A perusal of the voluminous campaign finance reports submitted by the Eddie Rispone campaign shows that in three transactions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week, just days before Saturday’s Louisiana gubernatorial election, the candidate loaned his campaign more than $2.5 million dollars.
On Tuesday, Rispone dropped $2 million of his own money into the campaign. On Wednesday, it was another $145,000. On Thursday it was $400,000.
The campaign was taking money from donors at that time. From September 23 through October 27, Rispone raised more than $2.95 million, and campaign checks continued to flow in at a heavy rate all the way up to Saturday’s runoff.
We don’t have a complete picture of the campaign’s spending at this point, because the last report covering expenditures was filed on Nov. 6 and covered items from Sept. 23 up to Oct. 27. That report, though, offers an interesting window into Rispone’s campaign and how it was letting loose its funds – and raises questions about the discipline his campaign consultants, and in particular his general consultant Austin Chambers, were imposing on that spending.
We found an item we thought was especially peculiar. There is an expenditure dated Oct. 2 for $353,756.26 to something called “Big Dog – American Mail Group” with a Buffalo, New York address which covers “4 – Mailers ($226,835.29) Postage ($126,921.27).”
The rule on political mail pieces we’ve been given to understand is that as a consultant you shouldn’t be spending more than half of your total cost on production, because everything else is profit to the mail house. This line item reflects practically double that amount. Doing the math on this, if you’re dropping an 8 1/2″ x 11″ mail piece, the most expensive you can get, to a somewhat-targeted mailing list on a bulk basis, postage is going to run you in the neighborhood of 27-28 cents, so for $127,000 you’re at 470,000 mail pieces going out.
To produce 470,000 mail pieces for $227,000 you’re staring at a production cost of 48 cents apiece. We asked around about that and what we got back was that was awfully high – for that volume there are Louisiana printers who’ll cut you a deal on mail pieces at half that price. We even had some consultants show us invoices for 8 1/2″ x 11″ mail pieces to prove it.
Somebody appears to have made a whole lot of money off Rispone on those mail pieces. It reeks of kickbacks.
We don’t know anything about “American Mail Group,” and perusing their website doesn’t provide much education. The site is nothing but a web page with a window where you can type in your email address and hit a button to get more information.
We asked around and nobody we talked to could figure out why a gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana would use a mail house in Buffalo, New York to do its direct mail. Especially a mail house nobody had ever heard of. American Mail Group isn’t listed on any campaign finance sites like the Federal Election Commission’s, for example, but Big Dog Strategies of Buffalo is. Big Dog Strategies is run by a consultant named Chris Grant, who has done work for people like Marsha Blackburn and Will Hurd, but his most prominent/famous/newsworthy client was Chris Collins, the upstate New York congressman who had to resign over insider trading allegations – and Grant’s name came up in that scandal as well.
Then there’s polling. It made some news when Rispone’s campaign hired Tony Fabrizio, who was the pollster for Donald Trump, as the campaign’s pollster. Fabrizio is known as one of the best in the game, so it makes sense he’d be charging top dollar.
But what is top dollar? We’re told that if you’re going to do a statewide poll in a place like Louisiana which really drills down into testing messages and frames a campaign’s TV and radio ads in a way that scientifically moves voters, you can spend $30,000-50,000 on it. Generally speaking, you’d do that once or twice in a campaign.
From September 24 to October 24, Rispone’s campaign was doing it every few days.
In the campaign finance report there is an entry for a “survey” to Fabrizio Lee of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for $31,000 on Sept. 24. On Oct. 1 there’s another entry for a “survey” for another $31,000. Then on Oct. 4 there’s an entry for “(3) surveys” for $111,000. On Oct. 12 was the primary, so those would be polls Fabrizio did prior to the runoff cycle. But on Oct. 18 there’s another entry for a “survey” for $62,500. And then again on Oct. 24 there’s an entry for a “survey” for $50,800.
That all comes to $286,000 for polling.
