Saturday, December 12, 2009

Billboards not part of Nagin campaign - ALSO: Ad hits Landrieu with 'T' word; national arena for mayoral debate

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Author: Gordon Russell and Frank Donze Staff writer

A slew of small billboards that look remarkably like those erected locally by Mayor Ray Nagin's campaign have begun springing up in and around Atlanta and Houston.

They read: "Re-elect Our Mayor" and feature a picture of hizzoner above the slogan: "Let's Keep New Orleans Moving Forward."

But according to both the Nagin campaign and the buyer of the signs -- 54 of them, to be exact -- the ad blitz is a completely independent effort that has no relationship to the campaign.

As a result, the sponsor, Sewerage & Water Board member Ben Edwards , has been able to spend well over the $5,000 that any individual can normally pour into an effort to elect a candidate. In fact, Edwards -- a minister from the 9th Ward -- said he and members of his family have ponied up more than $100,000 so far, and they plan to spend more. Soon, he said, billboards and a radio ad supporting Nagin will be seen and heard in Baton Rouge and in the Memphis, Tenn., area.

Under state law, individuals or groups may spend as much money as they desire on "independent expenditures," defined as those not made in coordination with a political campaign. Anyone who does so is required to file reports with the state showing where the money came from and how it was spent -- a fact that came as a surprise to Edwards , who has not filed any reports.

Edwards appears to have overlooked another campaign law in donating $5,000 to Nagin's war chest recently through a nonprofit he runs, Third Shiloh Housing. Such organizations, which enjoy tax-free status, are prohibited from donating to political campaigns.

Edwards said he was aware of that rule, but unaware that Third Shiloh had cut a check to Nagin, which the mayor reported on his most recent filing. "I need to find out what happened there," Edwards said. "That will be corrected."

Though the similarity of Edwards ' billboards to those posted by Nagin might suggest a collaboration with the campaign, Edwards said he created the images he used independently by scanning one of Nagin's bumper stickers into a computer. The Nagin campaign told a similar story.

"I've never heard of him," said Nagin strategist Jim Carvin of Edwards .

But Nagin certainly has. After a more than a decade on the water board -- which earned Edwards a reputation for meddling with contractors and insisting on the hiring of disadvantaged businesses -- Nagin chose not to replace Edwards or reappoint him to a new term, but to have him serve at the mayor's pleasure.

Edwards ' largesse is impressive, dwarfing even that displayed by shipping magnate Boysie Bollinger, who has funneled $45,000 to Audubon Nature Institute executive Ron Forman's campaign through a raft of companies he controls. The $108,000 Edwards said he has spent so far is about one-fifth of what Nagin reported spending on his own behalf during the first three months of the campaign.

But while Bollinger's riches are well-known, Edwards is a minister in the devastated 9th Ward, where his church, home and other properties he controls were all trashed by Katrina, he said. Edwards said he is working to restore his properties while living in Algiers.

Although Edwards has been on the water board for well over a decade, he was never appointed by Nagin. He was first appointed by Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, and he was then reappointed by Mayor Marc Morial.

Edwards stressed that Nagin has never done him any favors, nor does he expect any in a second Nagin term. He's merely supporting a mayor he thinks has shown courage under fire.

"I think he did a superb job during the storm," Edwards said. "I think he showed leadership like I've never seen before. I'm not getting anything out of this. I just want to make sure we get the right man in office."

. . . . . . .

OFF WITH THE GLOVES: Just in time for Passover and the Easter holiday weekend, the on-air mayoral campaign has gone negative.

The first TV attack ad was launched by Forman against Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, whom Forman repeatedly has described as his friend throughout the race.

The 30-second spot, which began airing Wednesday night, raises questions about Landrieu's support for taxes during his 16 years as a member of the state House, and refers to the low ratings Landrieu received from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

The lone speaker in the ad identifies himself as a small contractor.

"We don't need a mayor who sees taxes as the answer to every problem," the man says as he loads painting supplies into the trunk of his car. "That's not how we rebuild New Orleans." Landrieu, who is leading in most polls, labeled the ad a pathetic attempt to win votes.

"We knew this day was going to come," Landrieu said in a prepared statement. "Ron is running a desperate campaign. Our city doesn't need divisive politics."

A campaign spokeswoman said Landrieu has the support of a coalition of small-business owners and was recognized as a legislator by the Chamber of Commerce as a "business champion."

