A Note from Carlee (re: Citizens for a New Louisiana)

“I’m Carlee Alm-LaBar, and I approved this message.”

We’ve all heard that kind of phrasing at the end of political commercials. It lets us know that the candidate stands behind the message. After weeks of battling misinformation on Facebook, I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot.

Agree or disagree with it, my record is my record. My positions are my positions. From my previous comments in the paper, or old social media posts, even my text messages, I stand behind what I say and what my campaign does—my name is on it. That’s how we all are—if we believe in something, we aren’t afraid to let others know.

But for the last three years, the most influential voice in Lafayette politics does not have a name. It hasn’t been an elected official or a leader from the business community. Sadly, the most influential voice in Lafayette has been an anonymous Facebook page. And the people behind it don’t want you to know their names.

Citizens for a New Louisiana was first formed as Lafayette Citizens Against Taxes to fight the 2017 school facility tax proposal. But their role has expanded since that time, and they have now played a crucial role in every political debate in Lafayette Parish over the last two+ years, including fighting against the charter amendments and the sheriff’s tax.

Through the generosity of secret donors, they hired a full-time employee. As a matter of fact, Citizens for a New Louisiana has grown so much that it has indirectly backed an entire slate of candidates in this fall’s elections—including candidates for council and mayor-president. At this point, it probably goes without saying that I am not their chosen candidate. In fact, they seem rather perturbed by my candidacy thus far.

As this group grows in influence in Lafayette, it’s time for us to ask the question: “Who is funding Citizens for a New Louisiana? And why don’t they want us to know who they are?”

Citizens for a New Louisiana has gone to great lengths to keep its donors secret. They incorporated as a 501(c)4 “social welfare organization.” Federal rules do not require a 501(c)4 to disclose donors, in the way that a political campaign must. The social welfare organization cannot, however, function primarily in the political arena.

Louisiana campaign finance rules would require Citizens for a New Louisiana to disclose their donors if the group was organized as a political action committee. In contrast, the PAC I chaired last year to advocate for the charter amendments (Fix the Charter) disclosed its donors.

Citizens for a New Louisiana attempts to thread the needle between these two rules by never using so-called “magic words” that expressly advocate voting for or against a candidate. They won’t ever say “vote for” or “vote against” someone—the Louisiana Board of Ethics would require them to disclose their funders if they did. Go back and read their posts about me, for example—as much as they obviously do not like me, they’ve never said not to vote for me.

One tactic they use is to float a harmful theory that deliberately misleads people by phrasing it in the form of a question. Citizens for a New Louisiana accused my campaign of booking the CAJUNDOME at taxpayer expense by “asking for a friend” whether we were paying or not. So many of the 9,000 followers of the page, confused by what they were reading, jumped to the conclusion that my campaign was violating the rules.

Misleading tactics aside, Citizens for a New Louisiana is characterized almost exclusively by snark, cynicism and meanness. Through misinformation and outrage, they encourage people to engage with one another in ways that no one in polite society would ever engage. And so we should not be surprised that the comments section often devolves into name calling and anger.

This is the type of circus that turns people away from politics. Community leaders see the anger and the vitriol, with Citizens for a New Louisiana as the ring leader, and they retreat—not because they don’t care but because they don’t know how to engage in meaningful public discourse in this new anonymous realm. And make no mistake, Citizens for a New Louisiana is hoping for just that result—the circus.

My campaign is about returning civility and plain, old fashioned politeness to our local conversations. We can only break free from the downward spiral if we are vocal about what we want for the future of Lafayette. That means not being afraid to speak up—and to put our names on what we believe in.

This is our challenge. We have to realize that the best communities are willing to fight for what they believe is best, and to put their names on positive messaging and positive actions. We cannot remain silent while the circus gets louder and louder. And we have to be willing to ask out loud this important question: “Why won’t the people who are funding Citizens for a New Louisiana put their names on the work they are funding?”

Already in this campaign, many of my supporters have stepped outside their comfort zones because we can do better. But if we are going to win the battle for the future of our community against fake profiles, secret campaigns, and anonymous Facebook pages, it’s going to require more from all of us. We all need to be cautious about where our campaign information comes from and encourage your friends and family to also be vigilant. The misinformation campaigns are picking up, but we know that together we can drown out the negative political circus with positive intentions for the future of our community.