“The only excursion of my life outside of New Orleans took me through the vortex to the whirlpool of despair: Baton Rouge.”
Red Stick Forward, a new political action committee opposing the reelection of Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat, recently launched a TV commercial that would have surely been appreciated by Ignatius J. Reilly. The ad presents Louisiana’s capital as a city under siege, but not by the devastating pandemic that has claimed more than 510 lives and infected nearly 20,000 residents in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“Our city is not safe,” the narrator declares in a generically Midwestern dialect. Baton Rouge, viewers soon learn, is now paralyzed by the fear of getting murdered. A whirlpool of despair.
As it turns out, Red Stick Forward is primarily funded by the spouse of Weston Broome’s Republican challenger, according to documents filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration, the Louisiana Secretary of State, and the Texas Secretary of State.
Gloria Solomon Carter and at least two limited liability companies associated with her have donated a total of $105,000 to Red Stick Forward, including a $30,000 donation that seeded the PAC on Oct. 8. Her husband, former state Rep. Steve Carter, will square off against Weston Broome in the Dec. 5 runoff. Weston Broome fell only 4,000 votes short of an outright victory on Nov. 3, capturing 48% of the vote. Carter, who lost a bid for the state Senate last year, received 23% of the vote in the primary.
All told, Gloria Solomon Carter and family-held LLCs have provided Red Stick Forward with more than 60% of its total funding. There is at least one indication that Ms. Carter and the PAC’s director, Kyle Ruckert, recognized the need to obscure her role in funding the operation: In addition to utilizing two out-of-state LLCs controlled by Ms. Carter and members of her family, she also personally donated $15,000. However, the PAC lists her contribution under the name “Gloria Solomon,” her maiden name, despite the fact that her legal surname has been Carter for more than 40 years. (She also donated to her husband’s campaign, under the name “Gloria Carter”).
State campaign finance law prohibits contributions by anonymous donors as well as contributions given under someone else’s name, and while the law is silent on contributions listed under a person’s maiden name, the decision to list Ms. Carter as Ms. Solomon instead appears to have been undertaken in a deliberate effort to obfuscate the connections between the candidate Carter and the “independent PAC” supporting him.
A day before the Nov. 3 election, an article in conservative-leaning Baton Rouge Business Report briefly mentioned that Red Stick Forward had received a $30,000 contribution from LUBU Productions LLC and noted that Gloria Solomon Carter was listed as a member of Six G’s LLC, one of the two entities named as officers of LUBU Productions. Gloria is one of the late movie theater titan and philanthropist Teddy Solomon’s six children: George, Gloria, Gladys, Glenda, Gary, and Glenn; hence, the “six G’s.”
If this seems somewhat convoluted, that’s not by accident.
The other two leading contributors are Eddie Rispone, the Baton Rouge Republican and electrical contracting magnate who spent more than $14 million of his personal fortune on an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2019, and another mega-wealthy contracting tycoon Art Favre. Conspicuously absent from the PAC’s reports is Lane Grigsby, the most profligate political donor of the trio that the Bayou Brief’s Sue Lincoln dubbed “the Erector Set.” Last year, when it had briefly appeared as if Carter would be headed toward a rare three-person runoff election for a seat in the state Senate (a preliminary count showed Carter tied in second place with fellow Republican Franklin Foil, while Democrat Beverly Brooks-Thompson finished solidly ahead of both men), Grigsby became the subject of considerable controversy when it was revealed that he had attempted to essentially bribe Foil to drop out of the race in exchange for Grigsby’s pledge to financially support him in a future election. A recount subsequently determined that Carter had finished four votes behind Foil, who went onto win in the runoff.
Louisiana law does not affirmatively prohibit a candidate’s spouse— or, for that matter, the candidate himself— from contributing to an independent political action committee, and thanks to a 2014 court decision, you can give a PAC as much money as you want.
This all sounds pretty clever, right?
Red Stick Forward seems to have figured out a way to take unlimited amounts of money to support Steve Carter’s candidacy, including more than a hundred thousand bucks from Carter’s wife.
The PAC can hide behind a generic name, an out-of-town mailing address, and the simple recitation of the standard language about its “independence” to protect the people actually running and funding the operation from public scrutiny, and meanwhile, whenever the PAC levels an attack against one of Carter’s opponents, Steve Carter can say, “That didn’t come from my campaign. I had nothing to do with that!”