Viewers who miss the first few seconds will miss the sole hint that the ad was produced by the Forman camp.

Forman does not appear or speak during the spot. His photo and the words "Forman for Mayor" flash on the screen at the outset.

. . . . . . .

COAST TO COAST: In an effort to reach many New Orleanians displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the next televised mayoral debate will be broadcast nationwide, an unprecedented event in the city's history.

WDSU, the local NBC affiliate, has joined hands with its cable parent, MSNBC, to stage a forum that will air both locally and across the county Monday from 7 to 8 p.m.

The joint venture will be co-moderated by WDSU anchor Norman Robinson and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball." The program also will be available for viewing on and

Candidates invited to attend are Forman, Landrieu, Nagin, lawyers Virginia Boulet and Rob Couhig, the Rev. Tom Watson, and former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson.

A related blog post of mine.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Oops, wrong blog.

I guess we won't have a candidate for mayor of Dubai after all. In case you missed it, we can't afford visionary leadership any more than Dubai could.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nagin may go on without Singleton - First offer rejected, second job unlikely

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Saturday, July 6, 2002
Author: Gordon Russell Staff writer

Before proposing a six-figure job for former City Councilman Jim Singleton , Mayor Ray Nagin offered his campaign ally a City Hall position that would have paid roughly $60,000 a year. Singleton spurned the first job offer, a decision he may come to regret if he had his heart set on extending his career in city government. The lower-paying job would not have required approval by the City Council or Civil Service Commission -- unlike the second, a one-year post paying $110,482 that has attracted such stiff opposition on both fronts that Nagin is now talking openly about making do without Singleton on his staff.

In turning down the original offer, Singleton told Nagin that his 24 years as a councilman and deep institutional knowledge of the city budget process meant he was worth more money.

Singleton , who threw his support to Nagin in February after an unsuccessful mayoral bid, said he should be paid in step with other top officials in the new administration, many of whom now draw six-figure salaries.

According to Nagin , Singleton told him: "I can add value to the administration. You’ve already established market rates at this level. And that’s where I think I should be compensated."

The former councilman added that he "could go into the private sector and get a consulting contract and probably make double what’s on the table now," Nagin said.

But Nagin said he doubts the City Council will approve the new, one-year position -- executive assistant for government reorganization/operations -- that he is trying to carve out for Singleton .

Last week, a key council committee deferred action on the new position, along with 14 other jobs. Except for Councilwoman Renée Gill Pratt, none of the council members mentioned Singleton by name in voting to delay action.

But Nagin said more than half of the council members have told him privately that they won’t approve the new position because it’s for Singleton . They cited old political grudges, he said.

To recount a bit of the recent bad blood, Singleton supported the candidates who ran against council members Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Marlin Gusman two years ago. Gusman now chairs the Budget Committee that is delaying action on the job that would be Singleton ’s. Ironically, Gusman took the reins of that committee from Singleton early last year as part of a shift in power on the council.

Political rivalries

Meanwhile, Singleton ’s BOLD political group has long been a rival to the Progressive Democrat organization, of which Pratt is a member. The two groups tangled most recently in the 91st District House race two months ago, in which BOLD-backed Rosalind Peychaud beat Progressive Democrat Jalila Jefferson.

"When you have somebody who is running for a position and someone else puts someone in to run against them and it’s a very negative campaign, they don’t forget that easily," Nagin said. "I think that’s what we’re running into.

"They’re saying ‘Look, when I was running, ( Singleton ) did this . . . He put this candidate in against me.’ And those wounds seem to be fairly fresh."

Nagin called the council’s apparent reluctance to endorse the new job "unfortunate." But at the same time, he doesn’t appear interested in investing much more political capital lobbying for the job. He’s concerned that the controversy over the Singleton spot could hold up his other proposals.

"I’m still going to push, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the other positions," Nagin said. "I think we would move forward with those and then try to clean it up on the back end."

But if the council Budget Committee, the group that last week deferred action on the Singleton position, does not approve the new job at its next meeting, Nagin figures the position might be dead.

"I think if they do that, it would send a strong signal that they’re really not going to pass it," he said.

In an appearance Wednesday on David Tyree’s radio talk show, Nagin sounded like a man ready to quit pleading his case to the City Council.

