"We didn't know that," Pennington campaign press secretary Pierre DeGruy says, referring to Jacques Morial's purchase of air time for the Pennington campaign on two local radio stations. "What the chief has always made perfectly clear is that neither Mayor Morial nor anyone that can be called part of his inner circle is advising him, counseling him or participating in the day-to-day operations of the campaign."
Pennington has reiterated his independence from his term-limited boss since taking a recent leave of absence from NOPD to launch his own campaign for mayor. However, public filings at Clear Channel Radio reveals that the mayor's brother, Jacques Morial, and his company, Enterprise Strategies, placed 60-second radio spots on WYLD-FM and WVUE-FM for the Pennington campaign during the first week of January.
DeGruy says Jacques Morial placed the ads through an arrangement with Media Direct, a political consulting firm that exclusively handles all of the Pennington campaign media buys. "[Jacques Morial] was asked by Media Direct to place our first radio spot on black radio," DeGruy says. "He was compensated by Media Direct and not by the Pennington campaign. And no one on our campaign staff, and that includes Chief Pennington, was aware of this until just recently. I consider the involvement of Jacques inconsequential and the chief does as well. It's a bogus issue."
The two stations are targeted to a primarily African-American listenership.
DeGruy could not explain why Media Direct's name did not appear anywhere in Clear Channel's public file for the Jan. 7-8 radio buy. Jacques Morial was reportedly traveling in Europe last week and could not be reached by presstime.
"[Jacques Morial] was contracted by Media Direct, and Media Direct doesn't tell us who they are contracting with," DeGruy says. "We don't know who some of these third-, fourth- and fifth-party vendors are and I doubt if most of the other campaigns know who their media buyers are subcontracted to -- unless they ask."
"That's a lie," says Cheron Brylski, campaign press secretary for state Sen. Paulette Irons, who is battling Pennington for the lead in the Feb. 2 election, according to a recent poll by Southern Media. "Trust me, every campaign knows every individual who is making money off that campaign, especially your media buyers."
During a Gambit Weekly endorsement interview on Jan. 15, Pennington specifically denied rumors that the mayor's brother has been actively involved in the campaign. "Jacques Morial has not contacted me," Pennington said then. "Now, Jacques, I understand, has contacted some people in my organization and given them some advice and assistance. But he's not playing an active role. None of Marc Morial's people are playing an active role in my campaign."
The public filings at Clear Channel Radio show that Jacques Morial placed radio spots for the Pennington campaign during the first week of January, paying Clear Channel Communications $3,491.80 with a check dated Jan. 4, 2002 from his consulting company, Enterprise Strategies LLC. Under a Jan. 4 "agreement for political broadcasts" with WYLD/WQUE, co-signed by station sales manager Sam Gletzer, Jacques Morial expressly stated he was placing the ads on behalf of "the Committee to Elect Richard Pennington."
Informed of the filings, DeGruy referred further questions to Media Direct owner Ray Reggie, who exclusively handles all of Pennington's media advertising.
"My company hires Enterprise Strategies," Reggie says. "We know it's Jacques Morial. We hire him to place radio. He does a very good job of it. He handles a substantial amount of African-American radio for me." Reggie says he did not tell anyone at the Pennington campaign he was using the services of Jacques Morial.
Reggie says he does not know why neither his name nor that of Media Direct appears in Clear Channel's public file listing January buys by the Pennington campaign. Says Reggie: "I am mystified that nothing for Media Direct is in those files. ... I am going to call the station right now."
Reggie and Jacques Morial have a working relationship that predates the current mayor's race. Reggie placed more than $400,000 in advertising on behalf of a political organization that supported Marc Morial's failed campaign for a third term. PCP also reported paying more than $76,000 to Jacques' company, Enterprise Strategies, campaign finance records show.
Greg Buisson, who was Pennington's media consultant until parting ways with the campaign on Dec. 29, says he always purchased media time with the knowledge of the chief and the campaign staff. Clear Channel records show that Buisson purchased December air time with a check from the Pennington Campaign Committee -- not a third party.
Ethics board officials say the Pennington campaign has not violated any campaign finance laws as long as Media Direct itemizes its payments to Morial's firm in the Pennington financial disclosure reports due Jan. 23.