Treasurer’s race suffering from donor fatigue; few even care about election

22

 

Talk to some of the hands

working on the various campaigns

for state treasurer and

they’ll agree about one thing —

that very few people in

Louisiana know there’s an election

underway and even fewer

actually care.

Then go and sit a spell with

the reporters covering the race.

They might tell you how unexciting

and bland the entire

affair has been. (So far, at least.)

None of the candidates are

political superstars. There

aren’t any red-hot issues driving

the election discourse.

Complicating matters further,

the race for treasurer is the

only statewide throw-down on

the Oct. 14 ballot, unless you

want to count three proposed

constitutional amendments.

Lonely, overlooked and a bit

of a bore, the treasurer’s race

has become the redheaded

stepchild of Louisiana politics

this year.

So much so that even donors

aren’t stroking checks like they

usually do. Fatigue is one of the

culprits. Associations, wealthy

civic activists and corporate

leaders have already suffered

through a non-stop, three-year

election cycle, from 2014

through 2016.

That extended cycle hosted

the most expensive U.S. Senate

race ever waged on Louisiana

soil and the most costly election

for governor in Louisiana history.

Wrestling dollars from contributors

in the shadow of all

that has been a challenge for

even the best fundraisers.

To put a finer point on it,

high-profile GOP donors are

noticeably holding back a bit.

They’re confident that the next

state treasurer is going to be a

Republican — either former

commissioner of administration

Angele Davis of Baton

Rouge, state Sen. Neil Riser of

Columbia or former state Rep.

John Schroder of Covington.

Some conservative donors

have had a hard time drawing

distinctions between the three

leading candidates, which is to

say they’ll be pleased no matter

which contender wins. They

don’t see a reason to spend

money needlessly.

Donors also like to pick winners,

but so do politicians, and

a nod from the latter will most

certainly bring in dollars from

the former. Had some political

heavyweights like U.S. Sen.

John Kennedy or Gov. John Bel

Edwards picked a horse in the

race, contributions would have

likely spiked.

It’s a trend, however, that

cuts both ways. No-one wants

donors to have outsized influence

in an election. But on the

other hand, without the cash to

operate effective campaigns

candidates face obstacles in getting

their ideas in front of voters.

Direct mail costs money.

Radio and television spots cost

money. Staffs and data and

signs all cost money. Especially

in a statewide election.

Maybe more donor activity

would have generated actual

interest in this race. That could

have, in turn, convinced television

stations to host a live

exchange. As of this week there

are no televised debates or

forums scheduled, but you can

still hear from the candidates in

their TV and radio

advertisements.

Schroder has more dough

than his opposition to do that

kind of outreach — about

$614,000 as of a week and a half

ago. Schroder was also his own

largest donor, injecting $186,000

of personal cash into his campaign

account.

Through mid-September, his

campaign had made only

$256,000 in expenditures. The

rest of Schroder’s money is

probably being spent as you

read this column, as part of a

last-minute TV splash aimed at

capturing the imagination of

voters. Davis had $354,000 available

for spending in her campaign

kitty, as of the latest campaign

finance reports, to Riser’s

$145,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, New Orleans

attorney Derrick Edwards, the

lone Democrat in the field,

raised just $6,500 during the last

reporting period and had $666

in his coffers. If Edwards

makes the runoff, his campaign

will become the most costaffordable

statewide bid

launched in recent history. As a

novice candidate he’s on his

own, and it didn’t help that he

failed to gain the support of the

Louisiana Democratic Party.

This lack of a consolidated

front on the left has created a

strange-bedfellows landscape

where conservatives like Riser

and Schroder are spending

money with Democratic-leaning

organizations that specialize in

get-out-the-vote efforts. Without

influential donors and important

personalities from the

Democratic ranks taking a

stand, the door for such

alliances has been kicked open.

The best we can hope for

right now is that donor fatigue

doesn’t translate into voter

fatigue. But given the dismal

turnout forecasts that are floating

around — 15 percent to 20

percent statewide — that seems

to be exactly what we’re looking

at as September comes to a

close.