are a ways off from what was seen with the competitive super PACS during last year’s race for governor in Louisiana — and compared to what super PACs in other U.S. Senate races are bringing in.
Super PACs are unique in that they can spend money to support candidates, but those candidates cannot coordinate directly with the super PACs backing them in regard to strategy or spending on media.

Will Democrats endorse?
While most of the top tier candidates in the U.S. Senate race are hoping super PACs come to their rescue, if needed, during the current election cycle, the leading Democratic contenders are also wondering if the state party will come through with a unified endorsement.
Party leaders say an endorsement from the Democratic State Central Committee seems unlikely any time soon. But that’s not stopping the top three contenders — Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, Denham Springs attorney Caroline Fayard and Acadiana oil executive Joshua Pellerin — from reaching out to DSCC members.
Stephen Handwerk, the party’s executive director, said in an interview recently that he hadn’t seen any movement one way or the other. He added that it’s ultimately up to the members of the DSCC.
The push for an endorsement has high-profile players in different corners, with Gov. John Bel Edwards supporting Campbell and Fayard’s family leveraging a lifetime of financial support for Democrats. It’s unknown who might be able to broker such an endorsement with these personalities involved.
The party, though, may want the DSCC to steer clear of a vote. Coordinated campaigns bring in money and it may prefer three candidates with cash to completely locking out two of them.
This is especially true due to the lack of attention from the national level.
“There is certainly a role the state party plays in this,” Handwerk said. “But do the national folks get involved and play a role here? Certainly that is something the chairwoman, myself and the campaigns are making the case for, that Louisiana should be in play this year. So far we’re not seeing any movement.”

They said it
“I’ll be a communist before I’ll ever be a vegetarian.”
—Former Congressman Billy Tauzin, on Facebook
“This is a ridiculous farce of a dog-and-pony show.”
—Ryan Trundle of Shreveport, with a beard died blue, on Bernie Sander’s treatment at last week’s Democratic National Convention, in The Plain Dealer
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

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