Campaign finance reports show coffee a key ingredient in Watson’s mayoral strategy

While campaign finance reports show who’s backing the various candidates in the Baton Rouge mayor’s race, they also shed light on how the candidates are spending their war chests.

So far, there hasn’t been a whole lot of money spent on TV ad buys, though that’s expected to change in the final few weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 primary.

But candidates are shelling out money to pay for consultants, campaign workers, bank fees, postage and other typical costs associated with campaigns.

Metro Council member Matt Watson has also spent a proportionally large chunk of his money, relative to the other candidates, on meals, coffees and bar bills, according to his latest campaign finance report, filed Monday.

Altogether, Watson logged nearly 70 dining-related expenses over the past two months, mostly in the $10-$50 range. The expenses total nearly $3,600, about 13% of the total $28,421 his campaign spent between early August and early October.

Watson’s expenditures to many of Baton Rouge’s favorite restaurants, coffee shops and watering holes—from Churchill’s, City Café and City Pork to Simple Joe, Soji’s and Sonic—were for “meeting with supporters,” according to the report.

Other candidates, by comparison, spent just a tiny fraction of their expenditures, if any, on dining, groceries or food-related expenses.

Incumbent Mayor Sharon Weston Broome reported $175.96 on two lunches for campaign staff out of total expenditures of $164,266.

Steve Carter did not report any food-related expenses out of his total $18,482 in expenditures.

C. Denise Marcelle spent $173.12 on one campaign lunch for staffers out of a total $27,726 in expenditures.

Jordan Piazza spent $544.82 on soft drinks, coffee and one lunch for staff at his campaign headquarters out of total expenditures of $86,609.

Independent candidate E. Eric Guirard did not show any expenditures—or campaign contributions, for that matter—on his report, which was filed late this morning.

Watson says his documented expenditures reflect not only his commitment to transparency but his style of campaigning in the age of COVID-19, which is to meet with individuals or small groups over coffee, lunch or a beer.

“In the age of COVID-19, where you can’t have a fundraiser in a large room and can’t go to the ball diamond to shake everyone’s hand, I’m going out and meeting people in restaurants and coffee shops,” he says. “But I’m not going to walk into someone’s establishment and start politicking without purchasing something, and I usually take campaign volunteers with me. So I’m rewarding my volunteers and spending money in local businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic.”

Veteran political pollster and consultant Bernie Pinsonat, who is not affiliated with any of the mayoral campaigns this season, says there’s nothing wrong with a candidate expensing so many meals and coffees to a campaign, though he acknowledges it is unusual for a candidate to log so many “nickel-and-dime expenses.”

“That’s his chosen way to campaign,” Pinsonat says. “He’s running a nickel-and-dime campaign so he’s writing off everything he can.”