Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell’s transition team collected $194,500 from more than three dozen donors from December to February, money that was chiefly spent on payroll and consultants, records Cantrell released Tuesday show.
Of Cantrell’s 39 donors, at least 25 were city contractors or firms and people connected to city contracts. Often, leaders of firms that do business with the city wrote out checks from their businesses plus their personal bank accounts or the accounts of other companies they control.
When done during an election, that practice lets people give more than state campaign contribution limits normally allow. However, there are no limits on the amounts donors can give to a mayor’s transition. Cantrell also is not required to detail transition donors.
The contributions have been managed thus far by the Foundation for Louisiana and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
The disclosures she made Tuesday are "in keeping with the spirit of Mayor-elect Cantrell’s commitment to open governance,” said Mason Harrison, her communications director.
The accounting fulfills a promise Cantrell’s team made to release financial records after it received questions from media outlets about transition fundraising.
Mitch Landrieu did the same after he was elected mayor in 2010. His haul from more than 100 donors — some of whom were city contractors — totaled more than $266,000 during a reporting period that covered February to May 2010.
Cantrell has had a far longer transition than Landrieu because of a one-time-only quirk in the election schedule that was approved by voters in 2014.
The $194,000 is only a snapshot of her overall intake; she plans to release at least one more financial report for her “Forward Together New Orleans” transition fund before she takes office May 7.
The transition’s single biggest donor from mid-December to mid-February was the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, which gave $50,000.
Several city contractors, meanwhile, lumped together checks from business and personal accounts to make a bigger financial splash.
Dwayne Bernal and Michael Pugh, the chairman and president of Royal Engineers, each gave $5,000. Firms they control gave $5,000 apiece, and Royal itself gave another $5,000. The total haul connected to Royal, a firm that provides streetlight management services to the city: $25,000.
Firms managed by Brad Dutruch, whose company, Compliance Envirosystems, recently won an emergency contract with the Sewerage & Water Board to clean catch basins, gave $17,500.
Firms owned by father and son Alcide Tervalon Jr. and Alcide Tervalon III, Bruno & Tervalon and Legacy Professional, threw in $5,000 apiece. Bruno & Tervalon, an accounting firm, contracts with the City Council on energy regulatory matters; the younger Tervalon also worked for six years with Royal Engineers.
Other notable donors were Meyer Engineers, which has at least seven contracts with City Hall, and Southern Strategy Group, city lobbyist Rodney Braxton’s firm. Each gave $2,500.
Another $1,000 came from River Birch LLC, the controversial Avondale landfill company owned by Fred Heebe and Jim Ward. The two men, whom the city contracts with for disposal services, were investigated by former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office for corruption but never charged.
Cantrell’s biggest expense, more than $46,000, was to pay the salaries of her transition staff. As of Tuesday, that staff includes transition director John Pourciau, administrator Alana Harris, operations director Alice Lee, executive assistant and scheduler Justin Boone, and Harrison, the spokesman.
She shelled out another $20,000 to a consulting firm run by Michelle Thomas, a former deputy mayor under Landrieu and a top aide to Cory Booker when he was mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
Another $11,250 went to the Caulfield Consulting Group, whose founder, R. Erich Caulfield, also worked for Booker. AmCorp International, run by Anita Tillman, got the same amount.
Cantrell’s expenses totaled just under $112,000.
During her campaign, Cantrell said she would support the landmark idea of barring local politicians from taking contributions from city contractors, a proposal pitched by former Jefferson Parish sheriff and WWL radio talk show host Newell Normand after questions arose about the number of city vendors who were backing Cantrell’s mayoral opponent, Desiree Charbonnet.
Harrison said Tuesday that the mayor-elect remains committed to that course, which he said would “remove potential undue influence” on City Hall’s operations.
But Cantrell isn’t planning to push such a request during the current legislative session. Because she "recognizes that the city has one chief executive at a time," she will look at how best to achieve those reforms after she takes office, Harrison said.
“Her current fundraising efforts are in line with the approach of previous newly elected mayors in New Orleans, and the recent financial disclosure from her transition team is further evidence of her commitment to transparent governance,” he said.