NEW ORLEANS -- Questioned at a mayoral debate Monday about charges on her city credit card, candidate LaToya Cantrell contradicted her own campaign’s explanation for a $600 dinner during a June campaign trip to San Francisco.
Among more than $8,950 in credit card charges Cantrell has reimbursed, either as personal or campaign expenses, $745 in charges from the San Francisco trip stood out. Her campaign said over the weekend that it was a personal trip and she reimbursed those charges immediately.
But WWL-TV reviewed her campaign finance records and learned Cantrell had traveled to the Bay Area for a fundraiser for her mayoral campaign, hosted by San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, former mayor and current California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and another former mayor, Willie Brown Jr.
Her campaign paid for the airfare and refreshments for the fundraiser, state records show.
But the City Councilwoman also charged taxi and Uber rides and a dinner for $600.01 on her city, taxpayer-financed credit card. On Aug. 31, those $745 were reimbursed to the city.
WWL-TV asked the Cantrell campaign why those were charged on her city credit card, and spokesman David Winkler-Schmit sent us this text Monday afternoon:
“Here’s the deal: it was a campaign fundraising trip. That's why the campaign paid for the airfare and the food. But the dinner was personal because a lot of her family came across the country to be at the fundraiser and she took them out for dinner. As previously explained, the council member and her staff do periodic reconciliations, and the error was identified and corrected.”
At Monday’s WWL-TV/AARP debate, Dennis Woltering asked Cantrell what prompted her to use a city credit card for a $600 dinner for her family.
“Well, actually, that’s actually not the case,” she said. She acknowledged that she had a campaign fundraiser on that trip, but added that she visited a group home while there and looked at best practices for youth services.
So, which is it?
On Tuesday, Winkler-Schmit said he made a mistake when he told WWL-TV that the dinner had been for her family. He said he double-checked with Cantrell after the debate and she told him her family dinner was never charged to the city credit card and the $600 meal at Hayes Street Grill was a dinner meeting with nonprofit leaders.
“It’s my fault,” Winkler-Schmit said. “I didn’t check directly with the councilperson and I should have.”
Winkler-Schmit put WWL-TV in touch with Kenny Porter, head of Greater New Beginnings in Oakland, Calif., who was at the dinner.
Porter said Cantrell toured his facility earlier that day and then went to dinner at Hayes Street Grill with him and 12 to 15 youth services professionals.
Records provided by Cantrell’s campaign show the city was reimbursed the $600 with a money order dated Aug. 31, almost three months after the dinner. The money order does not indicate who paid it.
Cantrell said she didn’t pay it back, and Winkler-Schmit said Porter sent the money order directly. But Porter denied that in a telephone interview with WWL-TV. He said that after Cantrell had paid the restaurant with the credit card, he and his colleagues insisted on picking up the tab, pooled $600 and gave it to Cantrell, in cash, that night.