Editor’s Note: This post is Part One of a three-part series discussing the role of political consultants in Louisiana’s elections.
What you’ll see below is a deep dive into the major Republican campaigns for Secretary of State – we include the Republicans here because neither Democrat candidate spent much money – based on publicly available information from campaign finance reports, with a specific focus on the money spent paying political consultants for their various activities.
Why do this deep dive? To give our readers an idea of what winning – and losing – campaigns can cost in Louisiana. And also to give you an idea of what political consultants are charging, and for what level of performance.
The fact that Thomas Kennedy, an attorney from Metairie who raised and spent nary a dime in the race, pulled nine percent off pure name familiarity is the talk of the state’s politicos today, for a number of reasons. Some are taking from his strong showing the lesson that John Kennedy’s name carries exceptional currency, and thus it’s hopeless for any Republicans other than John Kennedy to enter the governor’s race next year.
But the most provable lesson is how lousy a job some of the consultants working for others in the race who were paid a king’s ransom actually did.
The numbers you’re going to see below are based on publicly available campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, and they’re all based on the final pre-election filing deadline of October 17. Meaning, there are three weeks of potential campaign expenses not included in these reports that may have fallen after October 17, so the actual campaign expense numbers are probably a good bit higher than what we’re reporting.
All that said, consider the seventh-place candidate, A.G. Crowe, who plowed through well more than $200,000 to net just a bit more than 71,000 votes, about half of what Kennedy managed without spending any money at all. In that $200,000 is a staggering amount of fees paid to consultants. There’s $40,000 to the firm of Scott Wilfong and Dan Richey, there’s another $31,000 to Greg Buisson and there’s another $24,000 to Roger Villere and Phil Capitano.
Included in those figures are some collateral expenses. Wilfong and Richey were the campaign’s vendor for direct mail and yard signs, though $30,000 of the $40,000 they hauled in is marked as “campaign consulting.”
Buisson’s role was to handle the campaign’s website and he did a lot of design work as well. But again, he was paid $30,000 in pure consultant fees.
What Buisson is known for more than anything else is TV commercials. As best we can tell, at least before October 17 which is the last date for which we have campaign expense data, Crowe’s campaign never went up on TV.
And then there is CRV Consulting & Media, which is the new consulting firm Villere and Capitano started. Their role in Crowe’s campaign was to handle its social media. And it doesn’t look like there was a whole lot of collateral purchased there – pretty much all of that $24,000, short of a couple of thousand dollars spent on social media advertising, is fees.
So that’s $94,000 and change spent just on those consultants, PLUS another $3,750 paid to Terri Hutchinson, who was the campaign’s fundraiser, PLUS another $11,167 paid to Jack McAdams to serve as Crowe’s campaign manager.
We’re talking about just under $110,000 the Crowe campaign spent just on its paid staff. That is more than $1.50 PER VOTE Crowe received just on consultants.
To finish with a little more than half the votes a guy who didn’t spend a dime received.
The eighth-place finisher Heather Cloud, by contrast, picked up 301 votes less than Crowe. Cloud had a consultant as well – Chris Comeaux. But Comeaux’s fees were negligible compared to Crowe’s crew. She paid Christian Gil $6,000 as the campaign manager and Sally Nungesser $8,000 as a campaign finance consultant, which was most of what she spent – but this was a campaign which brought in 71,000 votes for less than $20,000 in total expenditures. It wasn’t competitive from the standpoint of winning a race but it also wasn’t egregious in terms of blowing money it didn’t have. Cloud also had Chris Comeaux available as a consultant, but Comeaux, who it’s rumored will be serving as her consultant next year when she runs for the state Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Eric Lafleur due to term limits, served as a volunteer for the campaign.
The fifth-place finisher was Julie Stokes, who as we noted was an unmitigated disaster on Tuesday. Stokes polled only 163,000 votes despite spending some $435,000 – a figure that, again, doesn’t include what Stokes spent in the last three weeks of the campaign. She’d put at least $250,000 of her own money into the campaign – we’ll need a bit more information to judge how much of that personal stash was poured down the memory hole.
And there are some fairly stout fees paid by that underperforming campaign. First there’s Anna Kornick, who pulled in almost $36,000…
And New Orleans pollster Greg Rigamer, who also was paid more than $35,000…
By the way, Tuesday when we predicted Stokes would make the runoff based on a poll we’d heard about which had her inching ahead of eventual Republican frontrunner Kyle Ardoin, that was a Rigamer poll – as it was revealed to us we believed it was from a different pollster. Whether it’s the same one listed on the campaign reports for $18,750 on Sept. 28 or another one which isn’t covered by these reports we can’t say. What we can say is that poll was patently wrong, and ridiculously so. And it might have pushed Rigamer’s take from Stokes’ campaign over $50,000.
