Next week, in a courtroom in Pasadena, California, three federal judges will hear oral arguments from the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, in a blockbuster case that has wildly bounced back and forth between the courts for the past four years.
Although the hearing is occurring 1,800 miles away and in a completely different jurisdiction, Louisiana’s attorney general Jeff Landry has a stake in the outcome, a fact that, until now, had not been reported previously by the state media.
At its core, at least on paper, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra (before she was elected to the U.S. Senate, Kamala Harris was the defendant) is about the tension between a state government’s right to know who spends money on their elections and the right of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to redact the names of its individual donors from documents filed with a state attorney general.
But really, the case is about who is behind the most powerful, most influential, and most secretive political network in the entire country, a network founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
On January 27, 2017, unbeknownst to his constituents, Landry signed onto an amici brief in support of the Koch Network. The brief, which was written by the deputy attorney general of Arizona, was also endorsed by Landry’s conservative colleagues in Alabama, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Landry has never spoken publicly about his decision, which appears to have been made unilaterally and without knowledge of the administration or the legislature; his office has never issued any statement or press release concerning the case.
In fact, on the day the brief was filed, Landry’s “Media Room” reported on the arrests of three people on charges of child exploitation; the day before, it issued a statement about Medicaid beneficiary fraud.
According to archived data, the amici brief was only added to his office’s website in April of 2018, more than fourteen months later.
There’s a reason Landry has avoided calling public attention to the case: The core argument of the amici brief he endorsed is that a state attorney general should not be allowed to access certain records maintained by the Internal Revenue Service, which directly contradicts his very public campaign for the federal tax records of Medicaid recipients.
Quoting from the brief (emphasis added):
Rather than impose sweeping mandatory donor disclosure rules, amici States have satisfied their law enforcement interests by traditional methods such as compliance audits and subpoenaing donor information after developing a particularized suspicion of wrongdoing. In sum, simple law enforcement interests cannot justify the California Attorney General’s generalized mandatory donor disclosure requirements.
To the court in California, Landry argues a state attorney general could potentially use disclosures by the Koch Network to exact political retribution, that it was ripe for abuse by elected officials, and, more importantly, that there was no evidence that such disclosure to a state attorney general had ever resulted in a criminal conviction for fraud.
To the people of Louisiana, he has argued that he requires permission to receive much more detailed and personal information on more than a million of the state’s citizens in order to pursue investigations for Medicaid beneficiary fraud.
There are differences between the two situations, of course: One involves a small handful of the nation’s wealthiest conservatives who seek to influence the outcome of elections; the other involves 1.4 million people living in one of the poorest states in the country who need health insurance.
Yet, it should be unsurprising to those who follow Louisiana politics that Landry was so willing to help the Koch Network, even if it required directly contradicting his own central argument on Medicaid fraud.
During the past four years, the Koch Network, largely through their organization Americans for Prosperity, has spent a massive fortune in Louisiana, and while they were initially only concerned with federal elections, today, they have a daily and outsized influence in the decisions made by state legislators.
This infographic from a Harvard University project and the publication Vox provides context about the exponential growth of the organization. This year, it’s worth noting, the organization has claimed it will spend nearly $400M.
Notably, the Harvard project also reveals that a plurality of Koch Network donors, approximately 35%, are from the American South, with a large concentration in Jefferson Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish.
According to its most recent, publicly available 990 report, Americans for Prosperity spent more than $2.2M in 2016 with a political consultancy firm in Mandeville, Louisiana, Innovative Advertising LLC, making it, effectively, the organization’s single largest independent contractor.
Innovative Advertising, which lists husband and wife Jay and Jennifer Connaughton as its only members, changed its name in January of 2017; today, it is known as People Who Think. (The same report reveals that Americans for Prosperity paid Louisiana’s former state director, Phillip Joffrion, more than $130,000 a year). Jay Connaughton served as a media advisor for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Both he and his wife started their professional careers working for the Louisiana Republican Party.
The couple also owns the company Innovative Politics, which boasts its complete list of political clients.
Further down the page, the Connaughtons list another client, Jeff Landry, who they incorrectly claim to be the Lt. Governor of Louisiana.
The couple also made a fortune from Americans for Prosperity two years prior, in 2014, almost entirely in opposition to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics.
The following is just a portion of what Americans for Prosperity spent in Louisiana against Landrieu (and in favor of Bill Cassidy):
Much of their spending was on canvassing “expenses,” which raise significant questions about the real extent of the organization’s volunteer activists. For example:
In addition, Americans for Prosperity also spent more than $120,000 with CornerStone Staffing of Dallas, Texas for phone-banking work against Landrieu.
As The Bayou Brief reported two weeks ago, one prominent Republican state senator, Danny Martiny, recently revealed that Americans for Prosperity had threatened to spend $100,000 against any Republican elected official who opposed the organization’s legislative agenda.
Jeff Landry understands this too.
Indeed, since Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a call for the first special session in January of this year, Americans for Prosperity has significantly ramped up its efforts and its visibility in Louisiana, and there are compelling reasons to believe that the organization’s sustained opposition to any tax renewals is at least partially responsible for the dysfunction.
For more than two years, Louisiana lawmakers have attempted to solve the fiscal crisis created by the reckless budgeting practices of former Gov. Bobby Jindal. Both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that Jindal’s decisions created the current crisis, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s now easy to see the warning signs.
In his very first month in office, January of 2008, the newly-minted Gov. Jindal flew to Palm Springs, California to attend a secret gathering hosted by the Koch Network.
We wouldn’t have known of Jindal’s attendance if not for one simple mistake: A year later, he disclosed a travel reimbursement on his annual campaign finance report, labeling it as an in-kind contribution from Koch Industries.