BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The 2019 Louisiana governor’s race that saw Democrat John Bel Edwards win reelection to a second term was the most expensive gubernatorial competition in state history, with candidates, their allies and their foes spending about $73 million.
The three major candidates alone — Edwards, Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and GOP businessman Eddie Rispone — spent about $47 million, while major political action committees accounted for the rest of the dollars. By comparison, roughly $50 million was spent in the 2015 competition for governor that saw Edwards first elected to the state’s top job, a race that featured four major candidates and PACs.
The Advocate reports that Republicans and their allies accounted for about $34 million of the spending on the latest governor’s race, while Democrats poured in nearly $39 million. Edwards will take the oath of office for his second term on Jan. 13, after defeating Rispone in the November runoff election.
The lion’s share of the $73 million shelled out on the competition came during the seven weeks from right before the Oct. 12 primary to the Nov. 16 runoff, according to campaign finance disclosures filed over the holidays with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
“It’s hard to believe that much money was spent in such a short period of time,” said Roy Fletcher, the Baton Rouge political strategist who guided Mike Foster to the Governor’s Mansion in 1996.
Beyond raising more than $6 million, Rispone loaned his campaign $15 million from his personal wealth, and it appears he spent most of it — the equivalent of spending about $20 from his own pocket for each vote he received in the runoff.
Louisiana’s race for governor was one of only three gubernatorial competitions in 2019, along with Kentucky and Mississippi. Edwards was targeted for ouster by national Republican organizations — and President Donald Trump — who believed his 2015 victory was a fluke and he couldn’t win reelection as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor. But top-tier GOP contenders passed on the race, and Edwards proved to be a stronger candidate than Republicans realized.
Edwards raised more than $23 million for his reelection bid.
Total spending on the race covers the period through Dec. 16. The numbers could change slightly in February when a supplemental report is due, including any bills paid through the end of the year.
Among the many outside groups, the Louisiana Democratic Party spent about $2 million on “in-kind” donations to Edwards, including polls, radio advertising and mailers. The Republican Party of Louisiana spent $1.3 million on television and radio commercials for Rispone in the runoff, as well as for other campaign items.
The two heavy hitters in the race were the Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association. The RGA spent more than $9 million to attack Edwards and boost GOP candidates through its own PAC, while the DGA funneled at least $8.8 million into Gumbo PAC.
Gumbo PAC, run by Baton Rouge Democratic operative Trey Ourso, hammered Edwards’ Republican challengers through TV ads, digital spots and mailers. It also received sizable sums from personal injury lawyers, the nation’s largest teachers union, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson and others. In all, Gumbo PAC spent north of $13.5 million since 2018.
But the financial disclosures don’t include all spending. A myriad of “dark money” political groups spent heavily in the governor’s race but are difficult to track, because the information they have to disclose publicly is limited.