Race for attorney general has many facets

By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford
Former Congressman Jeff Landry announced Monday that he wants to be Louisiana’s top lawyer and will be challenging incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in 2015.

Landry, a Republican from New Iberia who has built a political career with the help of tea party advocates, has been hinting at a bid for months. At the same time he also has become highly critical of Caldwell, particularly on the issue of contingency fee contracts and the lawsuit filed by a New Orleans-area levee board against 97 energy companies.The issue has helped Landry build stronger ties with the oil and gas industry, which in turn is expected to show up in his campaign finances. But those figures will not be made available for another year.

“He would definitely get a lot of support,” said Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. “He’s the last guy I’d want to run against because he is so tenacious. He’s a bulldog.”

Landry only just formed his campaign for attorney general on paper, filing a statement of organization with the Ethics Administration on Jan. 23.

But since then, Landry has actively been raising money.

“Jeff has already received a tremendous amount of commitments and support from people who are standing behind him in this race,” said Brent Littlefield, Landry’s chief consultant.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who has sided with Landry in past elections, almost immediately offered encouraging words via Twitter. He called Landry a “strong, solid conservative” who would make a “very qualified AG.”

Within moments, Landry’s campaign had a response on behalf of the candidate: “I want to thank Senator David Vitter for his kind words regarding my announcement today. Senator Vitter has been a tireless advocate for Louisiana and our conservative principles.”

It’s a clear signal that Vitter, who is running for governor, may be building a ticket for the 2015 ballot. If so, the next question becomes whether the super PAC created to back Vitter, the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, will support those candidates as well.

Landry created his own super PAC last year, too, called Restore Our Republic, but it’s confined to federal races only. Moreover, Landry’s connection to the super PAC would prohibit it from spending money in any race where he’s a candidate.

If one is to believe the rumors that have been making the rounds leading up to last week’s Washington Mardi Gras events, Treasurer John Kennedy has a part to play in all of this, whether as a candidate for governor or attorney general.

LaPolitics reported in January that Kennedy has already begun telling friends and supporters he would run for governor. But now there’s a whisper campaign suggesting the treasurer is keeping his options open with an eye to possibly entering the AG field.

While sources say they’re just that—rumors—Kennedy did run for attorney general in 1991 and publicly considered the position in 2007. Some politicos believe that the AG spot has always been the “prize denied” to the treasurer, who has nearly $3 million in the bank, enough to cash to run for any office Louisiana has to offer.

As for Caldwell and the whispers he generated at D.C. Mardi Gras over the weekend, conservative operatives are already trying to make hay over his appearance at the hospitality suite sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, where he dished up his annual karaoke Elvis impersonation. Performing as Memphis’ favorite son is one thing, but operatives say partying with a Democrat, when you’re a former Dem running as a Republican, is another.Secretary of state watching his backIf the 2015 race for secretary of state were to be judged by last year’s fundraising alone, incumbent Tom Schedler, a Republican, would have a barn-burner on his hands.

Over the course of just 90 days, LSU law professor Chris Tyson, a Democrat, came within $28,000 of matching what Schedler collected in all of 2013. Both of their campaign finance reports were filed with the state Ethics Administration in mid-February.

Tyson raised $82,000 between early October and the end of December with fundraisers in Washington, Atlanta and back home in Louisiana. He put up $6,600 in personal loans and closed 2013 with $79,000 in the bank.

So far Tyson has been serving as campaign manager and finance director, but sources expect him to put together a team by year’s end beginning with consultants. His connections have served him well so far—he’s a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and the son of late Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson.

As for Schedler, he raised $110,000 last year, just $28,000 ahead of his challenger. The secretary of state also had $105,000 in the bank as of last week, besting Tyson by just $26,000.

While Tyson has held Beltway fundraisers, he has received no money from political action committees, whereas Schedler raked in roughly a fourth of his total take from PACs, or $23,000. If Schedler had taken no PAC money in 2013, he would be head-to-head with Tyson in terms of fundraising at this point.

Schedler, however, has never been a top-tier fundraiser. He spent $561,000 to win his post in 2011 against former House Speaker Jim Tucker and loaned himself $350,000 to get there. Unless his pockets are dry, Schedler can do it again. He also has the power of incumbency, should be choose to leverage it.

If there’s a wildcard factor in this race, it’s the growing trend of outside groups getting involved in elections for secretary of state around the nation. With margins for victory growing tighter for important federal races, special interests are beginning to take notice of the influence election regulators can have in drafting policy.

According to a recent report in Politico, political action committees are forming on the left and right to target secretary of state races in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio. Correctly estimating that SOS races cost roughly $500,000 to win, depending on the state, the new PACs are banking on small injections of $50,000 to $100,000 to make big differences.

It doesn’t seem likely that Louisiana’s own contest for secretary of state will be in the running for such attention, but it’s certainly on the minds of those involved with the developing race here. Especially if Tyson gains momentum and Schedler ends up with a barn-burner after all.


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