Following the Money

A look at individual donations from Lafayette and across the state flowing into presidential candidate campaigns shows that Louisiana once again appears to be bucking some national political trends. According to opensecrets.org, the Web site for the non-partisan, non-profit research group Center for Responsive Politics, a lot of Louisiana’s major donors placed their bets on the wrong horses.

In Lafayette fund-raising totals through the end of 2007, four of the top five candidates are now out of the race. Republican Rudy Giuliani topped the list with $92,250; Republican Fred Thompson came in second with $74,500; Democrat John Edwards pulled in $17,350 in the No. 4 slot, and Republican Mitt Romney came in 5th with $9,900. (Democrat Hillary Clinton was in the No. 3 slot with $65,950.)

The most unusual number: Democratic nominee and current surging Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama only showed $500 in contributions from Lafayette. One caveat: these numbers only track donations $200 or above, and smaller online donations are helping fuel Obama’s fund-raising totals. CRP spokesman Massie Ritsch doublechecked the numbers and confirmed their accuracy. Nationally, Obama has shattered records by taking in $36 million nationwide in January 2008 alone; by contrast, Clinton raised $13.5 million in January, and Republican John McCain took in $12 million.

Louisiana’s total numbers break down in similar fashion to the Lafayette numbers, although Clinton comes in at No. 1 and Giuliani, Thompson, Edwards and Romney round out the Top 5. The Top 10:

Hillary Clinton: $581,080
Rudy Giuliani: $490,992
Fred Thompson: $301,965
John Edwards: $280,266
Mitt Romney: $195,675
John McCain: $183,011
Barack Obama: $120,322
Ron Paul: $96,962
Christopher Dodd: $55,148
Bill Richardson: $48,200
(Still-standing Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee just missed the Top 10, with $43,110 in contributions earning him the No. 11 spot.)

The most recent campaign finance reporting deadline was Feb. 20, and the nearly two-months plus of additional individual donor contributions didn’t radically change the equation. Before he dropped out of the race on Jan. 30, Giuliani still raked in another $30,000 from Lafayette donors. (Part of Giuliani’s strong Lafayette fund raising is due to his endorsement from U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, as Boustany and multiple Boustany family members contributed to the Giuliani campaign, as did Patrick LeBlanc, who hosted Giuliani at his home for a fund raiser.) McCain, who for all practical purposes has locked up the Republican presidential nomination, jumped ahead of Romney statewide into the No. 5 slot with $230,158.

Former President Bill Clinton’s Feb. 8 visit to Lafayette on behalf of his wife didn’t translate into a local fund-raising surge; Hillary Clinton received less than $1,000 from donors in the period between Dec. 31, 2007 and Feb. 20, 2008. Obama’s local numbers were similarly stagnant; he only pulled in $500 from individual contributions in that same time frame.

If there were any doubt that the Louisiana Republican GOP power base would rally around McCain, the news that McCain is now set to speak at Business Report’s Business Awards and Hall of Fame Banquet in Baton Rouge on April 24 should dispel that notion. Business Report is owned by Publisher Rolfe McCollister Jr., who served as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign treasurer and raised additional eyebrows in media circles by personally offering to pay a team Jindal campaign finance fine on behalf of the Jindal campaign. McCain’s appearance at McCollister’s function will add a bit more fuel to the rumors that McCain could be considering Jindal for the vice president slot on his ticket. Personally, I’ve never put much stock in those rumblings; it’s hard to imagine Jindal abandoning the governor’s mansion after only a few months in office.

Louisiana’s role and strength in future fund raising for the Democratic presidential nominee — like the current Democratic primary campaign — is harder to gauge. Six of Louisiana’s nine Democratic superdelegates remain uncommitted, while Clinton has the support of two superdelegates and Obama has one. And while conventional political wisdom is that Texas is part of a three-state firewall including Ohio and Pennsylvania that Clinton needs to win in order to have any hope of securing the nomination, she took time off the campaign trail in those states last Saturday to speak in New Orleans at syndicated radio and television host Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union conference. (Obama cited campaign commitments for not attending the conference, and his wife Michelle Obama offered to speak instead, but Smiley refused that offer.)

Considering that Clinton has raised the most money — $605,610 — of any presidential candidate in Louisiana, her appearance at African-American Smiley’s conference shows she’s not giving up yet in Louisiana, despite losing the popular vote by a 57 percent to 36 percent margin in the Feb. 16 primary. She also knows that Smiley’s national reach is an outlet for her to still fiercely compete and try and stem the tide of her African-American supporters defecting to Obama’s campaign.

If Obama’s momentum continues, the picture will be much clearer after Pennsylvania completes the Texas/Ohio/Pennsylvania triumvirate on April 22. Given the relentless battle between Obama and Clinton, the unanswered question — in Louisiana and across the country — is whether the record numbers of voters turning out at Democratic primaries will unite behind the Democratic nominee.