Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Written by Jeremy Alford
Candidates in the 3rd Congressional District have spent nearly a cool half mill influencing voters, and their focus is increasingly on the World Wide Web.
The most modest in the bunch is inarguably Kristian Magar. He’s a Republican from New Iberia, actually an oilfield manager by trade — with a Ph.D. in industrial engineering, no less — and a political newbie who has never run for office. Before he ever announced for Congress, he knew his bid would be balanced on a shoestring budget. So far, he has spent nearly $14,000 on his campaign this election cycle, an amount a couple of his opponents could probably raise in a few hours time if need be.
That said, Magar has had to be creative. Last month, he held a contest on Facebook, for which the winner received housecleaning services from the candidate. Darla David, a New Iberia resident and local school teacher, was the recipient. (Magar also fired up the grill and cooked for her family.) His campaign issued a press release shortly after: “This is what needs to be done in Washington,” Magar said while cleaning a bedroom toward the back of David’s home.
“We need a candidate and a representative who isn’t afraid to get dirty and clean all of the dirt out of the back rooms in Congress.”
But it’s not all homespun campaigning. Magar is spending money, about $600 last quarter, on robo-calls, the same amount on Facebook ads and another $250 on general Internet advertising.
Houma attorney Ravi Sangisetty, the only Democrat running in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes portions of Acadiana, also spent nearly $500 on Facebook ads. Indeed, it’s a brave new world for politicians, and the push to embrace social networking by the younger candidates is a sign of things to come.
Vincent Harris, a conservative consultant and founder of Texas-based Harris Media, says Facebook ads are more effective than any other online advertising medium because ads are targeted to self-identified supporters of specific keywords. They also help candidates get over the 1K hump. A December 2009 study from Sysomos, a social media monitoring and analytics firm, found that 77 percent of Facebook fan pages have less than 1,000 fans.
“Facebook ads allow you to identify and target people who are in 100 percent agreement with your values system, regardless of your ideology. Recently I ran a series of 2nd Amendment ads across Northern Virginia,” Harris says, “using Facebook’s ability to geo-target cities in the region, and then micro-targeting supporters who self-identify as supporters of pages such as guns, hunting, deer hunting, skeet shooting, NRA, ammo, etc.” But it doesn’t stop with Facebook. New Iberia attorney Jeff Landry has raised nearly $17,000 through a digital donation feature on his website, many from other states, according to records on file with the Federal Elections Commission. Former House Speaker Hunt Downer, a fellow Republican from Houma, has notched as many online donations, and his expense reports show you really do have to spend money to make money — since April, he shelled out nearly $1,100 in fees to Piryx, which hosts a platform for social media fundraising.
“The Internet has made fundraising easier. That’s what people involved with modern campaigns are finding out,” says Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at UL Monroe. “You could easily spend thousands of dollars traveling the country to find supporters, but the Internet gives you the ability to do distance fundraising without leaving home. Someone just might stumble across your site, click and give.”
From April to June, Downer spent $4,250 on Web design services from Prosper Group of Indiana, and Sangisetty spent $1,500 with ADco Creative Productions of D.C. Earlier in the year, Landry dropped nearly $10,000 on video services, Internet registrations and email efforts — one tangible result being a video of the candidate that sort of pops onto the screen of the campaign’s site. The video was made for about $3,000 by Vidox Motion Imagery in Lafayette.
Digital Donations of Baton Rouge is also overseeing his online contributions operation. Like Landry, Magar kept his digital dollars local and spent roughly $1,300 with Lafayette Websites Inc.
But as Stockley points out, the Internet is only one component of a campaign’s spending plan. So far, no other candidate has spent more on his campaign than Sangisetty — nearly $261,000 — and, of course, no other candidate has more debt — $127,000. In politics, however, these things don’t really matter. Sangisetty’s cash on hand shows $283,000, which is a powerful number. Landry has spent $116,000 on his campaign and incurred about $49,000 in debt — with a pace-setting $378,000 in the bank.
Downer, who has been in the contest for the shortest amount of time, has spent $35,000 and holds $245,000 in his campaign kitty, free and clear. And that brings us back to the man who’s willing to clean your bedroom to show his commitment. Again, Magar has so far spent nearly $14,000 and earlier loaned his campaign $20,000 and has that exact amount in the bank. You probably don’t need a calculator to do the math, and neither does Magar or any of the other candidates. He’s about to start spending his own money.
For now, though, he can join the other contenders in counting Facebook friends and website viewers in hopes of also counting their votes later this fall. After all, that is the endgame. “These are not merely names on a computer screen,” Harris says, “but real people with real free time to make calls from home or knock on doors.” Jeremy Alford can be reached at
Political donors from Lafayette proper are beginning to put their money where their mouths are in terms of the 3rd Congressional District, which includes portions of Acadiana. The most seasoned of the bunch running, former House Speaker Hunt Downer, makes up for quantity with quality and counts among his supporters some of the most powerful names in regional and statewide politics. But Lafayette donors are obviously more comfortable keeping their money closer to home, which benefits New Iberia attorney Jeff Landry more than anyone else. Here’s a look at where the local dollars are falling as the race heats up. Lafayette for Hunt Downer, R-Houma
• Dr. Paul J. Azar Jr.: $2,400
• Lawyer Clay M. Allen: $2,400
• Downer’s law firm partner Douglas Waitz: $500
• Oil association president Don Briggs: $1,000
• Uber lobbyist Randy K. Haynie: $1,200
• Good government backer Bill Fenstermaker: $2,400
• Banker Rusty Cloutier of MidSouth Bank: $2,400
TOTAL: $12,300Lafayette for Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia
• Fenstermaker spreads it around again, but this time it’s $1,000
• The Moreno Group, recently named by ABiz the top privately held company in Acadiana with revenues of $612 million, is well represented: CFO Dru Milke, $4,800; CEO Michel Moreno, $2,400; and Carolyn Blanchard, $4,800
• David and Matthew Moncla of Key Energy each gave $1,000, while Lee and Stuart Bishop of Baldwin Ready Mix each chipped in $800
• Magnus Arceneaux of C&G Boats and housewife Robin Arceneaux: $6,000
• Individual $2,400 donations came from: Access Drilling President Michael Topham, Wildcatters Sports Promotions, surety manager Mark Anthony Fontenot, James M. Hutchinson, Cross Creek Properties partner James H. Glasgow, and real estate agent Paul Hart Beaullieu
• Individual $2,000 donations: Christopher Michael Vincent and Landry Harris salesman Stephen Stefanski Jr.
• Individual $1,500 donations: Dr. Steven Troy Miller and MPW Properties President William Mills III
• Individual $1,000 donations: Dr. Dave Joseph Barrios III, oilman John Dupre and Richard McElligott of Macro Oil
• Individual $500 donations: Old South Realty Owner Charles Douglas Hebert, CLM CEO Floyd Degueyter and C&C Technologies owner Thomas Chance
TOTAL: $48,500Lafayette for Ravi Sangisetty, D-Houma
• James M. Hutchinson makes another appearance, this time for $2,000, a top-dollar donation matched by Dupré Logistics CEO Reggie Dupré
• Individual $500 donations: Attorney Remy Jardell, Stratagraph VP William Hagan and attorney Kenneth W. DeJean
• Lawyer Robert A. Mahtook put up $300 while Mahtook & Lafleur LLC put up another $300
• Dr. Mohit Srivastava of Bunkie General Hospital: $250
NOTE: Republican Kristian Magar of New Iberia reported no donations from Lafayette proper. All contributions noted above were reported to the Federal Elections Commission and cover the period of Jan. 1, 2010, to June 30, 2010.