fleming-maness

U.S. Rep. John Fleming and retired Air Force colonel Rob Maness, two candidates for U.S. Senate.

Advocate file photos

Like a ghost of elections past, a political action committee with ties to John Fleming’s 2016 U.S. Senate campaign is about to launch attack ads on a contender for a Louisiana House race in St. Tammany Parish.

Republican Rob Maness, who is in the Nov. 18 runoff for the House District 77 seat with Covington City Council member Mark Wright, also a Republican, said the television ads are payback for his refusing to drop out of the U.S. Senate race last year. Both Maness, a retired Air Force colonel from Madisonville, and Fleming, then a U.S. congressman from Minden, were competing for the same tea party-driven constituency.

“Nonsense,” said J Hudson, chairman of the Better Louisiana PAC, which he formed last week to help “good conservatives get elected.”

Better Louisiana has received two donations and bought time on cable television to run spots, starting Tuesday, on Fox News and ESPN that castigate Maness as a perennial candidate with frightening political views.

Hudson was on Fleming’s campaign team in last year's race to replace David Vitter in the U.S. Senate.

The PAC reported having $20,200 – $200 from Hudson’s firm and $20,000 from a Plano, Texas woman who shares a name with one of Fleming’s children who also lives in a Dallas suburb. Also, the Brooklyn Bolin who donated to the Better Louisiana PAC had the same address as Brooklyn Fleming Bolin who contributed $8,100 to Fleming’s Senate campaign.

Hudson refused to comment on the donor or whether she is Fleming's daughter.

“Dr. Fleming isn’t involved. We solicited donations but when it comes to the operation of the PAC, these are solely my decisions,” Hudson said.

Fleming’s medical office and his cell phone went unanswered Monday as did a phone call to Bolin.

The PAC also carries the same name as a federal PAC that supported Fleming during the 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. The federal group raised $220,000 and spent most of that money on opposing two other Republican candidates in the 2016 Senate race: U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, and John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville and eventual winner.

Hudson said that despite the name, the two political action committees are not related.

But the largest donor to the federal PAC was a Shreveport company headed by Paul Dickson, a lavish giver to Republican causes and candidates. Dickson met with Maness in October 2016 at the Abita Roasting Company cafe in Madisonville.

Maness said Dickson threatened that if he did not drop out of the Senate race and endorse Fleming, he would “be finished as a politician.” Dickson, at the time, called Maness’ assertions “absolutely false” but wouldn’t say what was discussed.

“The guy told me, ‘Your career will be over’,” Maness told The Advocate Monday.

“I guess this closes that loop,” Maness said about the Better Louisiana PAC commercials.

“He would be wrong,” Hudson said of Maness’ interpretation. “This has nothing to do with the Senate race. This has everything to do with his views on the issues and their inconsistencies with what is best for Louisiana.”

Maness attracted national attention and the endorsement of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin when he made his first run for public office in 2014. Backed by tea party groups around the state, Maness attracted 14 percent of the total vote in a bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Bill Cassidy, a more moderate Republican, eventually won the election, after a highly touted endorsement from Maness.

Maness was often mentioned as a possible candidate for several statewide offices. But in his only other try for public office, the 2016 Senate race, Maness received only 5 percent of the total vote.

Maness, 55, and Wright, 47, outpaced two others in the October primary for a seat left open by John Schroder's resignation to run for state treasurer.

The Covington-based House District 77 is comprised of much of western St. Tammany, including Madisonville and parts of Folsom.

Early voting for the Nov. 18 election continues through Saturday, except Friday when state offices are closed for Veteran’s Day.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.