Following the Money

by Jeremy Alford

How the major gubernatorial contenders spend their money reveals who the candidates are bedded down with, why their campaigns are so expensive, and how they plan to win.

The four major candidates for governor spent nearly $8 million collectively on their campaigns during the second quarter of this year. From April to July, more money was spent trying to capture the state's highest office than was allocated by the Legislature for barrier island maintenance during the recent session. We're talking about serious money here, 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 personal wealth.

During the most recent reporting period, state Sen. Walter Boasso, a Democrat from Chalmette, spent almost $1.6 million; Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, the race's other Democrat from Bossier Parish, shelled out a meager $466,000; Metairie businessman John Georges, the Republican-turned-independent, ponied up a staggered $4.8 million; and GOP Congressman Bobby Jindal of Kenner spent about $1 million.

If you want to know what separates Jindal, the clear frontrunner, from the rest of the pack ' despite his relatively low spending total ' just consider where more than a quarter of his money went. Jindal's expenditure report reads like a breakdown of the old-time Democratic Get Out the Vote machines, with dozens of names of volunteers being paid everything from $50 to $1,000 for work. There are also a slew of salaried campaign workers. In all, Jindal cut 339 individual checks from April to July totaling more than $270,500 to staff and volunteers, far more than any other candidate in the race.

In addition to ways to win, spending also sheds a light on behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Boasso caused a massive political tsunami to take form earlier this year when he dropped the GOP banner to run for governor as a Democrat ' a no-brainer considering state Republicans were already married to Jindal. Just weeks after switching, Boasso's report shows he offered an olive branch to the Legislative Black Caucus Foundation in the form of a $1,000 donation paid for with campaign contributions, or his own cash, which is largely fueling the campaign. He also purchased $2,000 worth of tickets for a Democratic Party fundraiser.

Noticeably absent from Boasso's expenditures following the turncoat, though, are payments to James Hartman of Covington for "consulting services." That's because Hartman jumped ship and is now showing up on Georges' reports as press secretary ' making about $5,000 monthly, or roughly $500 less than what Boasso was paying.

The people and firms candidates surround themselves with are normally scrutinized for any potential conflict, as evidenced by Jindal, who has unarguably been running for governor for four years. He 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. He has likewise paid out $10,600 to GCR in New Orleans, an election-consulting firm that ironically helped Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, top Jindal in 2003.

Boasso, meanwhile, has placed $14,000 on the usually-stoic advice of New York's own Arthur J. Finkelstein, a secretive op who has advised uber-conservatives like 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 carrying a bit more luggage (a top exec was recently 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 up, she lost her communications contract with the New Orleans City Council in December after publicly using a racially offensive term when referring to a set of light fixtures in the council chambers, according to coverage by The Times-Picayune.

No matter who is hired, campaigns are costly, or at least as costly as the candidates make them. Campbell, for instance, spent $10,600 on those pesky, 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 outfit. Campbell, however, probably had the most fun spending his campaign contributions ' $198 on LSU football season tickets and $320 on individual tickets.

Of course, all of these expenditures just scratch the surface; they certainly don't add up to $8 million. But the sweetest of all expenditures are referred to as in-kind, meaning contributions of goods or services at no charge or less than fair market value. In short, free stuff. No other candidate is more skilled at this perk than Jindal. He was comped $9,000 worth of rental charges for his different 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 only bolstering Jindal early in the polls, but they're also willing to leave the light on for him.