Part 3 in a series of stories on the campaign finances of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
If you want to run for public office in Louisiana, you need a campaign finance account. It's like a political ATM, except it holds other people's money. Best of all, when you leave office, you don't necessarily have to give up the perks that go with the account.
Just consider the recent spending habits of former Gov. Mike Foster, R-Franklin. He left office in 2004, but Foster still spent some $16,000 in campaign cash last year. He paid more than $860 for half a year's worth of dues to the Camelot Club and the City Club, two of Baton Rouge's swankiest private gathering spots. Foster, who has considerable personal wealth, might have used his account to pay dues for the second half of the year as well, but his campaign kitty is officially, finally, out of money.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-Lafayette, likewise tapped her campaign finance account last year — to pay for Internet fees, office expenses and political contributions to other candidates. But Blanco, who exited the mansion in January 2008, surpassed Foster and spent more than $240,000 last year. In fact, Blanco's campaign donors are still supporting a full-fledged office for the former governor, including a personal assistant, Aprill Springfield of Lafayette, who was paid more than $55,000 in 2008.
Meanwhile, current Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-Baton Rouge, spent nearly $725,000 from his campaign account last year — a figure that jumps off the page when put in perspective. Jindal spent more than three times what Blanco spent in her first 12 months and 10 times more than Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu raised in 2008. (Landrieu raised $70,000 in campaign contributions last year; Blanco spent $225,000 during her first year.)
While getting and spending all that money boosts Jindal's political capital, his aggressive fundraising efforts have also drawn criticism. Columnists and bloggers wonder if he is spending too much time on the road campaigning and not enough back home working on Louisiana's mounting challenges. Just last week, the governor visited New York and Boston for private fundraisers. Since January, he has taken fundraising junkets to Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas — sometimes attending multiple fundraising events per trip.
Seen in that light, it's no surprise that Jindal ponied up more than $354,000 last year just on events, fundraising and (sometimes luxury) travel. While Jindal has been known to fly coach at times, his campaign doled out nearly $28,000 to Blue Star Jets of New York, among the ritziest private-jet brokerage companies in the nation.
The occasional sponsors of Jindal's travels also speak volumes about his commitment to campaign money and, critics say, his lack of commitment to campaign finance reform. Shortly after being inaugurated in January 2008, Jindal traveled to California on the dime of Koch Industries (the governor has since reimbursed the corporation for its gift) to discuss his ideas about the free-market system, according to reports. Even if it was just a policy speech, Jindal brought some big guns with him, including fundraiser Allee Bautsch of the Baton Rouge-based Bautsch Group. Last year, the firm received $46,000 in fundraising-related payments and reimbursements from Jindal's campaign.
Another signature expense from Jindal's 2008 campaign finance report is the dough he dropped on his campaign organization. Even though he doesn't face re-election until 2011 and has no opponent to speak of, the governor spent nearly $275,000 last year on interns, printing, payroll, office expenses, subscriptions, campaign materials and consulting. His campaign uses top-notch technology, such as PhoneTag and Simulscribe, which transforms phone messages into text. He's also relying on some of the best consultants in the country, such as the D.C. legal and lobbying firm of Patton Boggs, which the campaign paid some $9,600 last year. (Coincidentally, firm co-founder Tommy Boggs is the son of the late Hale Boggs and former New Orleans Congresswoman Lindy Boggs, both Democratic icons.)
For a guy who cut commercials last year asking Louisiana residents to "Buy Louisiana," he isn't shy about spending money outside the state. More than $34,000 last year went toward "campaign collateral" from the Maryland-based GOP Shoppe. Campaign collateral is a fancy term for the hands-on materials politicians need to get out their message and develop a brand, such as a logo, letterhead and brochures — all items that a Louisiana-based company, printer or designer could have handled.
Jindal likewise cut checks totaling more than $24,000 to Virginia-based iWeb Strategies, which also designed the Web site of the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana's Children. Again, Louisiana talent could have performed this task, but iWeb's founders, Blaise Hazelwood and Brian Lyle, have deep roots in national Republican politics.
In fact, of Jindal's 670 expenditures from last year, only 219 went to parties in Louisiana. Some were seemingly local companies with out-of-state addresses (Cox, AT&T), others were unavoidable (Delta Airlines, Walmart, Chili's Restaurant) and a few expenditures could have gone to local businesses ($106,000 in mailing expenses to Olsen and Shuvalov of Texas).
All of which raises the big question: Why is Jindal raising and spending so much money? For starters, any potential presidential contender must prove he can raise huge amounts of cash, which Jindal clearly has shown (although he plays it coy when asked about his presidential ambitions). On a more fundamental level, money is power. Jindal can legally use his campaign account to help Louisiana candidates he likes, hurt those who cross him and scare away many who might want his job.
Make no mistake, when it comes to raising and spending money, Louisiana's young governor is a machine. He raised more than $3.5 million during his first year in office. That's probably a record, but it's difficult to prove because campaign finance records have been required for only about a decade. What's certain is that his fundraising efforts dwarf those of his predecessors — Foster raised only $694,000 during his first year and Blanco collected about $1.8 million during her freshman year.
The one comparison Jindal probably wants to avoid is how much money the average Louisiana family took in and spent last year. That's when the governor's fundraising trips really come into focus. If voters ever get a case of bank-account envy, it'll take a great deal more than $725,000 to resurrect the conservative, neo-populist image Jindal so carefully crafted during his 2007 campaign for governor.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.