- Associated Press - Friday, March 12, 2021

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Nearly all the candidates vying for Louisiana’s two vacant U.S. House seats have failed to file a required federal financial disclosure form detailing their income and debts, a report that can provide details into possible sources of influence or conflict.

Of 27 contenders for the March 20 special congressional elections, only three have filed reports with the U.S. House clerk’s office for their races, according to a searchable online database. The clerk’s office said all available disclosure reports for Louisiana’s special elections are filed in that database.

The financial disclosure statement says candidates must file the document “not less than 30 days before” the election, which would have made the forms in Louisiana’s special elections due in February.

In the New Orleans-based 2nd District race, only two of the 15 candidates - state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, and Republican Party-backed candidate Claston Bernard - have submitted the reports. Bernard, a Jamaican-born decathlete who competed in the Olympics and lives in the Baton Rouge suburbs, submitted his form only after The Associated Press reached out to his campaign to ask why it was missing.

“The campaign is trying to quickly understand and comply with all requirements for the campaign,” Lindsey Chastain, representing the Bernard campaign, said in a statement.



Peterson’s report lays out the salaries she and her husband receive, the stipend she received as leader of the Louisiana Democratic Party, along with her stock dividends, retirement accounts and assets. She listed no debt liabilities. Bernard’s report lists a consulting salary with an inspection company, other compensation for building inspection services and stock dividends, with no liabilities.

Among other major Democratic contenders in the race, New Orleans state Sen. Troy Carter, and Gary Chambers Jr., a Baton Rouge community activist, haven’t filed the required document. After being asked about the missing disclosure form, Carter’s campaign said it was filing an extension request.

The district, whose footprint extends along the Mississippi River into Baton Rouge, is open because Democrat Cedric Richmond departed shortly after his reelection to work as a special adviser to President Joe Biden.

The information included in the financial disclosure can offer a broader picture of a candidate’s potential points of influence and conflicts of interest, particularly if they already are elected officials who make policy or become one.

In the northeast Louisiana-based 5th District race, one of the 12 candidates - Republican Chad Conerly, a retired Air Force colonel from Kentwood - sent a financial disclosure form to the House clerk’s office for the special election. The race’s frontrunner Julia Letlow, a Republican university administrator from Richland Parish running for the seat her husband won last year, hasn’t submitted her report.

“We definitely intend to file one,” said Letlow’s campaign manager Andrew Bautsch. “It is due, and we’re sending it in.”

He gave no timeline for the submission. Bautsch said Letlow’s accountant and lawyer are trying to get all the documentation together, a process he said is slowed because of succession issues after Letlow’s husband died in December.

Republican Luke Letlow had been elected to the U.S. House seat representing a largely rural district covering all or part of 24 parishes in the fall, but he died of COVID-19 complications before he was sworn into office, leaving the congressional seat vacant.

Some of Julia Letlow’s financial details could be gleaned from reading through Luke Letlow’s disclosure filed when he was running in 2020, which listed her salary with the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the value of their home, their mortgage debts and other assets.

The same is true of Sandra “Candy” Christophe, a social worker and Democrat from Alexandria who finished third in the 5th District race last fall and is running again in the special election. Christophe hasn’t filed a report for this year, but she disclosed her income sources and debts in 2020. That document listed her salary, her income from rental property and outstanding debts.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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