Why Elbert Guillory’s “Free At Last” PAC Raises Serious Questions About the Louisiana GOP

A couple of months ago, when Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory switched back to the Republican Party, he generated statewide and national attention: Guillory is the first Republican African-American member of the Louisiana State Senate since Reconstruction.

This may seem like an important breakthrough for Louisiana Republicans, until you consider that Guillory had been been a Republican up until 2007, when he became a Democrat in order to run for State Representative in a heavily Democratic district. In fact, Elbert Guillory had actually been a member of the Republican Central Committee. The conservative media has gleefully embraced the narrative of Guillory as Democratic defector, but the truth is, Elbert Guillory only became a Democrat to deceive his constituents; he couldn’t get elected as a Republican. To be sure, he once claimed his conversion to the Democratic Party had something to do with his disenchantment with George W. Bush, which, at the time, was the only plausible excuse he could make.

I don’t take issue with Mr. Guillory for being a conservative Republican, but I have a problem with dishonest, self-aggrandizing politicians who are willing, if not eager, to trade away their own integrity and effectively lie to voters about their core principles. I don’t know a single member of the Louisiana Democratic Party who felt abandoned because of Elbert Guillory’s re-enlistment in the GOP; frankly, Louisiana Democrats were relieved. Mr. Guillory’s nasty campaign against the Cravins family, his bizarre and embarrassing comments about science education, his embrace of right-wing lobbying organizations like the Louisiana Family Forum, and the fact that everyone knew he was, actually, a Republican made it practically impossible for him to build any credibility within the Democratic Party.

So, needless to say, it wasn’t too surprising when Mr. Guillory decided to rejoin the Republican Party. But what was surprising, however, was the ways in which Mr. Guillory, the Louisiana Republican Party, and the conservative media attempted to emphasize Mr. Guillory’s race. On the one hand, it’s completely understandable and even commendable that Louisiana Republicans want to reach out to become more inclusive; they recognize that they’ll never be sustainable as a political party in Louisiana if they only appeal to white voters and if they’re only capable of nominating white candidates. And that’s smart of them and ultimately good for the state, no matter what your political affiliation may be.

But if they seriously want to win the hearts and minds of African-American voters, if they want to appeal to people who believe in inclusiveness and diversity, they should beg Elbert Guillory to go back to the Democratic Party.

Only two months after he switched back to the Republican Party, Elbert Guillory has become a spokesman (an “honorary chair”) of a political action committee called Free At Last PAC. And if you visit their website or watch their two online commercials, you’ll likely be under the impression (among other things) that Guillory himself launched this PAC in order to encourage African-Americans to run for office as Republicans. (I have some serious problems with what Guillory says in these online commercials, but I’ll get to that in a second). FoxNews, the Weekly Standard, the Christian Post, and others erroneously reported that Elbert Guillory was the principal of Free at Last PAC.

The truth is, Free At Last PAC (which was obviously named after a famous Negro spiritual) appears to have been created and is now managed by a white conservative political activist and Louisiana Family Forum Vice Chairman, a guy named Derek Babcock. If you closely follow Louisiana politics, you may remember Mr. Babcock. He ran a stupidly mean-spirited (and losing) campaign for State Senate a couple of years ago, and fortunately, his website is still online:

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Presumably, Mr. Guillory, as an honorary chair of this PAC and as an elected official, won’t ever be financially compensated for his voluntary involvement. But it remains unclear whether Mr. Babcock, as director, hopes to draw a salary. Either way, though, Babcock’s PAC seems like a sham.

Here’s how I see it: A politically-connected white guy who serves on the board of the state’s most influential right-wing lobbying organization (an organization that has yet to answer serious questions about its potentially illegal use of tax-deductible donations) recruits Elbert Guillory to record a couple of race-baiting, ahistorical, absurd commercials to help him raise money for his PAC. Together, they make the rounds in the national conservative press, pick up some coverage on Fox, and rack up a few Gs in the bank to pay for their overly-produced charade, all the while never really having to disclose anything to anyone. The fawning conservative media reports this as Elbert Guillory’s attempt at building a support network for African-American Republican candidates, even though PACs cannot, by law, coordinate with candidates, and the rest of the media doesn’t pay much attention at all. Regardless, it raises Elbert Guillory’s statewide and national profile a little bit, and it makes a few white guys some extra cash. From The Washington Times:

“There are dozens of good solid Black Republican candidates out there seeking federal office,” said Free at Last President Derek Babcock. “We’re trying to create a resource for them so that they can compete. It’s time for more Black Republicans to be in congress (sic).”

Elbert Guillory, of course, is not in Congress, and if reports about his intentions are to be trusted, he has no desire to be in Congress; he wants to run for Lieutenant Governor. There are already plenty of examples of how corrupt and exploitable our campaign finance system is, and Free At Last PAC is just another poster child.

Before you watch the commercial, I should warn you: If you care at all about American history, you may be offended. Mr. Guillory comes across as a passionate advocate for those who stopped reading about the struggle for civil rights immediately after the chapter on Abraham Lincoln. He rants about “kings” “taxing the rich,” which he claims inspired the creation of America (and which is totally not true). He talks about black men who receive welfare checks and food stamps while drinking “liquor” on their “front porches” as if their despondency and addictions somehow represent the excesses of government. (Just once, I’d like to hear a white conservative talk about how trust-fund babies who become addicted to cocaine or painkillers represent the excesses of capitalistic complacency).

This isn’t going to get anyone elected to anything, but despite what Mr. Babcock may claim, that was never the point:

If you were able to watch that video, it’s because the United States government funded the creation of the Internet.