A conservative activist is asking the Louisiana Board of Ethics to investigate whether House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez are evading disclosure requirements by using a nonprofit group to engage in political activity.
Michael Lunsford, who runs the Lafayette-based Citizens for a New Louisiana, sent the complaint to the board and to the Federal Election Commission this week. It comes after the Louisiana chapter of the NAACP filed a similar complaint against the group, called Leading Louisiana Forward, with the Internal Revenue Service last month.
The new complaint is noteworthy in part because Lunsford, Cortez and Schexnayder, are all conservative Republicans, though Lunsford has criticized Cortez’s tack on COVID-19 restrictions.
In the new complaint, Lunsford said the group created by Schexnayder and Cortez should be required by campaign finance disclosure laws to reveal who is funding it. Leading Louisiana’s 501(c)4 tax-free status -- such groups are often called “dark money” organizations -- doesn’t require it to do so.
Lunsford’s own group was investigated by the same Ethics Board over whether it evaded disclosure laws in 2018.
“As the Board wasted no time and spared no expense in its 2019 investigation into meritless
accusations hurled against my 501(c)4 organization, Citizens for a New Louisiana, I have to wonder if there are two sets of standards,” Lunsford wrote in a letter accompanying the complaint, obtained by The Advocate. “The NAACP's complaint details allegations that threaten the integrity of the entire Louisiana Legislature by way of its leadership. As a result, the public should be questioning every single piece of legislation passed since the formation of Leading Louisiana Forward.”
Lionel Rainey, who runs the organization at issue, said the claims are meritless.
“Leading Louisiana has and will continue to fully comply with all rules regarding primary purposes and limited political activity,” Rainey said.
Schexnayder and Cortez, both Republicans, formed Leading Louisiana in 2020, a rare union between the leaders of the two legislative chambers. A similarly structured group called A Stronger Louisiana was formed around the same time to support Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative agenda.
The Republican majority in the Legislature has sought to demonstrate its independence from Edwards, especially since the new term began in 2020.
But Lunsford cited the group’s endorsement of Julia Letlow ahead of her election to Congress and its work on redistricting in complaining that it should be required to disclose donors because it is engaged in political activities. The complaint also suggests unnamed donors could influence the legislative process.
The complaint by the NAACP cited the same activity in challenging the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, which is conferred by the IRS. The agency’s rules say such organizations can engage in politics if it is not their “primary activity,” the Associated Press reported.
Lunsford’s group has been an outspoken critic of COVID-19 rules and the Legislature’s response. The organization earlier this year sent mailers to about 9,000 voters in Cortez’s district slamming the Senate President for refusing to join the House in seeking to revoke Edwards’ COVID restrictions.