New complaint hits Louisiana legislators’ ‘dark money’ group

Louisiana

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, center, gestures as he talks with Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, left, the governor’s chief budget adviser, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, right, on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The three men, all members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, spoke ahead of the conference’s meeting. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A new complaint by a conservative Republican is alleging that Louisiana’s top GOP House and Senate leaders are engaging in improper political activities through a nonprofit they created to promote their agenda and should have to disclose its contributors and spending.

Michael Lunsford is asking the Louisiana Board of Ethics to investigate whether Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder are violating campaign finance laws with their organization Leading Louisiana Forward.

The organization is run by Republican political consultant Lionel Rainey, who said the nonprofit “has always and will continue to fully comply with all rules” governing its status.

Leading Louisiana is registered as a 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt social welfare organization, commonly called a “dark money” group because it doesn’t have to publicly release donor information. Allies of Gov. John Bel Edwards created a similar group to promote the Democratic governor’s policies. Under IRS regulations, the organizations can participate in politics if that’s not considered their “primary activity.”

A copy of the letter accompanying Lunsford’s complaint was obtained by The Associated Press. Lunsford confirmed Friday that he mailed it to the board. The ethics board decides in secret whether to investigate complaints.

Lunsford’s filing follows a similar complaint that Louisiana’s chapter of the NAACP filed with the IRS and sent to the Federal Elections Commission arguing that political activities are Leading Louisiana’s intended purpose.

Lunsford runs a nonprofit known as Citizens for a New Louisiana and has been critical of Cortez for refusing to back a House-led effort to try to end Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions. Lunsford acknowledged his organization was investigated by the ethics board, but no charges have been publicly filed.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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