Suing Your Old Political Consultant Is A Lousy Way To Win A Congressional Election

One of the candidates for the 6th District congressional race we’ve said little about so far is Cassie Felder. That’s true for a couple of reasons.

One reason was that Felder’s sole experience in working on public policy was as a member of a blue-ribbon commission on transportation set up by Kip Holden that ultimately produced the CATS tax. Had we devoted much of our digital ink to her as a congressional candidate you can be fairly sure it wouldn’t have helped her cause much; most conservatives in the 6th District would regard that as a disqualifying event, and for good reason. We don’t know her well, she seems nice, but Congress? With that record? Come on.

We were talked out of blowing Felder out of the water by a couple of people who vouched to us that she’s a good conservative who believes all the things we believe and that the commission which produced the CATS tax was not reflective of who she would be as a member of Congress.

It turns out that one of the people vouching for her was Jason Hebert, who with his partner Scott Hobbs runs The Political Firm – a political consulting outfit here in Baton Rouge that from October of last year until this March was working for Felder. Hebert made an impassioned case for Felder as somebody who reads the Hayride and agrees with everything we say around here and asked us to give her a little love.

So we didn’t do our planned thing about how “CATSie” Felder was running for Congress and if you call yourself conservative you can’t really support somebody whose only record in politics is that she produced tax dollars for more empty buses and crooks on the CATS board getting their Verizon bills covered. That was Hebert’s doing.

Hebert probably saved Felder’s bacon with that plea. Because it isn’t like the Cassie Felder campaign was out there generating positive headlines – or, for that matter, any headlines at all. We didn’t see any big campaign events, there was no particular fundraising being done that we saw, there were no press releases of any major note or speeches of big import being made. It was more like Felder was playing at running for Congress. We just assumed that since she wasn’t making any waves or raising any money it was just a matter of time before she’d bow out of the race. It therefore wasn’t even necessary to bring up the CATS tax and her connection to it or to include a reminder when we hit upon the latest scandal involving the bus system that “by the way, you guys know this is all Cassie Felder’s fault, right?”

And so on March 17, when Hobbs sent Felder a letter telling her The Political Firm was bailing out on her campaign for lack of any progress toward actually winning the race and the word got out that they were off her campaign, pretty much everybody figured that was it for her. When your political consultant, who gets paid to be optimistic about your chances to win, turns out to be Eeyore – it’s time to get out.

But Felder didn’t get out. She stayed in. And after raising $29,000 in the first quarter she went out and raised $32,000 in the second quarter.

But as it turns out, one of the reasons Hebert and Hobbs decided to get off the Felder bandwagon was that, like the rest of us, they perceived her political exploits to be more of a hobby than something serious. Hobbs told her as much in the letter he sent to the campaign terminating The Political Firm’s involvement. “For the past six months, the Felder campaign has been more of a hobby and part-time activity rather than drive and devoted to laying the groundwork,” said the letter. “After a combined 40 years in this business, we know where this campaign is headed. Therefore we are advising you to drop out of this race gracefully and with dignity still intact.”

Why would they think that? Well, Felder’s first-quarter fundraising figure was $29,000 – and she spent $28,000 of it. You don’t lay much groundwork for a successful political campaign when you only net $1,000 for a whole quarter. In fact, the campaign spent more than that ($1,063) with on a condo rental in Panama City Beach in January – which doesn’t quite scream “I’m serious about winning this Congressional race I’m running” – and almost that much ($815) on “event registration” for the Mystic Krewe of Achilles Mardi Gras ball in February.

As it turns out, Felder’s 2nd quarter campaign report proves Hobbs’ letter to be correct. She raised $32,000, which is more than she did in the first quarter, but even without spending the $14,000 and change she paid The Political Firm in the first quarter she still ran through $24,000 of it. And what did she spend it on?

Well, there was another stay at that condo in Panama City Beach in early June. This time it cost $2,251.53.

And there was $558.00 spent on the Campaigns & Elections conference in Arlington, VA at the end of May.

There was a $952 hotel bill at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans for the Republican Leadership Conference, and $1,017.90 in event registration feeds for RLC. Plus, $257.92 in “Campaign Meals” at Toups Meatery in New Orleans. We haven’t tried that place, but they say it’s pretty good.

There was $600 for tickets to the annual Elephant Stomp fundraiser in May.

There was a trip to Austin in early May which included $407 at the Radisson and $329.55 in “Campaign Meals” at Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque – which must have been some spread.

