Film Studios Donate to John Bel Edwards After Hollywood Trip

Louisiana governor billed taxpayers to boost out-of-state fundraising

John Bel Edwards / Getty Images
June 19, 2019

A flood of California political contributions went to Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards (D.) after he took a taxpayer-funded trip to Los Angeles that he said was aimed at boosting his state's business relationship with the film industry.

There was no mention of campaign activities when Edwards returned last year from meetings with Hollywood film executives to discuss the state’s motion-picture tax credit. He said the outlook was optimistic for growing the film industry’s presence in Louisiana but had no new projects to announce.

The most immediate impact from the trip, however, was new Hollywood donors for his political campaign.

A review of his most recent campaign filing shows that within a week of Edwards's trip he received $5,000 from Sony Pictures, $5,000 from Quixote Studios, $5,000 from the Motion Picture Association of America, and $5,000 each from Manhattan Beach Studios and one of its subsidiaries. A month later, the Edwards campaign received an additional $5,000 from Disney and $2,500 from Paramount, the filing shows.

None of the above-mentioned California-based studios had contributed to Edwards before, a review of his past disclosures found. In fact, the $32,500 he received from the studios far exceeded the sum of all other contributions he's received from California.

Shortly after the trip, Edwards also received $5,000 contributions each from 21st Century Fox and CBS. Although both are headquartered in New York, their executives met with Edwards on his trip to Hollywood.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana State Police through a public records request by the Washington Free Beacon show taxpayers paid at least $5,995.40 for protective services during the trip, including $1,122.40 in overtime.

Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo pushed back on a suggestion from the Louisiana Republican Party that tax dollars paid the bill for the trip, saying he could "confirm that taxpayers did not pay for the [California] trip" and linking to a separate filing for Edwards’s PAC.

The filing shows sizable expenses were billed to the political organization, including a $3,162.19 lodging expense at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills and a $309.26 lunch at Commissary at the Line LA. There were also $2,385.60 and $299.96 payments to Delta Airlines for flights to Los Angeles in late September that appear to be for the trip in question.

Attempts to reach Carbo before the publication of this story were unsuccessful, but Carbo, now working for the Edwards reelection campaign, emailed Wednesday morning to say it's a "non-story" that Edwards received large contributions from Hollywood studios after his trip to the state. He said the governor's leadership PAC covered the expenses for the trip, and that the Louisiana State Police is "required by law to provide protective services to the governor."

There is no record of Edwards reimbursing state police for the costs of protecting him during out-of-state fundraising trips.

Edwards made no mention of campaign activity in interviews following his return from California, but did say his meetings with studios went well.

"Quite frankly, they are very pleased about Louisiana," Edwards said last October. "They all told me they appreciated the fact that I, as governor, went out and visited with them personally—it makes a difference."

Edwards was first elected in 2015 and is up for reelection this year. He was previously a member of the Louisiana state legislature.

Margaret Joel contributed to this report.

UPDATE 1:30 P.M.: This story has been updated with comment from Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo.