John Kennedy at Comite hearing 020118

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, recommended Thursday, February 1, 2018, to the Comite River Diversion Canal Project Task Force that the long-stalled flood mitigation project could get a boost by using the state's unclaimed property funds to secure financing.

Conservative anger over corporate firearms policies knocked a pair of banking heavyweights out of the running to underwrite some of Louisiana’s highway bonds, and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is gunning for more action.

Kennedy, R-Louisiana, has repeatedly blasted Bank of America and Citigroup Inc. — two of the nation’s largest financial institutions — over restrictions on lending to firearms manufacturers and sellers the banks rolled out after a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February.

The senator called The Advocate on Friday to again rip the two banks — and to heap praise the Louisiana Bond Commission’s decision the previous day to block the two banks from underwriting $600 million in infrastructure bonds, a move he had urged.

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The Bond Commission’s financial adviser warned that the move could cost the state money by decreasing competition for the contracts. Kennedy, who chaired the commission for years in his previous post as state treasurer, disputed that, calling it “nonsense.”

Kennedy added that he’s got national legislation in the works to put more pressure on the banks over their corporate lending policies, which Kennedy denounced as an attack on constitutional rights and framed as a condescending infringement by “national elites” on the rights of gun-loving Louisianans.

Kennedy declined to discuss details of the legislation — “I don’t want to tip our hand” — but said he’s working on it with fellow members of the Senate Banking Committee.

Kennedy also used the issue to take aim at a favorite target of his ire, Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Democratic governor’s administration expressed skepticism about the Bond Commission's move, which the governor’s representatives on the commission opposed.

The governor, Kennedy contended, “sided with the banks and against the Second Amendment.”

An Edwards spokesman shot right back, calling the senator’s stance “a stunt that will cost Louisiana taxpayers more money” and ridiculing Kennedy for focusing on state instead of congressional issues.

“There’s nothing more pathetic than seeing a U.S. Senator using a State Bond Commission meeting focused on infrastructure enhancements to try to prove his Second Amendment bona fides,” said Richard Carbo, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. “Gov. Edwards grew up hunting in Tangipahoa Parish and was a U.S. Army Ranger. Unlike the junior senator, he doesn’t need to pull a cheap stunt like this to justify his support of the Second Amendment.”

Kennedy claimed on Friday, however, that his criticism of the banks and interest in the Bond Commission’s decision to exclude the banks from bidding on underwriting the bonds — which will fund interstate upgrades and road work around the New Orleans airport — “isn’t about politics.”

But Kennedy’s pot shots at Edwards over the Bond Commission's vote are just the latest volleys in a long-running skirmish with the governor over a range of issues.

Kennedy is currently contemplating a 2019 run for governor against Edwards, though he hasn’t entered the race and said he hasn’t made up his mind about campaigning. Kennedy’s regularly waded into state-level issues from his perch in Washington to criticize Edwards.

The senator said he hoped other states and local governments would take Louisiana’s lead and use bond deals and banking contracts to express their political displeasure to the banks’ positions.

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Citigroup decided in February it would no longer provide banking services to businesses that deal in high-capacity magazines, don’t require background checks or sell to customers under the age of 21. Bank of America cut off lending to manufacturers of military style semi-automatic rifles — such as AR-15s — for the civilian market.

A number of states have imposed similar legal restrictions on gun sales, though Louisiana law allows some sales that would fall outside the Citigroup restrictions. A Citigroup official disputed the notion that the bank was infringing on gun rights and told the Louisiana Bond Commission on Thursday that it has few — if any — gun-selling small business clients in Louisiana.

“We don’t have to do business with somebody who looks down on us because we believe in the Second Amendment. That’s all this is,” Kennedy said. “This is the executives at Citigroup and Bank of America — the national elite who wouldn’t even have jobs except for the American taxpayers — saying ‘we know what’s best for you.’”

Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.