"I’ve tried everything," he said. "I’ve tried talking to them nicely. I’ve tried talking to them strongly. But they have dug their heels in and basically said, ‘Look, this is inconsistent, Mr. Mayor, with what you’ve been talking about.’ "

Singleton frustrated

Singleton , while saying he doesn’t want to engage in a public back-and-forth with Nagin , seems frustrated that the new mayor has not argued more forcefully on his behalf.

"If he feels that the council should dictate to him his staff, and how it’s set up, and how it works, that’d be the first time I’ve seen a mayor do that," Singleton said. "But if he wants to do it like that, he can.

"If the council doesn’t approve (the new job), that’s the mayor’s problem. I’m going to survive one way or another."

Nagin called the job he initially offered Singleton the "Joe Giarrusso" position.

He was referring to a slot that former Mayor Marc Morial created in 1994 for Giarrusso, like Singleton a longtime councilman and political force in the city. Giarrusso, who also served as police chief for 10 years, became the city’s "criminal justice coordinator" under Morial.

Some political observers criticized that deal, just as many have criticized the Nagin - Singleton proposal, as a textbook example of political payback.

Giarrusso had endorsed Morial in the 1994 mayoral race, helping Morial shore up his share of the white vote. Likewise, Singleton ’s post-primary endorsement of Nagin was key to beefing up Nagin ’s share of the black vote in the general election.

Should the City Council refuse to approve the new position for Singleton , he won’t be able to simply go back and accept the first offer, Nagin said. The position has since been retooled: It now carries the title "commissioner of homeland security," and has a salary of $80,987.

"That’s off the table," Nagin said of the security position. "I need someone who has specific expertise in that area, and he wouldn’t qualify. Unless we can figure out another solution, we’re at a standstill right now."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Persistence pays off for trio behind CBC - Business ventures fell apart in the past

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Author: Martha Carr Staff writer

The third time’s the charm, as the saying goes.

That’s certainly the case with the well-connected trio of Jimmie Woods, Ray Valdes and Burnell Moliere, who for the past two years have been working to craft a new business venture.

It took members of the group, who have formed at least three separate corporations, awhile to land a deal.

But in late December, Community Based Corrections finally inked its first contract, with Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration to provide home monitoring for offenders found guilty in Municipal Court. Although the value of the contract depends on how many offenders are ordered to enroll, the one-year agreement has a cap of $3 million and can be renewed for up to five more years.

Valdes and Woods began their hunt for new public contracts in January 2003, when they incorporated a company called Educational Websites of America. The pair tried to persuade the Jefferson Parish public school system to sell advertisements on the district’s Web site. Under the proposal, the school system could keep 20 percent of the profits, with the remaining 80 percent going to the company.

The idea was quickly dashed by Superintendent Diane Roussel after she sought an opinion from the state attorney general’s office that suggested that by allowing ads on its Web site, the School Board could be creating a public forum. That would make it trickier for the board to restrict advertising on the site, possibly opening up the system to adult advertisements and other inappropriate messages.

So the pair moved on.

Valdes and Woods formed a second company, Nolada LLC, in April 2003, and this time included Moliere’s daughter, Shelley Rainey.

They approached Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan with the same idea that flunked with the Jefferson Parish school system, and they got as far as posting a district attorney’s Web site and selling a few ads.

But when the Web site became public in late January 2004, controversy engulfed Jordan, and the company dismantled the site a few days later.

A state attorney general’s opinion supported the venture in some respects, saying as long as the site was not the official Web site of the district attorney’s office, the owners could decide which ads to post. But the opinion also said there could be legal problems for Jordan if the Web site accepted ads from criminal defense attorneys or if he had to prosecute any of the advertisers.

The group said they hoped to gross $2 million in ad revenue per year, which would have meant $1.6 million in revenue for the company, or a whopping 80 percent piece of the pie.

Meanwhile, Valdes and Woods were already pursing a third venture. This time, with Moliere at the helm, the group had become exclusive agents for a Covington company called ShadowTrack Technologies, a voice-based home-incarceration tracking system. In February 2004, just days after hit the skids, the group made a pitch at an en banc meeting of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges. They had been escorted there by their attorney, Marlin Gusman, who at the time was a New Orleans city councilman. Gusman has since been elected criminal sheriff.

