New super PAC enters governor's race

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics

In another move that suggests this year's race for governor could become the most expensive ever waged in the state's history, another super PAC has announced its intentions to pour money into the election.

Scott Angelle

In another move that suggests this year's race for governor could become the most expensive ever waged in the state's history, another super PAC has announced its intentions to pour money into the election.

The Louisiana Rising PAC has been registered with the Secretary of State and its handlers say it will soon begin raising money and spending it on candidates, with a special focus on Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle’s bid for governor.

These kinds of political action committees are a special breed, since they can raise unlimited amounts of cash, and are new to Louisiana on the state level. They've been a player on the national level for years, their way paved by a Supreme Court decision likening fundraising to free speech. The most important prohibition on super PACs is they cannot coordinate with the candidates and campaigns on which they are spending money.

The registered agent for the pro-Angelle Louisiana Rising PAC is Allan L. Durand of Lafayette, who said the super PAC will file its first report with the state Ethics Administration soon.

He said Bill Skelly, a former data guru for the Republican National Committee, will serve as the PAC's director. Skelly is now a partner at Causeway Solutions, along with Chris McNulty, formerly the RNC's political director.

McNulty was replaced at the RNC by Chris Carr, a general consultant with some roots in Louisiana. LaPolitics reported last month that Carr was originally interviewing to lead the pro-Angelle super PAC before he got the RNC gig to replace McNulty.

Super PACs must avoid singular purpose

The operatives and accountants behind Louisiana's growing number of super PACs may want to avoid supporting only one candidate in the upcoming elections, unless they're ready to file paperwork with the candidate's signature disavowing any connection.

There are no laws on the books whatsoever to guide super PACs in Louisiana. There is case law, however, allowing them to receive unlimited donations, but it relates only to the Fund For Louisiana's Future. Technically, under state law, there are no super PACs -- just independent political action committees.

As such, according to Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen, they must adhere to a 1994 Ethics Board opinion that was sought by supporters of former Gov. Buddy Roemer, who were hoping to get him back in the game at the time. The opinion states that if an independent PAC supports only one candidate, it would then become a subsidiary of the candidate or the candidate's committee. It would also be subjected to the current $100,000 giving cap. But if the candidate disavows the independent PAC, they're back in action.

The Fund For Louisiana's Future, for example, is supporting U.S. Sen. David Vitter's run for governor. But it also sponsored a small media buy last year in support of Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.

Yet that brings up another point. Can a super PAC operate in Louisiana under the court decision handed down specifically for the Fund For Louisiana's Future?

"If they are similarly situated, then they can probably argue that," Allen said.

Asked if super PACs were operating in a gray area, she replied, "Yes and no."

The true litmus test of what can or cannot be done will come with litigation or future opinions, unless lawmakers decide to create perimeters for super PACs. They cannot alter the unlimited fundraising capabilities of super PACs, since the Supreme Court labeled it a freedom of speech issue, but lawmakers can better define what is acceptable.

As of now, Allen said the Ethics Board has made no recommendations to the Legislature for a review of super PAC. Several lawmakers interviewed say they've yet to hear any ideas from inside the rails either.

So far, there are also super PACs supporting Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and U.S. Sen. David Vitter. The odd man out is state Rep. John Bel Edwards. Could news of a super PAC supporting his bid be far behind?