Aug 162018
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

What do Julie Stokes, Richard Perque, A.G. Crowe, Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Marie Williams, Heather Cloud and Omar Mason have in common? All are candidates for state or local office in the November 6, 2018 elections who made sizeable personal loans to their campaigns. By beefing up fundraising totals, these candidates became more viable which in turn helps future fundraising. Several other contenders – Kyle Ardoin, Kenneth Plaisance, and Renee Fontenot Free – also loaned themselves the fees needed to qualify and were quickly reimbursed.

It’s a cat and mouse game. Donors want to give money to winners. Candidates need money to put together winning campaigns. Election costs have skyrocketed. Raising money is often not easy for first-time candidates or for those seeking an office that voters really don’t understand or care about. That’s why personal loans are so important. Candidates with their own money source can keep an underfunded campaign afloat and hopefully repay themselves after the election when fundraising is easier. Candidates who even partially self-fund also tend to be less tied to special interests.

Since Clerk of Civil District Court Chelsey Richard Napoleon never ran before, she had no donor base. Napoleon’s seed money came from family and old friends as well as a $15,000 personal loan. In the reporting period which recently ended, Richard showed more funds raised than her opponent, City Councilman Jared Brossett – $99,625 versus $56,776. But Brossett reported the most cash on hand – $225,000 versus $82,000. Brossett enjoys a diverse list of donors from his years as a legislator and councilmember including Alden McDonald, David Kerstein, John Hamide, Craig and Kiana Mitchell and Josh Rubenstein. Richard is heavily supported by the Terrell Broussard family, Landry & Swarr, James Carter, Geri Broussard Baloney and Daniel Davillier.

Brossett’s larger bankroll is based in part on his ability to transfer remaining funds from previous elections, legal under Louisiana’s campaign finance laws. It afforded Brossett the opportunity to pay a $20,000 retainer to media pros Karen Carvin and Deno Seder as well as to retain Cheron Brylski. Richard’s consultants include Victoria Coulon, Kevin Stuart, and Jared Arsement – all well-respected. Only one company appears to have donated to both campaigns – DMM Associates, owned by Dottie Reese and Margaret Montgomery Richard. So far several major donors in the legal community are sitting on the sidelines.

Republican State Rep. Julie Stokes, a candidate for Secretary of State, also benefitted from carrying funds over from another race. Until she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Stokes was running for state treasurer. She transferred over those remaining dollars, started fundraising again, and made a $250,000 loan. With almost $450,000 cash on hand, Stokes is the best funded candidate in that race and could run well in metropolitan New Orleans. Among her largest recent donors are Joe Canizaro, Susan Brennan, Leslie Jacobs, Jack Jensen, Louis Lauricella and Laney Chouest.

Stokes’ toughest opponent on the right appears to be former State Senator Almond Gaston “A.G.” Crowe Jr. Crowe, who lives in Pearl River, loaned his campaign $90,000 after raising only $13,000 during the same reporting period. He is a favorite of the state’s most conservative voters as well as much of the Republican political establishment. While on the campaign trail Crowe has dined at some of Louisiana’s best known restaurants including Shucks in Abbeville, Strawns’ Eat Shop in Shreveport, the Huddle House in Natchitoches, and The Barn House Cooking in Columbia.

Crowe has hired Greg Buisson, campaign manager Jack McAdams, Baton Rouge political operative Scott Wilfong and former LAGOP chair Roger Villere, who celebrates his birthday today. Stokes has brought on David Zoller, Nicole Desormeaux and Ann Rasmussen, along with Jason Hebert and Scott Hobbs, who have worked for Garret Graves and Steve Scalise.

Hoping to squeeze her way into the Secretary of State runoff is Baton Rouge Democrat Renee Fontenot Free, an avid hunter, fisher, sportswoman and NRA member. Though she only reported about $17,000 in contributions, Free believes her 28 years of government experience will propel her candidacy. She expects to be the choice of Louisiana’s Democratic Party which would help bring in fresh resources. Free could also receive some moderate Republican crossover vote because of her years working with Fox McKeithen, Al Ater, and Jay Dardenne. Her biggest financial supporters include Lake Charles residents Brenda and Robert McCall. T. Bradley Keith, who played a major role during the Mary Landrieu years, is managing Free’s campaign. Randy Hayden is handling media and fundraising.

Also trying to find a runoff opening is Turkey Creek Mayor Heather McCloud, a Democrat who lent her campaign $100,000. McCloud has hired Chris Comeaux who masterminded Clay Higgins’ successful congressional race and fundraiser Sally Nungesser.

The other major player is current Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin who made a last minute decision to enter the race and quickly raised almost $90,000. Among his major donors are Boysie Bollinger, Adams and Reese’s Ann Wallace, Tony Clayton, and the Bedsole family, Mansfield’s timber barons. In addition, Ardoin is supported by New Orleans businessman Edmund Redd. Ardoin has retained consultant Lionel Rainey III who has worked with John Kennedy and John Schroeder.

In the race to fill an open seat at Civil District Court Division E, candidates Richard Perque and Omar Mason made personal loans. Perque is running to win, after having lost two previous judicial races. He recently raised $94,000 and loaned himself another $50,000. After expenses – including a $20,000 retainer to Karen Carvin and Deno Seder and smaller retainers to Kevin Barnes, Gina Gatewood and Todd Ragusa – Perque entered the last 90 days of the campaign with $108,000. His major donors in this cycle include Boysie Bollinger, Lee Matthew Curtis, Dan Robin, Timon Webre, William Winebrenner, Lesli Harris, Naomi Kim and Alex Liu who also contributed to Jared Brossett. Many Perque donors made $5,000 contributions – the maximum allowed.

With former ad hoc judge Lynn Luker as his campaign chair, Mason is making his second bid for a judgeship. Mason used a $12,000 personal loan to seed this race and is pleased with his progress. Perennial candidate Marie Williams-Brigandi is using her $20,000 loan to remind African-American voters, especially females, that she deserves their vote.

Many people believe politics has become a game only rich people can play. Though some candidates still enter races without using personal funds, their numbers decrease each year.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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