Big-time lobbyists and major supporters of Democrats contributed at least $5,000 apiece to a nonprofit group Monday night that is collecting money to push Gov. John Bel Edwards’ agenda to raise revenue during the upcoming special session.
Edwards spoke at the event, which was organized by Rebuild Louisiana and was held at the Baton Rouge City Club. One person estimated that 40-60 people attended.
“We need to educate the public so they can educate legislators on what we need to do,” Mary Olive Pierson, a veteran Baton Rouge attorney who chairs the group, said in an interview Tuesday. “The governor can’t do all of this by himself. He needs help.”
“The governor was there to offer his support for the organization and their goals,” Richard Carbo, Edwards’ press secretary, said in an interview.
Edwards has said he will call a special session next month to take place after the regular session ends June 6, with the state short $500 million to $600 million of what Edwards says are critical needs for the state’s health care system, prisons and colleges and universities, including the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships. The Legislature can raise money this year only during a special session. Edwards is expected to ask legislators to limit tax breaks.
Rebuild Louisiana is known as a 501(c)(4) organization, meaning it can raise unlimited money from individual donors to support an issue-oriented advocacy campaign and doesn’t have to disclose how much they give. 501(c)(4)s, which have become a popular fundraising tool around the country, cannot spend money to promote a candidate in an election.
Besides promoting Edwards’ agenda during the special session, Rebuild Louisiana also is planning to release a TV commercial next week to highlight Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid in Louisiana to the working poor, said Trey Ourso, the group’s managing director. He noted that registration for the Medicaid program begins June 1. Last year, Ourso headed Gumbo PAC, a separate entity with the single aim of making sure U.S. Sen. David Vitter was not elected governor.
Jared Arsement, who crafted Edwards’ highly praised TV ads during last year’s governor’s race, cut the Medicaid-oriented commercial that will begin to air next week for Rebuild Louisiana.
Ourso said Rebuild Louisiana hasn’t settled on its message yet for the special session.
A number of the lobbyists who prowl the halls of the State Capitol every day attended Monday night’s event, which was Rebuild Louisiana’s first fundraiser.
Pete Martinez was at the City Club on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. He declined to identify how much he gave.
Bud Courson and Jim Nickel — who represent interests ranging from AT&T to Lamar Corp. to the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana — also attended the event.
“We were invited to go and hear what Rebuild Louisiana was all about and support them,” Nickel said in an interview.
Alton Ashy was there on behalf of the video poker industry. He said he wrote a $5,000 check.
“Whatever I can do to support John Bel Edwards, I do,” said Ashy, a prominent supporter of Edwards last year.
Ravi Sangisetty, a New Orleans-based trial attorney who helped Edwards raise big dollars during last year’s governor’s race, also attended.
“I believe in him,” Sangisetty said. “I think he has a great plan for our state, and I want to support that.”
Paul Rainwater, who lobbies for a number of interests, attended the event with a representative with LCMC Health, which operates the big hospital in New Orleans. “We want to support the governor’s agenda,” Rainwater said.
Also attending was Dan Foley, another trial attorney from New Orleans who was a major supporter of Edwards last year. Foley couldn’t be reached Tuesday night.
Rebuild Louisiana, which was created shortly after Edwards took office in January, used digital media to promote his agenda to raise revenue during the first special session. The group also published a poll in March showing that the governor and his issues were popular with voters.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter @TegBridges.
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