PAC seeks to override La. limit on donations

As Republican Sen. David Vitter announced a 2015 governor’s run, a political campaign committee established for the sole purpose of supporting him wants to be able to receive unlimited contributions.

The $100,000 individual donation per election allowed by state law isn’t enough for the Fund for Louisiana’s Future organized by Vitter backer Charles Spies, a Washington, D.C., lawyer.

Spies, whose law firm does work for Vitter, argues that third-party super PACs like the one he established shouldn’t have to abide by state contribution limits, which he claims are an unconstitutional suppression of “political speech.”

Spies relied on a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission, which opened the door for limitless contributions by corporations and labor unions to independent groups working for or against federal candidates. The FEC changed its rules to abide by the court ruling.

Corporations and labor unions still cannot give money directly to federal candidates.

Last week, the Louisiana Board of Ethics rejected Spies’ request that it ignore state law so the Vitter supporting committee could let the campaign contributions flow unrestricted. Spies said a federal lawsuit is likely forthcoming that will cost state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One Ethics Board member, former state legislator Peppi Bruneau, suggested Spies try to change the state law.

Spies said the legislative route would take too long. It also could be fraught with some big problems if reaction from legislators chairing campaign finance oversight committees are any indication.

“Just because they do it in Washington doesn’t make it right,” said state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales. “We don’t need to bring Washington to Baton Rouge is the way I think about it. I’m not for it. I actually would fight it.”

Amedee said doing away with limits would mean “rich, millionaire lobbyists and special interest groups” would rule Louisiana elections. “Working people wouldn’t have any chance any more. That’s how it is in Washington,” he said. “I don’t think we ought to go that route.”

State Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, said he doesn’t want to bring federal campaign laws to Louisiana.

“It is just special interests running amok,” Burns said. “Special interests have a disproportionate share of power in D.C. and it’s one of the reasons I think for the real problems with government, one of the reasons the federal government is so dysfunctional.”

“You have interest groups that can go out and buy an election and everybody is afraid to cross them,” Burns said. That leads to gridlock, he said.

Groups such as the Vitter-supporting Fund for Louisiana’s Future are commonplace in Washington, D.C., and crop up routinely in federal elections. T

he “independent” political action committees are already at work in Louisiana sponsoring TV spots in this year’s Senate race featuring Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and his challenge of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The ads, depending on which national PAC is paying for it, either slam Landrieu’s or Cassidy’s congressional record.

Louisiana law doesn’t specifically address independent political action committees in state elections.

“I think the whole idea of independent committees is full of bull. You still are spending money against someone on behalf of somebody. You are still participating in an election,” Burns said.

Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott said he is unsure whether it is a “good policy as a political strategy” to have such groups organized specifically to help one candidate.

“Will it hurt you as a candidate to be heavily supported by a lot of people from outside the state with a political agenda?” Scott asked. “We know there’s supposed to be this separation of organizations. At the same time it could have an impact on the candidate. That’s a risky calculation.”

Marsha Shuler covers campaign finance and ethics issues for The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Her email address is mshuler@theadvocate.com.