Newly-minted Gov. John Bel Edwards already has begun raising money for his re-election campaign, turning to one-time foes for the initial infusion of cash.
Oil, gas and chemical interests that had nothing good to say about Edwards when he was running last year have held two fundraisers for him since he occupied the Governor’s Mansion two months ago.
Political action committees associated with two different groups — the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Chemical Association — held a combined fundraiser for him Jan. 26 in Baton Rouge.
The PAC for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association held a separate event for Edwards two days later when he spoke to its annual meeting at the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles.
The two fundraisers, plus another one in north Louisiana several days later, show how Edwards — who during the governor’s race said he was prepared to make hard decisions that might only make him a one-term governor — is wasting no time building a re-election war chest.
“I’m raising money where I can,” Edwards said in an interview. “You can’t start too early or raise too much. Running for governor and running for re-election are expensive.”
He said political reality explains why the groups are hosting the events.
“They opposed me last year, and I’m governor this year,” he said.
Edwards kept up the thaw with the petrochemical industry Wednesday by speaking to the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association’s annual gathering in Baton Rouge. He said he will be a reliable partner, in good times or bad.
“Our fortunes are tied together,” he told industry officials at the Old State Capitol.
Edwards said that in two separate conversations apiece with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, “I have taken advantage of all four of them to express my concerns about what they’re doing as to it relates to your industry.”
Don Briggs, the president of LOGA, offered a simple explanation when asked why his group hosted the February fundraiser.
“He’s governor,” Briggs said, adding that his group took the initiative to host the Lake Charles event, and about eight donors attended.
“That he’s the governor is important to my organization. I like John Bel. He has always been someone who worked with us.”
Briggs sang a far different tune in a statement released on Nov. 18, three days before Edwards defeated the industry’s favorite, U.S. Sen. David Vitter.
“During his time as a state representative, Mr. Edwards has an 8 percent voting record with our association and the bills that we have supported,” the statement said. “He has voted for higher taxes, he supports the coastal and parish lawsuits filed against dozens of our companies, and he has said in public that he sees no need for tort reform.”
Those issues are now before the state Legislature and the governor. During the special session, Edwards failed to convince legislators to curtail tax breaks for businesses, including the oil, gas and chemical industries.
“There was not a single revenue increase that targeted your industry, not one,” he reassured oil and gas industry officials Wednesday, “That was a recognition by me — not because of the love that you gave me last year [and here he got a laugh] — but of the importance of your industry in our state and how we have to do what we can to get you back on track.”
It’s not clear yet whether Edwards will push the Legislature to make it easier to sue those industries — a chief fear of theirs and a major goal of trial lawyers.
A key subtext during the governor’s race was the political warfare between the oil, gas and chemical interests that sided with Vitter, a Republican, and the trial lawyers who stood with Edwards, a Democrat. Each side raised massive amounts of money for its candidate.
But now the industry has switched, and the governor wants their donations. He asked that Mid-Continent Oil and Gas, whose members include major oil companies, to sponsor its event, said Chris John, the group’s president.
“After the race is over, you have to sit down and work with him,” John said. “I have to have a relationship with whoever is governor. It’s kind of how the whole process works.”
Dan Borné, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, said it’s not unusual for his group to organize a post-election fundraiser for the winning candidate it opposed.
“You show good faith,” he said, adding, “You don’t talk about issues that can help you or hurt you” at the event.
John estimated that 50 people attended the joint event at his organization’s downtown Baton Rouge headquarters, with most giving the maximum $5,000 contribution.
“It’s part of the cost of doing business,” said one donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Louisiana Association of Justice, which represents most trial lawyers, has not hosted a fundraiser for Edwards since he became governor. Asked whether the industry-related events prompted a concern, the group said no.
“We’ve always admired the governor’s ability to build coalitions across varied interests, and we’re confident he will always put Louisiana first,” it said in a statement.
As governor, Edwards held a third business-related fundraiser on Feb. 4 at the Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, just east of Ruston. He was in that area to speak at Grambling State and Louisiana Tech and to meet with local elected officials.
“He’s always been nice to me,” said James Davison, a transportation and petrochemical mogul who owns the country club and is a major campaign donor. “I’m for Louisiana,” he added.
About 200 people showed up, giving anywhere from $500 per couple to $2,500 per person, said Randy Ewing, who was state Senate president while Mike Foster was governor and who supported Edwards during last year’s campaign. “It was an opportunity for people in our area to meet him and him to meet us.”
The Edwards administration was tight-lipped Wednesday on exactly how much the governor has raised this year for his re-election in 2019, declining to reveal the amount until the next contribution filing date. That report is not due until February 2017.