There was also a $266.70 “campaign meal” at the Smith & Wollensky in Washington in mid-June. And there was $1,413.96 in airfare to Phoenix on June 6.

Getting the picture here? This looks a lot like a hobby, and it’s a hobby you can get other people to fund. But when Lane and Bobbi Grigsby combine to donate $5,200 to your campaign what they think they’re paying for is mailers and bumper stickers and YouTube videos and the pittance you pay a campaign manager. They’re not going to be all that excited to foot the bill for you to dine at the best restaurants or hole up at the beach.

As it happens, Hebert and Hobbs don’t generally go for hobbyists as clients. They don’t always win, but they do win most of the time. Among the current elected officials they can count as current and former clients are Steve Scalise, David Vitter, Bill Cassidy, Charles Boustany, Jay Dardenne, Tom Schedler, Mike Strain and Bobby Jindal – and that’s just in Louisiana. They’ve got a number of current members of Congress outside the state as well.

Something else we know about Hebert and Hobbs is that they’re not like the majority of political consultants out there. In 20 years they’ve never worked for a Democrat in a race of any significance, and with a few exceptions (Boustany’s 2012 race being the major one, but that’s a repeat client with different circumstances than when they started working for him) Hebert and Hobbs can be counted on to work for the most conservative candidate with a chance to win. They personify the Buckley Rule, and they actually move the needle on behalf of the movement. You could say there are few folks in Louisiana more responsible for turning this state red than Jason and Scott, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

So when they take on a client in a Congressional race, they’re entitled to certain expectations. The most notable of those is that the client take their campaign seriously and actually sacrifice for it. To sit down and work the phones all afternoon in an attempt to raise money, for example. To practically put your business on hold for nine months or a year while you take time to speak at every podunk Kiwanis or homeowner association or Republican Women’s Club meeting you can find. To knock on doors on a hot Saturday. And so on.

She didn’t do that, so they bailed. They work for serious candidates, not people who passively troll for Baton Rouge voters at Panama City Beach.

And we should appreciate them for that. One reason political consultants tend to be in such bad odor these days is that so many of them would happily go along with working for Felder and bleed her campaign account for as long as they could. Once the money ran out, so would they. Hebert and Hobbs actually showed some integrity, cut the cord on a campaign that was going nowhere and went looking for somebody they could help win.

And two months after they fired her as a client, they signed on with Garrett Graves’ campaign. That was in May.

Last week, Felder sued Hebert and Hobbs. She wants all of the money back that she paid them, plus some. Candidates suing political consultants because they get fired as clients…never happens.

The lawsuit says “Defendants cannot unknow what they learned from working with Felder, including, but not limited to, her campaign strategies, contact lists, financial information, potential donors, and her overall personal characteristics.” But the point of hiring a political consultant is that they give you things like campaign strategies and contact lists. Of course they can’t “unknow” those things – they knew them before they started working for you!

It’s interesting that this lawsuit hit right after the 2nd quarter campaign finance disclosures went public. Where it comes to cash on hand, Felder is at the back of the bus. The current war chest standings…

  1. Graves: $722,000
  2. Edwards: $141,000
  3. Claitor: $129,000
  4. Dietzel: $112,000
  5. Whitney: $105,000
  6. McCulloch: $93,000
  7. Thomas: $82,000
  8. Felder: $26,000

Nobody else in the race has even raised enough money to submit a disclosure yet. And by the way, Felder has spent more money than Thomas and Whitney.

So in other words, Graves reports that huge number and everybody else in the race is doing a lot more creditable job than Felder is, which means this is another major red flag telling her she needs to get out of the race, and nobody is going to be much interested in donating money to her campaign going forward.

So instead of getting out of the race and paying for her own dinner at Smith & Wollensky, she’s going to sue Hebert and Hobbs for jumping ship to Graves’ campaign. Which gets her attention, and maybe sympathy, and perhaps keeps the hobby going for another quarter.

Meanwhile, a couple of people with an actual record and reputation of winning races for Republicans who aren’t in politics for free dinners or condo stays in Florida get smeared with a stupid lawsuit.

Whether Hebert and Hobbs have grounds to countersue Felder is a question we can’t answer. It’s probably not good PR for them to do so in any event. But they’re probably thinking of the famous quote from Ronald Reagan’s former Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan, who after being acquitted in a corruption case involving a construction company he owned asked “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

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