A member of the LSU Board of Supervisors played a key role in helping select the university’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center as the site of a prayer rally that will feature Gov. Bobby Jindal next month.
Emails obtained by The Advocate through a public records request show that Rolfe McCollister Jr., an LSU board member who also served as treasurer of Jindal’s campaign committee, began inquiring about use of the PMAC for a “Christian group meeting” in August.
The decision to hold “The Response” prayer rally at LSU on Jan. 24 has sparked a backlash from some on campus because the American Family Association is sponsoring the event. The Tupelo, Mississippi-based organization opposes gay marriage and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights efforts and has been classified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
According to The Associated Press, Jindal was asked about the event during an appearance in New Orleans on Wednesday.
“Let’s be clear about what this is: This is an opportunity for people across denominational lines to come together to pray,” Jindal said. “It’s not a political event, it’s a religious event.”
The AP reports that Jindal sidestepped a question about whether he agrees with the AFA’s agenda.
“Christians have the right to rent, to pay for a hall at a public university so they can come together and pray,” he said.
Jindal, a Republican who can’t seek re-election because of term limits, is openly weighing a run for president. Texas Gov. Rick Perry held his own version of The Response — with the same organizers and AFA sponsorship — in Houston before announcing his run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2011.
Much of the backlash has centered on LSU’s role as a host site for the event. Students have planned a daylong protest, and some faculty members have urged the university to sever its ties with the event.
LSU maintains that facility rental “does not imply any endorsement.”
A contract that The Advocate obtained through its request shows AFA will pay LSU an estimated $18,500 to hold the prayer rally in the arena that’s home to the Tiger basketball teams. According to The Response organizers, who have stood by the event as a nonpolitical time of prayer and fasting, the budget for the prayer rally is about $500,000.
But the emails that The Advocate obtained Wednesday offer additional insight into the behind-the-scenes negotiating and maneuvering that went into holding the event at the PMAC.
McCollister’s involvement in the early planning had not previously been disclosed. Jindal appointed McCollister, publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report, to the LSU board in 2012.
Plans for the prayer rally appear to have started with talks of having the event in the fall.
“Working with the governor on this idea,” McCollister wrote to LSU event management director David A. Taylor on Aug. 18.
Taylor initially seemed skeptical of the plan, due to team practices and the work that goes into putting on a production at the PMAC. He said that the arena rarely hosts other outside events because of the busy schedule. In addition to the LSU men’s and women’s basketball teams, the PMAC is used by the gymnastics and volleyball teams.
“I will discuss with our staff and see if we can make it work ... but pending the size of the event, we may have alternate locations,” Taylor wrote in early discussions with McCollister.
McCollister responded that the event could draw 10,000 people.
“Wow …,” Taylor replied.
The Advocate requested the documents last week. LSU handed them over Wednesday after conducting an internal review of the correspondence and completing the contract.
The initial plan for The Response, as outlined in the emails, was to hold the rally in October.
“Please express to Rolfe that we are making every effort to assist and we are willing to work with you as much as possible … but it just isn’t as easy as just picking out a date and moving forward,” Taylor wrote to McCollister’s assistant Tara Jeanise at her Business Report email address. “We rarely have concerts these days because of the difficulty with the competition schedule.”
Included in the email chain are Jindal political adviser Timmy Teepell, national Christian political consultant David Lane and LSU athletics facilities employees, among others.
Later in the emails, the group settles on the Jan. 24 date, though Taylor again notes that a gymnastics meet the night before means that all setup will have to take place the morning of The Response.
In October — after the Jan. 24 date was settled, Stephen Brown, of the Florida-based Resource Group, notified LSU that he was “now officially the event planner” for The Response. He handled additional contract negotiations that stretched through last week. The group got the go-ahead to begin advertising that The Response would be held at the PMAC while final details were worked out.