The War Chests So Far In The Louisiana Secretary Of State Race Are Not All That Big

It’s probably a function of so many candidates in the race and none being a particularly big name as yet, but so far in the special election race to succeed Tom Schedler as Louisiana’s Secretary of State, the big money appears to be on the sidelines.

Wednesday was the filing deadline for the last campaign finance reports, so we now have a reasonable snapshot of what the campaigns are doing. It’s not enough information from which to know which candidate has the best chance to win; it’s far too early for those kinds of prognostications anyway, but the reports do tell us a little about who’s raising and spending what so far.

As far as cash on hand, it looks like the clear winner to date is state representative Julie Stokes (R-Kenner). Stokes is sitting on a respectable $441,000 at present, having carried forward some $184,000 in campaign finances from previous races, added to that a $250,000 personal loan to the campaign and raised $55,000 to date. Stokes has spent $49,000 so far, including about $19,000 on Mandeville-based political consultant Anna Dearmon Kornick. That would constitute a substantial burn rate depending on how deeply into that personal loan she’s willing to go as the campaign progresses. At this point, she’s the tall stack at the poker table, though.

So far, from what we can tell the fundraising leader is state representative Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), whose finance report indicates he’s reeled in $102,000 to date. Edmonds has burned through a chunk of that cash, though, having spent $39,000 so far and is currently sitting on about $65,000. That isn’t enough cash to last much into the home stretch, so Edmonds has some more calls to make.

Edmonds’ chief rival for the state’s conservative vote is former state senator A.G. Crowe (R-Pearl River), and so far it’s Crowe who’s spent the most on the race. He’s gone through $65,000 to date, having only raised $13,000 from outside contributors (Crowe’s campaign is running chiefly on a $90,000 loan he gave it from his personal finances), and he’s currently sitting on a $51,000 war chest. We assume much of Crowe’s current burn comes from an up-front retainer paid to political consultants Scott Wilfong and Dan Richey; he’s paid them some $24,000 to date, which from what we can tell is the high end of consulting fees and vendor payments in the campaign.

Incumbent Kyle Ardoin (R- Baton Rouge) had no campaign at all until the final day of qualifying, and yet Ardoin has managed to put his campaign in a position to compete with the perceived high-end candidates in a matter of just a few weeks. Ardoin hauled in $88,000 against just $900 in expenses so far, giving him cash on hand of $87,700 – which, aside from Stokes, puts him in the healthiest position of the major candidates. It’s probably a good bet Ardoin held off reporting any campaign expenses until after the Aug. 1 cutoff for the current report so as to show a good cash-on-hand figure, but even so he’s raising a competitive amount of money. We’ll know more about where that campaign is when the next reporting period rolls around.

Another Republican campaign in better financial shape than one would expect comes from Turkey Creek mayor Heather Cloud, who loaned her campaign $100,000 of personal funds and hasn’t shown any expenses yet beyond the $900 filing fee at the Secretary of State’s office. We haven’t talked much about Cloud in this race so far, and most observers think she’s probably a more serious candidate for the state senate seat being vacated by term-limited Democrat Eric Lafleur in next year’s elections. But of all the candidates in the race Cloud might actually have the most interesting campaign story; namely that she nearly lost her re-election bid in 2015 to a challenger whose campaign was caught buying votes; Cloud fought the crooks and won, getting a new election in which she defeated Bert Campbell amid the scandal. That story is something of a cautionary tale in favor of election integrity, which is obviously the Secretary of State’s job. $100,000 isn’t quite enough to get such a story out there, but it’s at least competitive with some of the more well-known hopefuls in the race.

Beyond those five, the war chests get far smaller. The best-known Democrat in the race, Renee Fontenot Free, has just $12,000 in cash on hand, having collected $18,000 and spent $6,000. The other Democrat, Gwen Collins-Greenup of Clinton, wrote her campaign a check for $900 to pay the filing fee and another to pay for a website, and that’s it. Neither of the other two candidates, Republican Thomas Kennedy of Metairie and independent Matt Moreau of Baton Rouge, have filed financial statements for the current period.

Again, none of this is particularly dispositive. We know that candidates who loan their campaigns large sums of money to generate a swell-looking cash on hand figure on initial financial reports very often never spend those funds, and therefore a number like Stokes’ might not be as imposing as it might appear. Nobody has a clear fundraising edge to date, and until we see a clearer picture of Ardoin’s campaign it’s hard to judge campaign burn rates just yet.

What we can say is this race is about what we expected; it’s a battle of lightly-funded candidates which will surely break late as voters don’t pay much attention until the final two or three weeks. In other words, anything can happen.

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