Fundraising for 2015 already started

With an open field uncluttered by an incumbent, look for the 2015 governor’s race to be a political blockbuster of big names and big dollars.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne started raising money last year, 15 months before he publicly declared that he “intends” to run. As Sen. David Vitter spends the holidays mulling a possible gubernatorial campaign, his fundraiser already is busy helping collect contributions for a third-party Super PAC. State Treasurer John Kennedy is working the phone lines, calling people to chat about issues and ask for money. Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle is, well, having fun until he decides whether he’s a candidate.

State Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain toyed with the idea of casting his ambitions on the Governor’s Mansion and then opted to instead seek re-election. He expects the entry fee for serious contenders in the next governor’s race to be between $3.5 million and $4.5 million. At a minimum.

Several of the potential candidates are almost there, and this for an election that takes place on Oct. 24, 2015, a little less than two years from now.

“You’re going to see a major campaign,” Strain said.

The 2015 race is wide open because term limits prevent Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal from serving a consecutive 12 years in office. The governor is in his second term. With the state’s Democratic Party largely in tatters after decades of dominance, Jindal eased into that term in 2011 without any real competition. The governor declined debate invitations but still poured $10 million into the race. He mounted television commercials, hired a large campaign staff and spent money to raise money.

Jindal has run for governor three times during his political career. He lost in 2003 to then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco in his first attempt. After the election, Jindal quickly regrouped.

In 2007, he ran against two millionaires — businessman Walter Boasso and John Georges, who now owns The Advocate. Together with Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, the four men spent $32 million on an election that Jindal ultimately won without a runoff.

The frontrunner in 2015, by political insiders’ reckoning, is Vitter ... if he decides to run.

Washington, D.C., attorney Charlie Spies — who helped start a political action committee for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — launched The Fund for Louisiana’s Future in January.

Although Vitter, R-La., must be careful in not directing where the fund’s dollars go, the Super PAC can support him in a re-election bid or in a run for governor.

Vitter told supporters this month that he and his family only started considering a gubernatorial run over Thanksgiving. He said they will reflect and pray on it over Christmas.

Spies said he doubts Vitter will pick up the phone and call him once a decision is made.

“We’re an independent entity. I’ll probably find out at the same time you do,” Spies said.

In the last public disclosure, six months ago, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future had raised $780,000, but that was before the “Louisiana Bayou Weekend” that offered contributors a chance to hunt alligators with Vitter for $5,000 per person. Updated numbers are due in January, the same month the fund hopes to successfully make the case to the Louisiana Board of Ethics that individual contributions should not be capped at $100,000.

Even with the restrictions, the Super PAC has brought in money not just from traditional GOP donors but from Washington, D.C., lobbyists, the oil and gas industry and the politically influential riverboat pilots. The Chouest family-owned Galliano Marine Service and Dr. Keith Van Meter’s GMAA LLC each gave $100,000.

“(Vitter) has a very, very strong base among conservatives, real conservative Republicans, and you throw in some regional base. ... He put that Republican base together, and that’s a lot of votes, and it’s hard to crack it,” said longtime political consultant Roy Fletcher, who thus far is not advising any gubernatorial candidates.

Long before The Fund for Louisiana’s Future was born, Vitter helped launch the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority to elect conservative leaders in the state. He’s used the fund to aid legislative candidates, quietly inserting himself into state politics from a 1,100-mile distance in Washington.

Spies said there is a lot of enthusiasm for Vitter’s leadership.

“We’ve been very pleased with the response we’ve gotten,” Spies said, referring to the Super PAC’s fundraising.

Aiding the Super PAC is Courtney Guastella, Vitter’s U.S. Senate campaign fundraiser. The Super PAC and Guastella have the same mailing address.

Dardenne, also a Republican, expects his next public report, in February, to show that he has raised $1.5 million since January 2012. He had a fundraiser Tuesday in Lafayette. Some of his contributors also gave to The Fund for Louisiana’s Future.

“As soon as we started raising money in January 2012, I knew it was for governor. ... Bobby’s term-limited. It’s the only other race I’d been interested in,” Dardenne said.

Dardenne said $1.5 million is a pretty good running start even if Vitter jumps into the race. He said he will do what he already was doing: tackle his job as lieutenant governor and run a frugal campaign for governor.

“We’ve had a number of (fundraising) events this year. We’ll have a number next year. I’m certainly on the phone talking to people,” he said.

Kennedy, a Republican who briefly flirted with running for governor in the past, was sitting on $2.3 million in campaign cash this time a year ago, when his last report to the Louisiana Board of Ethics was made public. He is seriously considering taking another stab at the governor’s office. Money he is raising via the phone lines could fuel a gubernatorial race or a re-election campaign.

“This is the way I always do it. I tell folks, ‘Look, I’m raising money for my campaign fund, and if you can help me, great.’ I don’t know what the future holds. I enjoy being treasurer. The governor’s race is 2½ years away. I tell them the truth. I haven’t made a decision,” Kennedy said.

Angelle, R-Breaux Bridge, said he is visiting with people, hearing their issues and discussing with them what direction they think the state should take.

Prior to joining the Louisiana Public Service Commission and the LSU Board of Supervisors, Angelle worked in the oil industry, and as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources he was the official in ultimate charge of regulating oilfield activities.

He raised about $360,000 in November 2010, according to disclosures with the board of ethics. Much of that money was spent on his run for the PSC. The rest was transferred to fund future campaigns.

Angelle said he is not fundraising right now. “I’m not going to be out there under those pretenses (that he might run for governor) and not really follow through,” he said.

He is, however, continuing to hold events, such as a party that coincided with Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in October. “But that was for fun, f-u-n, not fund, f-u-n-d,” he said.