A political action committee affiliated with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has quietly given $5,000 each to East Baton Rouge Parish School Board candidates Daniel Banguel and Robert Maxie Sr. despite opting initially not to support them.
BRAC spokeswoman Ansley Zehnder said the contributions by FuturePAC are not formal endorsements of Banguel and Maxie, but are signs of support. She explained that the political action committee’s board “became impressed by the candidates’ messaging and platforms as the campaigns have evolved.”
According to campaign finance reports, the two contributions were given on Oct. 13 and 14, a week after FuturePAC announced its endorsements. Like Banguel and Maxie, those endorsed received $5,000 each. The PAC’s total giving this election cycle stands at $37,500.
Banguel is taking on incumbent Vereta Lee in District 2 and Maxie is challenging incumbent Tarvald Smith in District 4.
Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigbsy, however, remains far and away the top donor so far this election cycle. The total spending to date by Grigsby, his family members and top executives at his company, Cajun Industries, stands at almost $200,000.
That is slightly more than half of the $376,000 in contributions reported by the candidates and a handful of outside groups.
The election is Tuesday with a Dec. 6 runoff, if necessary.
Fifteen of the 17 candidates listed on the Nov. 4 ballot for East Baton Rouge Parish School Board have filed reports covering activity between Sept. 26 and Oct. 15. Some candidates have filed special reports since, required for individual contributions of $1,000 or expenses exceeding $250. Collectively, they detail about $124,000 in fundraising and more than $128,000 in spending during that period.
The reports, which are posted online, were due to the Louisiana Board of Ethics at midnight Monday and are the last ones required before Tuesday’s election.
Grigsby has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years backing candidates who support business-backed reforms of public education.
During the three weeks covered in the latest reports, Grigsby and affiliated donors contributed another $39,000 for East Baton Rouge Parish School Board elections. The candidates he’s supporting are typically raising and spending far more money than their opponents.
The two teacher unions, which oppose many of Grigsby’s reforms, came off the sidelines to support the opponents of Grigbsy and the chamber. The unions, though, reported only $9,500 in contributions so far, just a fraction of what local business leaders are spending.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ political action committee gave a total of $8,000 to seven School Board candidates.
LFT recipients include incumbents Lee, Smith and Mary Lynch, who all received $1,500. Kenyetta Nelson-Smith, who has already won re-election, received $1,000. In something of a surprise, the federation’s PAC gave $500 to District 7 incumbent Barbara Freiberg, who is also supported by FuturePAC and Grigsby.
The union also reported giving $1,000 each to two candidates in the District 5 race: retired educator Patty Merrick and W.T. Winfield.
Merrick and District 7 candidate Anthony Nelson were the only candidates not to file a campaign finance report by the Monday deadline.
The PAC of the rival union, the Louisiana Association of Educators, has reported giving just $1,500 so far, $750 each to Lynch and Smith.
Much of Grigsby’s money, about $125,000 so far, has gone into a political action committee he formed in August called Better Schools for Better Futures.
That group in late September formally endorsed six candidates in all six of the School Board races on Tuesday’s ballot. They include Banguel, Maxie and Freiberg, as well as incumbent Evelyn Ware-Jackson in the District 5 race. The group also supported Chris Bailey in District 8, who is challenging incumbent Connie Bernard, and Mark Bellue, one of two candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Lynch in the District 1 race.
A week ago, Better Schools quietly directed $1,500 to Lynch’s other challenger, Jennifer Andrews, for a direct mailer. Bobbi Grigsby, Lane’s wife, also agreed to contribute $2,500 to help cover part of the cost of the mailer. Meanwhile, Milton Graugnard, an executive at Cajun Industries, added another $2,500 to the Andrews campaign.
While Better Schools has not officially endorsed Andrews, spokesman Josh Howard said the group nevertheless liked Andrews when it interviewed her. Andrews is deputy director of Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, or A+PEL, which takes pains to say it’s not a union.
“We found her principles to be centered around the kids and the betterment of the school district as a whole,” Howard said.
Andrews’ boss, A+PEL director Keith Courville, and his wife, Rosemary, gave $50 to Better Schools earlier this month. Howard said that donation played no factor in Better Schools’ support of Andrews.
The group Stand for Children, which recruited candidates to run for School Board, has given $7,500 total so far to four candidates, Banguel, Bellue, Maxie and Ware-Jackson. Banguel and Ware Jackson have the most, $2,500 each.
School Board President David Tatman, who won re-election to District without opposition, has drawn $7,000 so far from the war chest he didn’t have to use to help select candidates. He gave $1,000 each to Bellue, Freiberg and Ware-Jackson in September. In October, he gave Bellue and Ware-Jackson another $1,500, and gave $1,500 for the first time to Banguel.