A former Democratic candidate for Clerk of 2nd City Court in New Orleans filed a complaint with the Louisiana Board of Ethics accusing a political action committee of multiple campaign finance disclosure law violations related to attack ads it put out against him. The complaint also takes issue with U.S. Congressman Troy Carter’s involvement in the campaign, though it does not directly accuse Carter, a New Orleans Democrat representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District, of any specific legal violations.
Jordan Bridges — who ran unsuccessfully against Lisa Ray Diggs in the March 26 special election for the post — told The Lens that he wanted the Ethics Board to take a closer look at significant inaccuracies in campaign finance disclosures submitted by the PAC, called the True Leadership PAC. He also characterized the opposition to his campaign as an ugly symptom of a local Democratic party system that rewards patronage and locks out newcomers.
“They’re all in the political clique,” Bridges, who is also a Democrat, said. “These things seem to be pre-chosen.”
Although not mentioned in the complaint, there also appear to be disclosure issues with another, much more well-known and influential group that supported Diggs.
That group, the Algiers Political Action Committee (APAC), was founded by Carter in 2006. Bridges’ complaint only mentions the group in an attempt to draw a connection between it and True Leadership, which Carter’s office has denied.
But a look at campaign finance disclosures shows that APAC hasn’t submitted any financial disclosures whatsoever since 2019, nor has it registered as a political action committee, despite ongoing election activity from the group.
The complaint Bridges emailed to the Ethics Board on Sept. 9 focuses on political mailers the True Leadership PAC sent out earlier this year that accused him of selling out his community and being under the control of conservative Republicans, including Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. One mailer included a cartoon portraying Bridges, who is Black, as a puppet, and Landry, who is white, as his puppet master. Bridges described the ad as “a racist, Jim Crow-esque caricature.”
The allegations in the ads appear to be based on the support Bridges received from a PAC connected to Landry — the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority — during Bridges’ unsuccessful 2021 campaign for a state House seat. Bridges also got an endorsement from the local Republican Party in his election for clerk.
“I feel like my message was very unifying and very welcoming from people across the aisle,” Bridges said, explaining the support he received from the conservative group. “I’m liberal-leaning because I have a heart for community and I’ve seen the need. However there are conservative values that I hold fast to.”
He maintained the accusations in the True Leadership mailers, including that he holds anti-LGBTQ beliefs and has a formal connection to Landry and other well-known conservatives, were “baseless and libelous.”
Nothing reported on clerk race
You wouldn’t know about True Leadership’s opposition to Bridges by looking at their mandated financial disclosures.
The group filed two campaign finance disclosures for the March 26 election, neither of which indicate which candidate they were supporting or opposing.
Only one of the two reports showed any expenditures. That disclosure was filed on Sept. 9 — nearly five months after it was due — and did not report any spending related to the Clerk of Second City Court race. In addition, a section instructing PACs to report candidates they are supporting or opposing was left blank.
“They mailed that [attack ad] to my home, and then on their finance report claimed zero expenditures,” Bridges said. “That cannot happen.”
The complaint also questions whether there was a formal connection between the Diggs campaign and the True Leadership PAC. Bridges pointed out that True Leadership PAC’s listed chairperson, Krystal Ancar, was also the treasurer of Diggs’ campaign. The address listed for True Leadership PAC is the location of Ancar’s tax and accounting business.
Diggs told The Lens she had no hand in the PAC. The Lens contacted Ancar and the treasurer listed on True Leadership’s disclosure forms, but neither responded.
Dillard University professor Robert Collins reviewed the complaint and told The Lens that even if the allegations in the complaint were true, it likely won’t result in significant consequences.
“The Ethics Board is not a prosecutorial body, so the worst they can do is just fine you,” he said. “Now if they find something really egregious they can make a criminal referral, but you would need to do something really egregious.”
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Collins said.
