Even in a state that traditionally spends a lot to elect a governor, this year’s campaign already has churned through a phenomenal amount of money and probably will end up being the most expensive in Louisiana history.
The candidates — and the super PACs that support them — spent almost $31 million through Nov. 1, according to disclosures filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The most expensive gubernatorial race on record was the 2007 election, in which the four major candidates spent about $32 million.
This year’s total doesn’t include any of the money state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the Democratic candidate, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, spent over the past two weeks. And they’re still buying commercials, sending mailers, erecting yard signs and paying for all the other costs of campaigning in the days remaining before the Nov. 21 runoff election.
“That’s a very high amount. It demonstrates the interest that companies and interest groups have in the outcome,” LSU political scientist Robert Hogan said.
The advent of super PACs accounts for much of the spending. These political action committees operate independent of the candidates they support and can accept unlimited contributions from donors. Individual contributions to a candidate’s campaign are limited by law to $5,000 for the primary and $5,000 for the general election.
“The PACs have played an outsized role in this race,” said Southern University political scientist Albert Samuels.
As of Nov. 1, Edwards, Vitter, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and six super PACs supporting or opposing them had racked up at least $30.93 million in spending, according to the latest campaign finance reports, which were released Thursday. The next disclosures won’t be filed until after the runoff.
Vitter had, by far, spent the most — $7.9 million — a little more than double runoff opponent Edwards. The Vitter-aligned Fund for Louisiana’s Future spent the most at $5.8 million. The group successfully challenged the constitutionality of Louisiana law that set contribution limits, opening the door for the activity in the state.
But there has been plenty of money working against Vitter too.
Edwards reported expenditures of some $3.7 million. His aligned Louisiana Families First political action committee spent $890,000.
Another $3.48 million in spending came from Angelle’s campaign and $3.39 million from Dardenne’s in their unsuccessful governor’s bids. Louisiana Rising, a PAC supporting Angelle, spent $2.57 million and Now or Never PAC, aligned with Dardenne, less than $200,000.
Two anti-Vitter political committees — the Democratic Party-aligned Gumbo PAC and LA Water Coalition, which was formed by a Baton Rouge law firm — reported spending of $1.3 million and $1.56 million, respectively.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist Pearson Cross said there has been hefty spending in some governor’s races in the past, such as the 2007 contest in which Republican Bobby Jindal won election.
According to reports, Jindal and his opponents spent $32 million. “He had a couple of deep-pocket opponents,” Cross said, referring to multimillionaires John Georges and Walter Boasso, who collectively committed $18 million to their campaigns. Georges owns The Advocate.
“The really significant factor in this race is so much is being raised and spent by the super PACs not by the candidates themselves,” Cross said. “In the past, this race would have been a much less expensive affair. I don’t think any of the candidates can write one of those really big checks with a one and those six zeros. It would have been more retail politics.”
The super PACs have been significant both in the amount of money raised “and what they did for the race with their unrestrained advertising,” he said.
Political consultant Roy Fletcher recalled the 1979 governor’s race where spending ran about $20 million with six high-profile candidates. Ultimate victor Republican Dave Treen spent the most — $5.8 million. The race spending might be comparable if adjusted for costs today, he said.
“The super PAC thing is really unbelievable. It’s really influenced these numbers dramatically,” Fletcher said. “It’s a huge amount of money. All the TV stations are getting well off.”
The PACs largely have been producing and airing the candidate attack ads that have been running throughout the campaign.
Hogan said candidates like that the committees do negative campaign commercials against their opponents — “messages they themselves may not want to send.”
“They (the PACs) have done most of the negative campaigning and, to some degree, given the candidates the ability to say, ‘We didn’t do it,’ ” Samuels said. For instance, the Fund for Louisiana’s Future attacked Dardenne and Angelle relentlessly and the Gumbo PAC similarly Vitter, he said.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB.