Jindal soft money group hits airwaves — then goes offline

Profile of man in black suit looking away from camera.
Screengrab from American Future Project video showing Gov. Bobby Jindal.

A soft money organization that poured over $224,000 into Iowa TV ads during the month of June favorable to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had its website go offline Wednesday — the same day that Jindal formally announced his candidacy.

The group, called the American Future Project, organized on March 11 according to its IRS filings; it has yet to disclose any donors, but will in its next filing, due in mid-July. According to the filing, it was formed to “advocate for conservative free market solutions.” Its now blank website and remaining ads on its YouTube channel suggest that Jindal is a prime source of those solutions.

One ad, still available for view on the organization’s YouTube channel, is almost entirely excerpts of Jindal speeches, including his 2014 commencement address at Liberty University, along with applauding audiences. “The United States of America did not create religious liberty — religious liberty created the United States of America,” he says in the most recent video. Another video on the organization’s YouTube channel features the governor at the Iowa prayer breakfast with Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson.

In a recent flurry of ad buy disclosures accessed via Political Ad Sleuth, the American Future Project lists religious liberty as an issue of interest. A cached copy of the website from June 23 also includes pages advocating against Common Core, Obamacare and the ongoing negotiations with Iran. All three pages consist mostly of quotes from Jindal.

Though the group features Jindal prominently and in a positive light, it is still able to fundraise unlimited amounts because at no point does it explicitly urge viewers to “vote for” or “support” him. Avoiding these magic words, set out by the Supreme Court in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, allows the ad to be classified as issue advocacy and avoid federal campaign contribution limits. Because American Future Project sticks to issue advertising, it’s able to avoid registering with the Federal Election Commission. It will disclose its donors in mid-July, but to the IRS rather than the FEC.

Republican operatives like Gail Gitcho, the former Republican Governors Association and Romney for President communications director, and New Hampshire communications strategist Henry Goodwin have been quoted in media as spokespeople for the group. In March, The Des Moines Register reported that Jindal’s deputy chief of staff, Taylor Teepell, as well as his legislative affairs director, Matt Parker, both resigned from the governor’s office to begin working for American Future Project.

The American Future Project isn’t the only group working for Jindal. Fundraising on behalf of the governor began as many as six months ago when Believe Again, the super PAC run by former Louisiana congressman and current lobbyist Robert Livingston, was created on Jan. 22.

Believe Again’s website praises Jindal as a “once-in-a-lifetime leader,” and the super PAC has been raising unlimited funds to advocate for his presidential election. Jindal once interned for Livingston, and the committee’s current treasurer, Bobby Yarborough, was appointed by Jindal to the board of Louisiana State University. Jindal also appointed Believe Again’s founding treasurer, Rolfe McCollister, to the university’s board.

Yarborough has donated $5,000 — the maximum contribution allowable under Louisiana law — to each of Jindal’s previous three gubernatorial campaigns, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The data also show that the health industry contributed $2.1 million to Jindal’s state campaigns, the most of any sector. Jindal was the secretary of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals as well as an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. Additionally, energy interests put up $1.5 million, construction $1.2 million, and lawyers and lobbyists gave $1 million.

In 2013, a Times-Picayune investigation found that a Louisiana business magnate was able to skirt contribution limits and donate $95,000 through partially owned companies and close relatives. The donor, Bryan Bossier, was appointed by Jindal to state commissions and his firms were awarded multimillion-dollar state contracts.