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‘LaPolitics:’ Business group taking new approach to elections

February 15, 2019
By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

If you think you know the election operations of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, think again. Yes, the heart and soul of LABI’s election arm still resides with its four regional PACs, all of which achieved so-called “Big PAC Status” for the year, which means larger donations. But now there’s also a front-end component that has been incubating for the past 12 months, an emerging on-the-ground super PAC that will make independent expenditures and a new focus on judicial seats.

The Louisiana Free Enterprise Institute is among the most notable additions to LABI’s arsenal, and it has been hosting “bootcamps” around the state to recruit conservative candidates and offer them a continuing policy and political education as well as streamline the messaging for the 2019 legislative races. “We’ve trained nearly 80 people and we aim to at least triple that in the next two months,” said Marie Centanni, LABI’s director of public affairs and the head of the LFEI.

The association’s four regional PACs will still get the final say on which candidates are endorsed, but they will have a much larger pool of contenders to vet. “Our four PACs are going to have more choices,” said LABI President Stephen Waguespack. “We had to do something different, given what’s at stake in both chambers this cycle due to turnover and term limits … If you keep going to the same hunting grounds, you’ll keep getting the same kind of candidates. This is a different approach. We realized coming into this current term that we couldn’t just sit on our hands.”

This will also be the first cycle that LABI unleashes its “Free Enterprise Super PAC.” Unlike the regional PACs that provide candidates with direct donations, the super PAC will position LABI’s election arm, for the first time, to make independent expenditures in races that are already underway. PAC director Bo Staples estimated the super PAC is currently holding $128,000, a figure that’s expected to grow in quick order.

Finally, Waguespack said LABI is in the process of rolling out another new operation that will focus solely on judicial seats. While a report card system will be implemented to mirror the grading of legislators, recruiting and continuing education are taking place, too. And while LABI has a long tradition of filing amicus briefs, the judicial program will allow the association to be more proactive than ever on that front, Waguespack added.

They said it: “It’s the prison of all prisons.”—Former Angola Warden Burl Cain, on the facility housing drug lord El Chapo, to The Associated Press.