More than 24 hours after the reports surfaced that Rep. Ralph Abraham (R- LA05) reneged on his pledge to donate his government salary to charity during his second term, the congressman and gubernatorial candidate, along with members of his campaign team, are scrambling to provide any reasonable explanation or proof that refutes the reporting, first made on The Advocate and then followed up with additional research by The Bayou Brief.
Abraham’s campaign had been aware of media inquiries into the issue for several days, which provided them with ample time to produce relevant tax and banking records and grant permission to the two charities to which he made the pledge, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which provides free medical care to children with cancer, and the Independence Fund, which offers services to double-amputee combat veterans, to disclose his alleged donations, which are required by law to be filed with the IRS on their 990 Section B reports.
Both organizations are legally allowed to disclose the identities of their donors to the public, and many other 501(c)(3)s, as a matter of policy, voluntarily disclose donors. Importantly, these disclosures would establish Abraham’s repeated claim that he donated $348,000 to the two charities. Currently, because of his failure to offer any documentation, there is no way to objectively verify the congressman’s statements.
Abraham’s campaign spokesperson Cole Avery asserted the congressman had not been aware of the constraints the government imposes on members of Congress from receiving outside income, including income to physicians like Abraham.
Avery’s assertion is dubious and easily disprovable, however. During the 2014 campaign, the congressman was well-aware of those constraints, which were repeatedly raised by his Democratic opponent, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, and became the subject of an internal investigation into payments made by LSU to then-congressman Bill Cassidy.
Yesterday, in response, Abraham issued a two-tweet response, disingenuously framing himself as someone who did not seek “fanfare” for his donations, despite the fact that it was a major part of his campaign platform, and falsely asserting he had been criticized for donating to charity, ending his tweet with the hashtag “fakenews.”
The reporting did not criticize Abraham for donating; it accurately uncovered the fact that he deceived voters by continuing to campaign on a “No Salary” platform in 2016 as well. By his staff’s own admission, Abraham did not donate his salary during his second term.
In total, Abraham could owe the two charities between $348,000 to $696,000. While Abraham took government paychecks, despite pledging to do otherwise, he has also been the beneficiary of at least $444,000 in federal farm subsidies, according to public records first reported by CNN.
As The Bayou Brief reported yesterday, the only evidence in the public record of Abraham donating to St. Jude’s was a $300 contribution made in December of 2018. Abraham was also featured in a 2017 article in Roll Call, touting his work with the organization Pilots for Patients. The organization does not list him as a sponsor, and he has not met their minimum milestone for recognition, 20 flights.
In an attempt to defend Abraham, his campaign has accused incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards for raising taxes, which is both an implicit admission of the congressman’s culpability and a distortion of the budgetary process and the ways in which the Republican-led legislature is both responsible for passing a balanced budget and for refusing to negotiate any good faith plan to rescue the state from the edge of the “fiscal cliff” by rolling back exemptions given to business and industry.
Former Gov.. Bobby Jindal and his Republican allies in the legislature left Edwards with a structural deficit of nearly $1.6 billion, and they championed a temporary sales tax increase to insulate big businesses from losing massive giveaways that, according to data, offer a negligible return on investment and often result in job losses.
Abraham’s team may have been unprepared for responding to the scandal, but Democratic organizations and allies of Gov. Edwards were immediately prepared.
The organization American Bridge had produced and published a digital ad within hours of the story.
On the condition of anonymity, one well-known Republican political consultant acknowledged to The Bayou Brief that Abraham’s broken promises and his campaign’s incompetent response will likely do permanent damage to his gubernatorial ambitions.
“Unfortunately, it permanently tarnishes his reputation,” the person said, adding that Abraham has only himself, and not the media, to blame.
Indeed, it seems likely Abraham’s integrity will remain in doubt, considering this was his campaign platform.