Exclusive: Democratic Party-Linked Shadow Group Funded Racially Charged Louisiana Ad

Unregistered PAC also paid for Gov. Edwards's campaign expenses; shares address with state party

Gov. John Bel Edwards / Getty Images
November 13, 2019

The organization behind an ad calling Louisiana’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone a white supremacist is funded almost entirely by the state Democratic party and a second group that both shares a mailing address with the party and is directly tied to Governor John Bel Edwards's reelection campaign.

Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD) is responsible for a controversial radio ad that says there is no difference between Rispone and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. The group has received $47,500 in contributions this year. Its disclosures show that $20,000 came from the Louisiana Democratic Party, and $25,000 came from an entity called "Victory Non Federal 2019," which shares a P.O. box listed by the state party. The ad has targeted minority voters in the closing weeks of Edwards's tight reelection race.

Edwards, the lone Democratic governor in the Deep South, has distanced himself from the ad, and his campaign claims it had "absolutely no knowledge" of the radio spot before it began airing. Other groups in the state, however, say that Victory Non Federal 2019 (VNF) is directly tied to the Louisiana Democratic Party and has paid directly for some Edwards campaign expenses.

The St. Tammany Democratic Parish was one of three confirmed recipients of money from VNF, according to campaign disclosures. St. Tammany Democrats treasurer Marie Wade confirmed that VNF is a Louisiana Democratic Party group that fundraises for Edwards's reelection campaign. The group, she said, paid her organization to rent space.

"They mostly fundraise for Governor John Bel Edwards," Wade said. "The governor rented space from us at our headquarters and that [contribution] was the rent for the space he rented from us."

St. Tammany Democrats' campaign disclosure suggests ties between VNF and the state party. It listed a $1,000 contribution from "Victory Non Federal 2019 LA Democratic Party," which was doled out in mid-October to pay for the Edwards campaign's rental costs.

Allyson Sanders, communications coordinator for the state party, declined to comment for this story.

The details concerning VNF remain unclear because the group has not filed any disclosure reports with the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program. The only evidence of VNF's existence is in campaign disclosures filed by other groups, including BOLD and other donation recipients. Most of those records classify VNF as a "political committee." VNF itself has not filed the official paperwork that Louisiana requires all political committees to fill out.

The agency confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that it has not received any filings from VNF and that political committees backing candidates are legally required to file campaign disclosures, according to the Louisiana Campaign Finance Disclosure Act. Those who violate the law are subject to fines.

Kendra Arnold, executive director of ethics watchdog Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, said that VNF appears to be violating "both the federal and state laws [that] require transparency for the source and spending of funds for political activities."

"From the information known about this organization's activities, it appears it is operating as a political organization and should have registered with the state," Arnold said.

The radio ad began airing in the closing weeks of the election and is narrated by New Orleans city councilman Jay Banks, who also serves as BOLD's operations chief. Banks, who has defended the ad, was the only official to receive Edwards's endorsement in the 2017 city elections.

"What is the difference between David Duke, Eddie Rispone, and Donald Trump?" Banks says in the ad. "The only difference is that Rispone will be governor if you do not stop him. These people are telling you every day that they do not care about you or anyone who looks like you."

VNF also funneled $51,773 in in-kind contributions in October to the Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors (LIFE), a group associated with Democratic former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, to pay for printing. LIFE could not be reached for comment. In addition to state party backing, BOLD also received $2,500 from Joseph Bouie Jr., a Democratic state representative.

When informed about the new findings of the state party's links to the ad and VNF, the Edwards campaign doubled down on its claim that it had nothing to do with the racially charged voter outreach campaign.

"As I said before, the John Bel Edwards campaign did not pay for or authorize that advertising," campaign spokesman Eric Holl told the Free Beacon.

Polls show Edwards and Rispone in a dead heat as the campaign enters its final days. The election is scheduled for Saturday.