Corruption figure's donations to Cantrell campaign questioned
Bobby Guidry, the man behind one of the most infamous bribes in Louisiana history, used various companies registered to a single Harvey address to shower LaToya Cantrell’s campaign with cash a few days before she was elected mayor of New Orleans.
Cantrell’s last pre-election campaign finance report listed at least six contributions of the maximum $5,000 from five Guidry-owned entities. Those donations were all dated three days before Cantrell, a city councilwoman, routed her runoff opponent, former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet.
The payments raise questions about Guidry’s motives, Cantrell’s willingness to accept contributions from such a controversial figure and about compliance with campaign finance laws, which limit a “person” to giving a candidate $5,000 per election.
A “person” can refer to a human or a corporation under state law. But state Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said previous Ethics Board opinions – which are not binding -- have stated that contributions from multiple limited liability companies, or LLCs, owned by a single person, should have their donations counted together and be subject to a single $5,000 limit.
In the case of Guidry’s contributions to Cantrell, $5,000 came from Robert J. Guidry Florida Properties LLC, another $5,000 came from Robert J. Guidry Investments LLC, another $5,000 from Guidry French Quarter Holdings LLC, another $5,000 from Royal Palm LLC and there were two $5,000 entries from Robert J. Guidry Financial Services LLC.
All five Guidry entities on the campaign finance reports use the same address on Manhattan Boulevard in Harvey. Four of them reference the same building in the office park complex, with only slight variations.
WWL-TV went to the listed address and found an office in Building H marked Suite 101, Fountain Park Centre Leasing Office. An employee inside would not open the door, but spoke to a reporter over the intercom, identifying himself as John Frank, an employee of the various Guidry companies.
“(Guidry) doesn’t come here a lot. Like once or twice a month,” Frank said. “He lives mostly in Florida.”
Frank had Guidry contact WWL-TV by email. In that email, Guidry said Robert J. Guidry Financial Services, which was listed on the campaign report with two maximum contributions, only actually issued one $5,000 check to Cantrell’s campaign.
Later, Cantrell campaign spokesman David Winkler-Schmit said an employee responsible for entering donations in a state database made an error, filing a duplicate entry for Robert J. Guidry Financial Services.
Strangely, the two entries for Robert J. Guidry Financial Services are not identical. One says the company is located in “Bldg H” at Zip Code 70058-3583, and the other says it’s in “Ste 101” at Zip Code 70058-3588. The official address for Robert J. Guidry Financial Services listed with the Secretary of State is “Building H, Suite 101.”
“I certainly am not trying to circumvent the law,” Guidry said when asked about the discrepancies.
Winkler-Schmit said the campaign will amend its report to the Ethics Board to reflect only one donation from Robert J. Guidry Financial Services.
WWL-TV Political Analyst Clancy DuBos said it’s not uncommon for big donors to use multiple business entities, their spouses and family members to legally give tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns. But, he said, campaigns should closely monitor who the contributors are and may reject checks from controversial donors.
“Why would she accept contributions from somebody who is as controversial as Bobby Guidry, who has admitted that he paid bribes to our governor; and why would she do that when she is already rolling in dough?” DuBos said.
But Winkler-Schmit stood by the campaign’s decision to keep the donations from the Guidry entities.
“We focus on complying with all rules and regulations as required by campaign finance laws,” he said. “As for Guidry, he wanted to make a contribution to the campaign and we accepted his donation.”
Guidry remained controversial for years after he testified against Edwin Edwards. He was allowed to keep the ill-gotten casino license, and he and his competitor for that license, chicken magnate Al Copeland, had an infamous brawl inside Morton’s of Chicago steakhouse on Canal Street in 2001.
Guidry then sold his share of oilfield services company Harvey Gulf, which is still run by one of his sons, Shane Guidry, who has risen in international business and statewide politics and says he and his father have been estranged for years.
Bobby Guidry has stayed involved in politics, mostly contributing to Jefferson Parish candidates over the years, with maximum donations to Aaron Broussard, Newell Normand and several parish councilmembers.
But he had not waded into New Orleans politics before. In an email to WWL-TV, he explained why he gave such a large sum to Cantrell.
“I’m building a new Residence Inn Marriott brand hotel at 316 St. Charles Avenue. When completed it will be the first hotel built from the ground up in seventeen years,” Guidry wrote in his email statement. “This $60 Million investment is why I felt I had to support the right candidate who understands the city’s government.”
The Residence Inn project has already received its construction permits from the city and is underway at an old parking lot in downtown New Orleans. Plans submitted to the city show a 19-floor, 191,000 square-foot building owned by St. Charles Ave Prime Properties, another of Guidry’s LLCs with the same address in Harvey.
“My campaign funds were given at the time mainly to help assure that the citizens of this great city would have, in my mind, heart, and soul the best person (LaToya Cantrell) as Madam Mayor-to-be,” Guidry wrote.