Walter Reed, the retiring district attorney of St. Tammany and Washington parishes, was a prodigious fundraiser, though some of his campaigns’ financial dealings have drawn the interest of federal law enforcement.
In the race to replace Reed, however, only one candidate has shown the sort of fundraising prowess that Reed once boasted, and whether that’s a positive sign for his campaign remains an open question.
The most recent campaign finance reports — filed Oct. 6 — hold true to the pattern established earlier: Brian Trainor is lapping the field when it comes to raising money. But any financial advantage Trainor may be gaining by pulling in more donations has been at least partly offset by the generous sums of money his three opponents have pumped into their own campaigns.
Conventional political wisdom has it that raising money from others is better because it invests supporters in the race and reveals a certain breadth of support. But at least one candidate in the race is challenging that notion, saying self-funding means he won’t have many political debts to pay if he is elected.
That said, no one in the race is refusing to accept donations. Between July 28 and Sept. 25, Trainor raised $219,600. The next closest candidate, Alan Black, got barely half as much, raking in $112,375 during the same period. The other two candidates, Warren Montgomery and Roy Burns, raised $67,525 and $36,000 respectively.
But Burns and Montgomery also poured their own money into their campaign war chests: Burns loaned his campaign $50,000 on Sept. 25, the records show, adding to the $200,000 he seeded his campaign with back in June.
Montgomery, for his part, loaned his campaign $60,000 in two installments, on Aug. 27 and Sept. 25. Black put $25,000 in at the start of his campaign in the summer, but he has not loaned himself any more since then.
The self-funding by three of the four candidates has served to level the playing field somewhat, in terms of the resources available to each campaign. Even so, Trainor is still on top: Entering the final six weeks of the campaign, he had $205,061 on hand, compared to $90,163 for Burns, $76,564 for Black and $22,724 for Montgomery.
Whether Trainor’s advantage in soliciting financial support bodes well for his chances is an open question, said Ed Chervenak, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans. Generally, candidates who raise a lot of money try to make that argument, he said, though it’s an imperfect metric at best.
“It’s also about who’s more effective at spending money, at getting their name recognition,” Chervenak said.
Self-funded candidates often charge that opponents who accept lots of money will hold a lot of IOUs when the campaign is over.
Burns — who is raising money but far less than he has loaned his campaign — said as much when asked about the $250,000 he has loaned his campaign. “I am not beholden to anyone,” he said.
Burns is hardly alone in this sentiment; each of the candidates has stressed his independence.
Trainor has countered the arguments of the self-funders by saying that because of his career in public service — first as an assistant district attorney, then in the Sheriff’s Office — paying his own way just isn’t realistic. Unlike the other candidates, he hasn’t had a long, lucrative career in private practice, he points out.
Political consultant John Couvillon said that by soliciting donations, candidates often get supporters who are invested in the race. But it’s hard work, too.
“Self-funding is definitely easier,” he said.
The role of money in a campaign — and the need to have a lot of it — is sometimes overblown, Couvillon said. Some well-funded campaigns shoot themselves in the foot by overdoing it and saturating the market with too many ads, such as when former business executive Meg Whitman ran for California governor, he said. Though that happened on a much larger canvas than Louisiana’s 22nd Judicial District, the same lessons still apply, Couvillon said.
But none of the candidates, so far, appears to have a large enough war chest to achieve such saturation.
Between the end of July and Sept. 25, Trainor’s biggest expense was Innovative Advertising, his political consulting and advertising firm. Trainor paid the firm $43,762 during the two-month period. He also spent $26,152 with Charter Communications for advertising time.
Burns’ biggest expenditures were $54,460 for radio and television advertising and $33,742 for his political consultant, James Hartman.
Montgomery spent $40,680 with Cyber Media One, and Black spent $23,423 for campaign signs and $18,763 for fliers and mailouts, the reports show.
The four candidates, all Republicans, have spent the last several weeks crisscrossing the two parishes that make up the district in an effort to become the north shore’s first new DA since 1985.
Reed announced earlier this year he would not run again after a flurry of media reports recounted suspicious campaign spending, federal investigations and a lucrative $30,000 side contract he had with St. Tammany Parish Hospital.
Interestingly, Reed filed a campaign finance report in August, saying he had $269,067 on hand.