We all know that American campaign finance laws are pathetically broken, but you may be thinking, “Who do they think they’re fooling? It’s brazenly obvious that this PAC is really just an extension of Carter’s campaign. Is this really legal?”
The answer to that question hinges on the answer to another one: Is there any reason to believe Red Stick Forward is what it claims to be?
Officially, Red Stick Forward says it was established to support multiple candidates, but on the PAC’s website, it also makes clear that it is exclusively targeting the race for East Baton Rouge Mayor-President.
So, we are led to believe that Red Stick Forward seeks to promote multiple “candidates” for an office that only one person can win. Well, aside from merely reciting this as its mission, is there any evidence that it’s actually doing what it claims?
During the primary, the PAC sent out a direct mailer criticizing Republican Matt Watson, who polling indicated would be Carter’s most significant intraparty opponent. Watson, who would finish in third, had actually attempted to alert the public about Gloria Solomon Carter’s contributions to Red Stick Forward in a series of posts on his campaign Facebook account. After the election, however, he nonetheless endorsed Carter’s candidacy. Regardless, though, the PAC’s decision to oppose Watson was done in order to increase support for Carter, much like its recent ad opposing Weston Broome is intended to benefit her opponent.
There are two other critical pieces of evidence that indicate Red Stick Forward was created not to support multiple candidates but to specifically support only one: Steve Carter.
Remember that $30,000 contribution from LUBU Productions LLC, the company owned by Gloria Solomon Carter and her siblings? That donation was given on the same exact day Red Stick Forward officially registered as a political action committee; it was its very first contribution.
And did you notice this address in Prairieville, Louisiana at the bottom of its ad?
It’s actually the home address of Amanda Guidry Maloy of the firm Burland & Maloy. Amanda specializes in helping candidates and PACs with reporting and compliance issues. Not only did she provide her services to Red Stick Forward through her consultancy, the Guidry Maloy Group:
But in what must seem like an amazing coincidence, she also worked for Steve Carter’s campaign at the same time:
Put another way, the person whose home address is used in the “PAID FOR” disclaimer at the bottom of Red Stick Forward’s commercial just so happens to also be a paid consultant of the Carter campaign. In fact, she has made nearly ten times more from Carter’s campaign than from the PAC with her address on it.
This certainly appears to be strong circumstantial evidence that Red Stick Forward is really just a —what’s the word?— a subsidiary of the Carter campaign, and lo and behold, Louisiana law actually anticipates an arrangement just like this. See La. R.S. 18:1491.3, specifically paragraphs C and D:
I will leave it to others to determine whether or not Red Stick Forward should be classified as a subsidiary committee of Carter’s campaign, but from my vantage, the answer seems obvious.
Finally, it deserves asking: Is Red Stick Forward’s commercial opposing Sharon Weston Broome truthful? The ad makes two central points—that there have been more violent crimes and homicides than ever before and that thousands of people and businesses are leaving— and both of those points are presented as statements of facts, with references to an objective source where, presumably, one will find the underlying data.
Believe it or not, this is from the report the PAC cites when making the claim about thousands of people leaving:
With respect to the claim about crime, it’s true that this year there have been a record number of homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish, but it is also true that overall crime is down. Homicides include any death caused by another person, whether justified or not, and criminologists and sociologists attribute this year’s spike to domestic and economic upheavals caused by the coronavirus pandemic; similarly, a spike in early 2017 was largely believed to be correlated to displacements caused by the devastating floods the previous year.
Importantly, historically, crime reporting can be notoriously unreliable, but regardless, the notion that the past four years have been the worst in the city’s history is especially dubious considering Baton Rouge’s long record of systemic discrimination against and mistreatment of Black residents. Like it or not, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era are indeed part of the city’s history.
Red Stick Forward claims its data comes directly from the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office, and helpfully, they also include a website address where, presumably, one can find the source material.
But the Coroner’s Office does not and has not published any data or assertions on the parish’s “homicide rate.” I asked the Coroner’s Office if the PAC’s claims and their attribution were accurate. Shane Evans, the office’s Chief of Investigations, told me that their “news” website only includes a running count of the total number of homicides (in other words, not a “rate”), noting that the page would be updated soon to include “a few more homicides” that have occurred this year.
“We have not been specifically contacted by, nor have we commented to any PAC involved in the mayoral campaign on any topic,” Evans wrote.