The four major candidates for governor collectively spent nearly $8 million on their campaigns during the second quarter of this year. To put that figure into perspective, that's more money in three months than lawmakers allocated for this entire year to maintain Louisiana's fragile but vital barrier islands.
We're talking serious money, the kind that transcends normal retail politics and door-to-door walks. Expenditure reports on file with the Louisiana Board of Ethics show a large portion of the jingle going to out-of-state vendors, but it also reveals small insights into the candidates and how they choose to spend their hard-earned contributions -- or, for some candidates, their personal wealth.
The latest campaign finance reports cover the period from April 13 to July 12. During that time, state Sen. Walter Boasso, a Democrat from Chalmette, spent almost $1.6 million. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Bossier Parish, the race's other major Democrat, shelled out a meager $466,000. Metairie businessman John Georges, a Republican, ponied up a staggering $4.8 million. And GOP Congressman Bobby Jindal of Kenner, the front-runner, spent roughly $1 million.
If you want to know what separates Jindal from the rest of the pack, despite his relatively low spending total, consider where more than a quarter of his money went. Jindal's expenditure report reads like a spreadsheet from an old-time Democratic GOTV (Get Out the Vote) organization. It lists dozens of names of worker bees who have been paid from $50 to $1,000 for their time and efforts. A slew of salaried campaign workers also made the list. In all, Jindal cut 339 individual checks to campaign staffers from mid-April to mid-July -- far more than any other candidate in the race -- totaling more than $270,500 . Not only is Jindal's campaign machine set and ready, it's apparently well greased.
In addition to strategies, spending reports also shed light on behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Boasso created a political tsunami earlier this year when he dropped his GOP affiliation and opted to run for governor as a Democrat. The move was an easy call considering the state Republican machinery had already pledged allegiance to Jindal. Within weeks of switching, Boasso's report shows he offered an olive branch to the Legislative Black Caucus Foundation in the form of a $1,000 donation. It likely was paid for with Boasso's own cash, which is largely fueling his campaign. He also purchased $2,000 worth of tickets for a Democratic Party fundraiser.
Noticeably absent from Boasso's post-party-switch expenditures are payments to James Hartman of Covington for "consulting services." That's because Hartman jumped ship after Boasso bolted from the GOP. His name now shows up on Georges' reports as press secretary -- making about $5,000 a month, or roughly $500 less than what Boasso was paying.
The people and firms that surround candidates are normally scrutinized for potential conflicts, but sometimes a good track record can overcome past opposition. For example, Jindal spent about $108,000 with OnMessage of Virginia, a firm that oversaw the national party's $20 million spending plan to elect President Bush in 2004. The Alexandria-based company is known for its snappy ads that build upon a Republican brand, which is a perfect fit for Jindal. On the other hand, Jindal likewise paid $10,600 to New Orleans-based GCR & Associates, an election-consulting firm that helped Gov. Kathleen Blanco beat Jindal in 2003.
Boasso, meanwhile, has invested $14,000 in the usually stoic advice of New York's Arthur J. Finkelstein, a secretive political op who has advised uber-conservatives like the late President Richard Nixon and former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. Hildebrand Tewes, the Democratic firm behind the rapid rise to fame of presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, is also on the Boasso train, although the firm carries a bit more luggage these days after a top exec was canned for embezzling $100,000.
Georges decided to keep it local for at least one of his PR consultants, and it's a name most in New Orleans will likely know. Danae Columbus and Associates was paid $3,000 by the Georges campaign during the reporting period. Before Columbus joined Georges, she lost her communications contract with the New Orleans City Council after publicly using a racial slur to describe a set of sub-standard light fixtures in the Council Chambers, according to coverage by The Times-Picayune.
No matter who is hired to make them succeed, campaigns are costly, or at least as costly as the candidates make them. Campbell, for instance, spent $10,600 on wire-framed yard signs alone. Boasso paid $14,700 for "campaign T-shirts" from the South Carolina-based Lisella Public Affairs, a highly regarded GOP vendor. Campbell, however, may have had the most fun spending some of his contributions -- $198 for LSU football season tickets and $320 for individual tickets.
These expenditures just scratch the surface; they certainly don't add up to $8 million. Perhaps the sweetest expenditures are those commonly referred to as "in-kind" -- goods or services given at no charge or less than their fair market value. No candidate appears more skilled at this "gimme" perk than Jindal. He was comped $9,000 worth of rental charges for his various headquarters around the state, including Lake Charles, Shreveport, New Iberia, Metairie and Mandeville. He has also benefited from more than $4,100 worth of free hotel rooms, from Holiday Inns to Courtyard Marriotts, proving that voters aren't just lining up for Jindal in the early polls, but they're also leaving a light on for him after late campaign stops.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at email@example.com.