5th District fundraising sluggish

Usually, congressional incumbents enter re-election campaigns awash in cash from lobbyists, colleagues and partisans.

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister reported receiving $20,500 from various political action committees on Friday, April 4.

The following Monday, a security video showed the traditional family values Christian planting a lingering kiss in the dark on one of his aides. That pretty much ended his fundraising.

McAllister, who raised about $1 million in 2013, reported $4,778 in the bank on June 30.

McAllister said last week that life as a congressman during the four months since the images went viral, “for me, was like drinking water through a fire hose” and fundraising, simply, has not been a priority.

In his first bid for public office, McAllister last fall upset the anointed candidate of the Republican leadership with the help of the religious conservative Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame.

The Swartz Republican blames “all the mistakes I’ve made” for sluggish fundraising, not just for him but for all those hoping to unseat him in the Nov. 4 election.

The six candidates, including McAllister, reported to the Federal Elections Commission that their campaigns began July with a total of $521,769 for running in 24 parishes, including two media markets — Monroe and Alexandria — and bedroom suburbs of the state’s two most expensive television markets, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. That’s roughly half the amount in the 6th Congressional District campaign, Louisiana’s only other competitive race.

“It’s been a long time since we had an Otto Passman or a Gillis Long in this district,” said former Secretary of State Al Ater, a Concordia Parish farmer and businessman who remains an active wheel in north Louisiana Democratic Party politics.

A major player who influences national policy, like House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, goes a long way to excite voters. To the extent that anyone has thought about northeast Louisiana recently, the hubbub has ensured the takeaway is a poverty-stricken district represented by a randy congressman, Ater said.

“People are tired; they’re fed up,” Ater said. “The fundraising, or the lack of it, is indicative of that, at least for this race because candidates in other races aren’t having this kind of trouble.”

Rarely, if ever, has a political sex scandal been caught on camera and the image was broadcast from the United Kingdom to Japan. House leaders and Gov. Bobby Jindal demanded McAllister resign immediately. He refused but said he would not seek a full, two-year term. By the end of June, McAllister announced he would run after all.

All the confusion sent mixed messages to contributors.

McAllister, who largely used his own money to fund the $1 million run in last fall’s special election, had raised $165,880 in contributions since last fall. That he has raised only $5,600 since the scandal broke — and much of that was refunded — comes as little surprise.

“I’ve never focused on the fundraising part,” he said, and after the video was released, raising money dropped further on his priority list.

Instead, McAllister said he focused on keeping his head down. He spent the first of a five-week congressional recess holding town hall meetings, 23 in all. Constituents may be too polite to bring up the scandal. But they’re asking about immigration policy, veterans’ health care and political dysfunction, McAllister said.

The kiss took place shortly before Christmas. McAllister has made no secret of the time line, saying his wife of 14 years, Kelly, had seen inappropriate text messages and confronted him in early February. He admitted the affair, and they began to work on repairing their marriage.

The woman involved, Melissa Peacock, was close to the family and a regular visitor to the McAllister home. Her husband grew up near McAllister, went to high school with him and worked with the candidate.

McAllister said he learned about the security video about 30 minutes before it was released and went viral on April 7.

Since then, McAllister has been paying campaign expenses from his own pocket. He gave the campaign $10,400 on April 17, the same day the amount was refunded to the Peacocks.

McAllister paid an additional $20,000 to cover expenses of campaign staff into June.

Despite all the hubbub, a poll of 519 likely voters in the district released Aug. 6 found McAllister leading the pack with 27 percent support. He was followed by Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, the only Democrat in the race, so far, with 21 percent.

Mangham physician Dr. Ralph Abraham had 18 percent, and Zach Dasher, whose uncle is the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” clan, came in next with 14 percent. Harris Brown, a Monroe businessman, had 6 percent of the vote, according to the poll. Republican former District Attorney Ed Tarpley, of Alexandria, came in with 9 percent.

The poll was conducted by The Glascock Group, a Pineville firm whose principal Darrell Glascock wrote an essay critical of McAllister that is published on the company’s website.

Abraham reported that as of June 30, his campaign had raised $111,729, He suspects his contributions have risen above $200,000 as he visits various social clubs and churches around the district.

Of the big Republican elephants — the businessmen and their families who give generously in just about every race — only shipbuilder Donald Bollinger, of Lockport, has written a check to Harris Brown, a GOP candidate from Monroe.

“What I’m told, and what the other candidates are telling me,” Abraham said last week, “is that they’re kind of waiting to see who emerges.”

That’s what Brown says the big donors are telling him too. He and Bollinger have known each other for long time.

Fundraising is an integral part of keeping score, of showing the business community and the voters who has enough leadership skills to get backers to put their dollars on the line early on, Brown said.

Brown leads the campaign money race, reporting having raised $235,150 in campaign funds. Dasher, a 36-year-old pharmaceutical representative from Calhoun, has raised $174,455. About a third of that amount comes from relatives and employees working for the businesses of “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson, who is his mother’s brother.

While members of the Robertson family cut commercials for McAllister and appeared with him at events, none of them were reported giving money last fall.

It was actually the support of Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and his well-oiled grass-roots organization that helped deliver 60 percent of the vote to McAllister in last fall’s runoff. Mayo points to statistics that show an increase in African-American votes from the primary to the runoff, and 90 percent of those votes went to McAllister.

“We have a pretty good ground team, and it was very helpful to Vance in the runoff,” Mayo said. Mayo didn’t announce until July 9, which was after the deadline for the quarterly FEC reports. He doesn’t have to file until Oct. 15.

But Mayo says he started the campaign with no money and has raised about $35,000. Mayo said that after dozen years as mayor, he doesn’t need money to build name recognition.

Political observers tend to agree, saying Mayo has the best chance of reaching the December runoff. But whom he will face is still an open question.

“The challengers have a very, very tall task,” said Joshua Stockley, a political scientist with the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “Their fundraising totals are, so far, unimpressive. They need to convince voters that they are different, not only from one another, but from Vance McAllister.”