David Vitter takes shot at Mitch Landrieu, suggests focus on ‘horrendous’ murder rate, not monuments _lowres

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., watches before an NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne must be cracking under the strain of running for governor. He somehow got it into his head that U.S. Sen. David Vitter is forcing “the state of Louisiana to pay $70,000 in legal fees to his campaign operation.”

But the money is going to the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, which has absolutely nothing to do with Vitter. How could it? It is a PAC, for crying out loud, and is thus forbidden to collaborate with Vitter’s campaign for governor.

Perhaps Dardenne is confused because the FFLF was expressly established to raise money in support of Vitter’s candidacy, which it has so far done to the tune of $4 million.

But all the learned judges who have ruled on campaign finance accept that there is an impenetrable, invisible wall that rules out any collaboration between PACs and the politicians they are dying to put into office. Cynics laugh at the proposition that PACs and campaigns operate in different spheres, but surely Dardenne is not one of them. That would be alarming, for a PAC has been set up to provide GOP support for Dardenne’s own gubernatorial run.

In the real world, nobody doubts that the $70,000 might as well be going directly to Vitter’s campaign. It comes courtesy of a federal court order that Louisiana taxpayers reimburse the FFLF for the legal fees it paid when successfully challenging a state law that said nobody could contribute more than $100,000 to a PAC every four years.

FFLF was set up by Charles Spies, a GOP Washington lawyer who did the same thing for Mitt Romney in the last presidential campaign.

Spies filed suit only after appearing before the state Ethics Board to argue that the cap on PAC contributions was unconstitutional under the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. The court declared corporate PAC contributions a form of free speech and thus not subject to government regulation.

Spies, who had donors capable of affording much more free speech than Louisiana law allowed, urged the Ethics Board to scrap the cap. It declined to do so, pointing out that it had no authority to change the law and the Legislature had made no move.

Meanwhile, Vitter was sitting on about $1 million in his U.S. Senate campaign fund, which state law said could not be used in his gubernatorial campaign. He came up with an ingenious way around that ban by transferring $100,000 from his Senate account to FFLF.

A Democratic outfit called the American Democracy Legal Fund asked the Ethics Board to rule that transfer illegal, but Spies had only to cite Citizens United again to show the state was powerless to block it.

U.S. Judge Martin Feldman, whose powers of legal exegesis can seldom have been so little stretched, duly agreed that Citizens United had invalidated the state law. FFLF was then awarded the $70,000 in costs, about half what it had asked for.

Vitter went on to make two more FFLF deposits from his Senate account — one for $740,000 and the other for $50,000. His fundraising was going pretty well too, and he now has $5 million in his gubernatorial account to go with the FFLF moolah. Dardenne and the rest of the field lag in both dollars and poll numbers.

Dardenne thinks it “shameful” that Louisiana taxpayers are picking up the tab for legal fees paid to help Vitter “raise unlimited amounts of money from out-of-state special interests,” and maybe it would be good PR for FFLF to give the money back. Still, the state left an unconstitutional law on the books and then chose to defend it in court. Nobody can have been surprised that the state lost the case. Spies, having urged the Ethics Board to scrap the cap and avoid litigation it couldn’t win, can hardly be blamed for the costs awarded by the court.

Vitter, of course, is even further removed from the action, as one of his flacks explained when asked for a reaction to Dardenne’s remarks, which were echoed by the state Democratic Party.

“That’s about the FFLF, and we can’t speak for them,” was the official word. If Dardenne expects Vitter to fork over 70 grand, he is barking up the wrong tree.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.