The Carter Connection
Carter’s Deputy Chief of Staff James Bernhard told The Lens that neither Carter nor the group he founded, APAC, had any involvement with the True Leadership PAC.
But Bridges’ complaint alleges that Carter was the origin of the accusations that were featured in the True Leadership attack ads. He said the ads have continued to damage his reputation and standing in his community. And he said he was disappointed that Carter, a fellow Democrat, would go so far to support his preferred candidate.
“It’s very concerning to me that these things are happening, that we’re attacking young people that are trying,” Bridges said. “And these are people I know. Like I said, myself and Troy Carter grew up on the same street. I know his family. This was very disheartening and hit me really hard, being someone I used to admire.”
The complaint points to a February decision by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO to rescind its dual endorsement of Bridges and Diggs and only endorse Diggs. Bridges said that only happened because Carter made a call to the local AFL-CIO board the day after its decision to issue a dual endorsement.
“Congressman Troy Carter called the executive board of AFL-CIO, spreading lies and defaming statements about my character,” the complaint says. “The libelous claims from Congressman Troy Carter stated that I was ‘hateful and transphobic,’ going further to accuse me of being a ‘secret Republican’ operative.”
Robert “Tiger” Hammond, president of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, confirmed that Carter had indeed been in contact with the board.
“Troy was actually on that call with us, but we had many people on the call,” Hammond said. “We reserve the right to endorse anyone we choose, and we have the right to change our mind based on new facts.”
When asked what new facts led the board to change its mind on Bridges, Hammond sent screenshots of Facebook ads in support of Bridges in the 2021 House race that were sponsored by the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority, a PAC supported by Landry and Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy.
In a statement, Carter said, “It’s unfortunate that people vie for endorsements and then discredit it when they don’t get it.”
“It’s no secret that Congressman Carter endorsed and supported Lisa Diggs,” Bernhard said. “He’s proud of her accomplishments, and had hundreds of conversations advocating for her election.”
Not only did Carter endorse Diggs, so too did APAC. The group sent out mailers endorsing Diggs earlier this year.
The Bridges complaint alleges connections between APAC, True Leadership and the Diggs campaign based on the fact that mailers from all three organizations have the same bulk mail permit ID number on them. However, it appears that the shared permit ID is due to the groups using the same printing contractor. The permit number is associated with Mele Printing, a company representative confirmed. Mele is one of the largest printing and mailing companies in the region. And both True Leadership and the Diggs campaign have reported using Mele. It’s unclear whether APAC uses it as well, given that the group hasn’t submitted disclosures in years.
However, the APAC endorsement brings up another potential disclosure law violation.
Bernhard told The Lens that despite its name, APAC is not actually a PAC. He said the group stopped submitting disclosures in 2019 because it was a limited liability company, rather than a nonprofit, and was no longer making expenditures on behalf of candidates.
“In 2019 they found out that because they’re not a PAC they didn’t need to,” Bernhard said. “It’s not a PAC and isn’t required to make disclosures.”
The Lens asked state Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen whether being an LLC automatically relieves an organization from the requirement to submit ethics disclosures. She said it does not.
“If an LLC is not a political committee, but makes independent expenditures (not in coordination, consultation or cooperation with a candidate) in excess of $500, then it would file campaign finance disclosure reports, on the same schedule as a political committee files,” she said in an email.
It’s difficult to determine whether APAC has made such expenditures, since it is no longer reporting its expenditures to the state. But the group has continued to endorse candidates, and disclosures from other political candidates show that APAC has continued to take in thousands of dollars for things like “endorsement expenses,” “canvassing” and “printing and mailing costs for ballot.”
Records show that the group has taken in roughly $70,000 since its last disclosure.
The Lens followed up with Carter’s office, informing them of Allen’s stance.
“The Congressman is not involved in the operations of APAC,” Bernhard said in response. “The people who manage APAC have been alerted to your concern, and they are exploring whether they need to file or not and if they need to file, they will.”