Ralph Abraham’s campaign didn’t spend $100,000 for polling for the entire election. Rispone spent more than that in one day, and kept on spending it. That campaign was buying full-blown message test surveys as though they were tracking polls. And this after having already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on polls with Fabrizio.
Not to mention there’s another entry dated October 24 for “Modeling/Tracking GOTV” to Victory Phones, of Grand Rapids, Michigan for $62,500.
Victory Phones is a firm run by political consultant Jordan Gehrke, who at one time was the general consultant for Rispone. We were told Gehrke had been fired and Austin Chambers had been brought in as his replacement in mid to late September, and yet Gehrke was paid some $82,000 in October for that “modeling/tracking” survey and for a robocall on Oct. 3 (that entry is for $19,500).
What you’d need to spend $62,500 with Victory Phones for when you’re already spending $286,000 with Fabrizio for polling is a really good question we’d love to know the answer to, because it looks like a redundant campaign expenditure and a really good way for a political consultant to feather his nest with commissions and fees from vendors who may or may not be doing any actual work. We already covered the question of the data model Gehrke sold to the campaign for $128,000 which it appeared wasn’t as effective as the one it could have gotten from the LAGOP for free.
Then there’s the $370,000 worth of media buying commissions Flexpoint Media of New Albany, Ohio made on some $2 million (actually $1,995,602.47) in television ad buys during the time period of September 23 to October 27. That’s a commission rate of 18.5 percent, which is unheard of for that much volume. We know some very reputable political consultants, who are even considered to be somewhat high-end, who will drop their commission rate to seven percent, or even five percent, on volume that big, but Flexpoint was making 18.5 percent the whole way.
We could go on and on, just from the campaign finance report filed on Nov. 6 covering the period between Sept. 23 and Oct. 27. The final report, which will be out by next Tuesday, will have all the expenditures through Saturday’s runoff, and what’s going to be in there will almost surely be vomit-inducing. You can bet we’ll revisit this subject once that report comes out.
Everything we’ve seen in this report, coupled with the ones we’ve looked at previous to it, indicates that Rispone was absolutely taken to the cleaners by his out-of-state consultants – many of them coming to the campaign with very shady backgrounds.
In our post last night talking about the lack of relationships that campaign had built with people around Louisiana and the insular nature of the campaign, we noted that even people who were considered to be “insiders” with Rispone couldn’t get access to him at the end.
This is why.
When you’re fleecing your candidate, who you’ve concluded doesn’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of a political campaign to recognize where he’s being fleeced, building an insular campaign around him designed to keep out interlopers who might question what you’re doing is the way you protect that grift.
That’s why the 24-year old Chambers and the 27-year old campaign manager Bryan Reed, who was paid some $12,000 per month, were so intent on playing Rasputin to Rispone. That’s why building coalitions with political activists around the state who know how to win elections was not just a weakness but something the campaign refused to do. They didn’t want Louisiana’s political professionals having a chance to peer behind the curtain and send up alarm signals.
For all the media attention paid to Lane Grigsby as Rispone’s “mentor” and “kingmaker,” by the time the campaign really got going and the grift was on even Grigsby didn’t have regular access to or influence over Rispone. That’s how insidious this was.
And highly successful, too, as that $2.5 million they convinced Rispone to come out of pocket less than five days before the election showed. No wonder Chambers and Anthony Ramirez, the campaign’s communications director, had such a celebration at the Horseshoe Casino Thursday night after the Trump rally in Bossier City that Chambers was too hung over to join the campaign’s flyaround tour on Friday; as far as he was concerned he’d already won the election regardless of whether Rispone did.
One final story to illustrate the attitude of the out-of-staters. One prominent lobbyist whose business trade group had endorsed Rispone ran into Reed at L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge, where the campaign’s victory party was taking place, on Saturday just before the polls closed, and asked him how he thought it would go. Reed’s answer was that he was busy, because he was meeting his girlfriend for dinner, and had nothing to say about the result.
This gang that couldn’t fly straight came awfully close to winning the election in spite of themselves. But based on what we’re uncovering in those finance reports it ought to be the last hurrah for each one of them.
Next: the message, or lack thereof.