There’s a $235,000 expenditure with Ax Media out of Kansas City, which is affiliated with political consultant Jeff Roe – you might remember his name from his time as Ted Cruz’ political consultant. That $235,000 was to purchase TV ads with, and there’s nothing outrageous in that expenditure per se.
And there’s David Zoller, her legislative assistant, who scored $10,700 in retainers…
We’re not done by a long shot. There’s $3,000 for Nicole DeSormeaux, a campaign fundraiser…
And there’s $7,000 for political consultant Eric McVicker out of Mandeville…
There’s a $2,400 retainer for Lauren Senie, who we think might have handled social media.
There’s $2,000 to Rachel Archey, and we don’t know what for.
And there’s this…
Why a political campaign in a special election for Secretary of State needs to spend $5,500 on database management is a mystery to us. We’ve never seen that before at this level, but we’ve heard of Robin Stiles, who’s a professor at LSU and who’s done data work for political campaigns before.
The biggest expense on consulting went to Stokes’ main consultants Jason Hebert and Scott Hobbs at The Political Firm in Baton Rouge – some $54,000. But most of that expenditure was for actual deliverables…
All told, that means Stokes’ campaign spent around $156,000 on consultants, not including the Ax Media TV buy. Of that number you’re talking about at least $104,000 is straight retainers and consulting fees. This for a campaign which netted 164,000 votes, so the consultants made just under $1 a vote.
And again, that’s as of October 17. You can be sure the campaign spent more than that in the final days.
And then there’s fourth-place Rick Edmonds, who loaned his campaign at least $170,000 from personal funds in the final days of the race to run attack ads against Ardoin when it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to win. That came after Edmonds had spent $228,000 by the Oct. 17 filing deadline, meaning he might well have come close to the $435,000 spent by Stokes in the race (we suspect Edmonds probably fell short of Stokes by $50,000 or so) – but the fact that Edmonds barely edged Stokes with a 165,000 vote total spares his dignity to an extent.
Still, Edmonds’ campaign was also something of a boon for the consultants. There was $26,500 for his general consultant J Hudson…
And there was $4,200 to Burland & Maloy for handling the accounting and filing.
And there was $25,000 to Roy Fletcher, his media consultant – a number which absolutely escalated after October 17…
Plus $18,000 to pollster John Couvillon…
Another $2,600 to political consultant Sarah Harbison to work the New Orleans area for the campaign…
Some $8,800 was spent on Rachel Burge to serve as the campaign’s scheduler…
And $12,500 on Delia Taylor as the campaign’s communications director…
Plus about $20,000 to Allee Bautsch, the campaign’s fundraiser…
So that’s just shy of $120,000 paid to consultants as of Oct. 17, which was more than half of everything Edmonds spent.
And here’s the Republican campaign which made the runoff. Kyle Ardoin’s consultant expenses were quite a bit less as a fraction of his overall campaign expenses.
There’s $430 to Ford Soundesign for radio ad production.
There’s $13,500 to political consultant Lionel Rainey for consulting and website design.
There’s $7,500 to Holbrook Multimedia for TV ad production.
And that’s it. Everything else beyond the normal expenses for postage, event sponsorships and other things a campaign will spend petty cash on was spent on advertising – billboards, direct mail, radio and TV spots. Ardoin picked up 299,000 votes for less than $22,000 in consultant fees based on the Oct. 17 numbers. And that $22,000 was a very small fraction of the $210,000 or so Ardoin had spent by the Oct. 17 filing deadline.
One observation which can be made about this is that politicians talk all the time about fiscal conservatism and being good stewards of the public’s money. What we saw in this race was a lot of just plain wasteful spending, some of which came out of the candidates’ own wallets. That waste gives the lie, at least in part, to protestations of thrift by some of these politicians – if you’re not insistent on driving a good bargain for your own money or that of the people who support you financially, exactly how are voters supposed to believe you’ll do it with their tax dollars?
Please don’t take the above as a blanket condemnation of the consultants who earned large fees in this race. Some of those consultants are expensive because they’re quite good and have long records of success, and the work they do is worth every penny.
Others, though, don’t have such a record.
As this week goes along we’re going to have more commentary on this, and on lessons the Republican Party and its constituent groups, need to learn from what’s been a less-than-optimal, and less-than-efficient, statewide campaign.