Two of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ biggest contributors for re-election include Fred Heebe and Jim Ward, who had been the focus of a federal criminal investigation involving suspicious campaign contributions.
Heebe and Ward, the owners of both River Birch landfill and Willow LLC, assisted in funding the New Horizons USA PAC political organization, which had donated at least $200,000 to Gumbo PAC, which is involved in Edwards’ re-election campaign. New Horizons founder Dominick Fazzo was also River Birch’s chief financial officer.
In 2006, Heebe and Ward were investigated by the FBI, suspected of using four false companies to donate $20,000 to former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who is now incarcerated on unrelated corruption convictions. State law at the time held that financial backers could donate up to $5,000 to one candidate per election. It was modified in 2010 to permit political groups to raise an unlimited amount of funds provided they do not directly coordinate with their candidate’s election campaign.
Neither Heebe nor Ward were charged after it was discovered U.S. attorneys were posting negative comments about Heebe and River Birch on online news forums.
Lane Grigsby, chairman of the board of Cajun Contractors and chairman emeritus for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry board of directors, said he believes there is possibly even more than $200,000 being donated.
“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” Grigsby said to the Louisiana Record. “Every time we have a campaign finance reform law – people find a way around it. It’s just the way it happens.”
Grigsby said there is no likely way to discover the money being improperly donated.
“We’re going to have to really improve our justice system for you to discover the nefarious ways that people have funded campaigns,” Grigsby said. “Do I expect justice to show that some of this was donated improperly? Probably not.”
Heebe has had a history of donating to political candidates following the FBI investigation, including to current Democrat mayor of New Orleans LaToya Cantrell and State Treasurer John Schroder and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, both Republicans.