The Louisiana Republican Party is seeking information from Gov. John Bel Edwards' office about a business summit the Edwards administration will hold in Baton Rouge this week.
"This intersection of state officials and campaign donors raises the question: is the Governor using state funds and resources to host a campaign event?" LAGOP executive director Andrew Bautsch wrote in a public records request that the party released Monday.
The governor's office wasn't immediately able to confirm that it had received the party's request. Several people from the office were expected to be attending funeral services for Edwards' former campaign manager in Shreveport.
Edwards' deputy chief of staff Christina Stephens denied the GOP's insinuations about the summit's purpose and said it's the culmination of several round-table discussions Edwards has had with business leaders across the state since taking office in January 2016.
"Thursday’s event is a chance for administration leaders and the Governor to interact with businesses, facilitate discussion on key issues and highlight some of the great work being done by companies and groups in Louisiana," Stephens said via email. "That’s what this event is about, period."
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Edwards is currently campaigning for re-election in a race that's already drawn national interest from Republicans hoping to unseat the only Democratic governor in the Deep South and Democrats hoping to hold onto the Louisiana Governor's Mansion.
Two Republican challengers have already entered the race against him, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
The election is Oct. 12. A Nov. 16 runoff will take place between the top two vote-getters if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
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The Louisiana Statewide Business Summit, an economic development-focused event that aims to connect business leaders with state government officials, is scheduled to take place from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel. Past state-wide economic development summits that Edwards has addressed have been organized through Louisiana Economic Development, private businesses and local economic development groups.
“With this Statewide Business Summit, we are uniting leaders from business with leaders from the public sector for open discussion on the ways that we can capture Louisiana’s economic momentum and build a lasting blueprint for future success,” Edwards said in announcing this week's event.
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Edwards will deliver a keynote address. Other highlighted participants include CSRS President Tim Barfield, Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott, LED Secretary Don Pierson, Committee of 100 President and CEO Mike Olivier, Port of New Orleans President and CEO Brandy Christian, DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, Department of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson, LSU economist Jim Richardson, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie, military consultant John Simmons of The Roosevelt Group, President Trey Burvant of Second Line Stages, Cyber Innovation Center executive director Craig Spohn and Justin Ehrenwerth, president and CEO of The Water Institute of the Gulf.
“Our elected leaders should not be using taxpayer funds to further their personal political objectives," LAGOP chairman Louis Gurvich said in a statement. "The timing and choice of speakers at this summit raises serious questions for Governor Edwards, and the people of Louisiana deserve answers.”
The GOP's request seeks communication in state government regarding several of the participating companies, including CSRS, Entergy and the Cyber Innovation Center. It also seeks six months of planning records for the event and correspondence between Edwards' campaign and state government aides.