Though he’s being rocked from both ends of the political spectrum, it’s the sharp attacks from a GOP conservative that most define Republican Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s bid for a third term.
During the last couple of weeks in September, Caldwell and his best-funded antagonist, former Congressman Jeff Landry, spent about $1.6 million trading barbs in television commercials featuring black and white images and ominous soundtracks. The other three challengers, together, spent about $37,400.
Landry, a New Iberia tea party favorite backed by chemical and energy interests, says Caldwell is a conservative poser only interested in enriching supporters with state contracts.
Caldwell, a Tallulah native who is supported by many district attorneys and sheriffs, says Landry is an ideologue who has made a career of running for office and lacks the legal experience to represent Louisiana in court.
“They’re through chewing on each other, they’re now gnawing on bone,” said fellow Republican candidate Marty Maley, a former prosecutor who is backed by the Alliance for Good Government.
From the other side of the political spectrum, Democratic candidates Geri Broussard Baloney, of Garyville, and Ike Jackson, of Plaquemine, fault Caldwell for pursuing GOP political goals — like a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and a spirited defense of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage — at the expense of representing everyday Louisiana residents.
Landry reported on Oct. 14 having $846,121 available to spend to Caldwell’s $637,752.
The election for attorney general — the state’s chief attorney — is one of the down-ballot races that often receive scant attention during campaign season. Caldwell was first elected as a Democrat in 2007, turned Republican before the 2011 election and was unopposed for a second term.
Caldwell’s support for lawsuits filed by local school boards seeking money from present-day oil and gas firms for environmental damage done years ago on their land — so called-legacy lawsuits — as well as his failure to stop lawsuits by levee boards against oil companies for damage in coastal zones, provoked the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association’s political action committee to back Landry, said Grifford Briggs, a LOGA officer who is spokesman for the PAC.
LAMP, the PAC for the Louisiana Chemical Association and the Louisiana Chemical Industry Alliance, also is backing Landry. Greg Bowser, an LCA executive who serves as spokesman for the PAC, said the feeling when Caldwell came into office was that he would not hire outside counsel and pay them with contingency fees. “But he’s doing it anyway. That’s a concern,” he said.
Landry’s campaign narrative is that Caldwell operates a “Buddy system,” enriching campaign donors with lucrative contracts that pay a portion of the money collected —called contingency fees — for legal work. The fees often total hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Landry said he would use the lawyers on staff and send work to outside counsel only on rare occasions, when the lawyers would be chosen in a transparent manner. “It’s part of the pay-to-play politics that needs to be in the past,” he said.
The Lafayette firm where Landry worked before going to Congress — Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins, Burr & Smith — was one of the firms that contributed to Caldwell’s campaign and received a contract that paid $323,821, according to a report by Capitol City News, a weekly published by Woody Jenkins, who also chairs the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish. The local party backed Caldwell, but the state party prefers Landry.
Landry said he did work for the firm but was paid a salary and did not share in the profits. He also said the contract came after he left the firm and went to Congress, where he served one term, from 2011 to 2013. His 3rd Congressional District was merged with the 7th District because of a drop in population and Landry lost re-election to U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.
Caldwell, who doesn’t often talk to reporters, did not respond to several requests through his campaign for an interview.
But in a recent interview with Action News 17, a digital news organization based in Hammond, Caldwell pointed out that the outside attorneys he hired to handle claims against BP in the Deepwater Horizon incident won $6.8 billion for the state and were paid about $29 million, which was paid by BP, not the taxpayers.
Caldwell argued that the lawyers who are hired are highly qualified and have expertise in the complex areas of law at issue.
“I’m running the state’s law office, not a political office,” Caldwell said. “The people in my race have no experience. … You want an attorney general who has never handled a case?”
In an interview with Baton Rouge lawyer Locke Meredith, whose program runs on cable television in Baton Rouge, Caldwell defended his constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, saying it was to decide if the federal government could require an individual to purchase an insurance policy. “It’s not a political thing,” he said.
But that’s not how Baloney, the candidate backed by the Louisiana Democratic Party, sees it.
“It can only be of use for brownie points for Republicans, and you can see how much good that did,” she said. “I want to change the focus of the office. … The focus has been more political ideology than concern for the Louisiana people.”
Baloney, who speaks fluent Spanish, was a commissioner on the Pontchartrain Levee Board from 2004 to 2008. Her law firm handles personal injury, labor relations and other legal matters.
Jackson, the leading Democrat in early polling, said: “We have to do something about the horrible way Buddy Caldwell runs that office. And he doesn’t have enough snuff to do it.”
A lawyer in private practice, Jackson had been general counsel of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the assistant attorney general in charge of the Land and Natural Resources Section.
He criticizes the way Caldwell handled the legacy lawsuits, contending that the state could have become involved to ensure proper cleanups that would benefit small as well as large landowners.
Republican Maley, who has a law practice in Baton Rouge, worked for the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and as a felony prosecutor in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes.
“I’ve done both civil and criminal work. I feel like I’ve been groomed for this job,” Maley said.
He has traveled the state and attended more than 250 events. “What I hear over and over again is that people are ready for a change,” he said.
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