Then last March, Nagin issued a request for proposals for an expansive, government-financed home incarceration system for suitable cases in Municipal and Magistrate courts. Community Based Corrections , despite being the most expensive and lowest-rated bidder, was selected by the mayor for the Municipal Court job, on the condition that the company bring down its prices.

The company did and is now fully engaged in the contract, which started Jan. 1.

Moliere said CBC is actively seeking contracts in other cities and states. He also indicated that he is still interested in working in Erie County, N.Y., despite controversy there about the company’s no-bid contract.

"We are proposing to several state and city governments," Moliere said. "I also plan to attend the National Conference of Black Mayors conference in April of this year in Columbus, Ohio, to further market CBC’s services."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Price no object in N.O. car - removal - City appears to choose top-dollar contract

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Author: James Varney Staff writer

In seeking a contract to remove thousands of flooded and wrecked cars from New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin 's administration recommended that the city go with the highest quoted price for the job, a review of the 14 proposals submitted last year shows.

It appears the chosen proposal, a $1,000-per- car bid from Colorado-based CH2M Hill, was nearly triple the cost of at least three other bids, records show. The gap between CH2M Hill and the other companies cannot be precisely ascertained, because not every proposal included a price, and some of those that did listed tasks that others did not.

It is clear, however, that CH2M Hill's price has remained relatively constant, because administrators confirmed last week that the contract still being finalized would cost approximately $23 million and the number of uninsured junkers still clogging city streets is between 20,000 and 25,000.

That contrasts with $350 per car , the "firm, fixed price," offered by a consortium led by the Shaw Group, which a five-person review committee ranked as the second-best bid, just two points behind CH2M Hill, according to the committee's scoring sheet.

At least two other offers, from Contingency Management Solutions of Metairie and from MWH Global of Denver, were in the same ballpark as Shaw's, records show.

The contract for removing "abandoned and damaged vehicles" is a professional services one, meaning the mayor is not required by law to select the lowest bidder. On the other hand, price was supposed to figure as 20 percent of each proposal's grade, but the committee gave almost every submission the full 20 points in that category, meaning no advantage accrued to the cheaper submissions.

Jack Dupree, president of Southern Scrap Materials Co., which partnered with Shaw, said those curious figures are a warning sign that the contract doesn't pass the smell test.

"Something's not adding up here," he said. "I've never seen so little transparency in a deal, and it's a mystery why, if you've got a price and picked a winner, nothing has been signed. Why haven't they done it at the price CH2M Hill said they could do it for?"

Controversy has begun to swirl around the issue almost seven months after Katrina made thousands of water-stained, abandoned cars as much a symbol of the city's streets as potholes were before the storm. Queries first arose after revelations that a Texas car -crushing company had offered, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to pay the city $100 per junked car . The bid, made informally by K&L Auto Crushers at one of Nagin 's town hall meetings, still stands, although the terms would have to be renegotiated, K&L's Dan Simpson said last week.

Making money

A rarely invoked city ordinance could also pave the way for the rapid and potentially lucrative removal of the vehicular blight, according to some legal experts.

At the original price and with the original estimate of 30,000 flooded cars , K&L's offer would have netted the cash-starved city $3 million. In contrast, the city is proceeding with the CH2M Hill deal, which includes towing, cataloging and storing the cars at an estimated cost of about $23 million, administrators said.

Thus, even at somewhat lower rates, the city would have taken in more than $3 million if it went with K&L or one of the other car -crushing companies that have proposed similar arrangements, according to the State Police.

Meanwhile, as some national conservative pundits pounded Nagin on the topic this week, the administration appeared to circle its wagons. Neither the mayor nor his staffers have answered questions about the car - removal contract in the past few days.

In the face of the Nagin administration's silence, New Orleans City Council members questioned the deal, with some of them saying a costly arrangement makes no sense if feasible money-making ideas are on the table.

"It seems to me it would have made sense to investigate this," said Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt. "If someone was willing to pay us money, why wouldn't we want to do that and save money, too?"

Gill Pratt said she plans to raise the issue at the council's budget committee meeting Thursday.

Slow pace?

Council members also expressed frustration at the protracted pace of events. In an interview last week before the car -crushing offers and proposal discrepancies made headlines, Parking Administrator Richard Boseman estimated it could be another six months from the time the deal is signed before the cleanup is finished, though he held out hope it could be quicker. Either way, it's been too long, Councilman Jay Batt argued.

"To take six more months at least, when maybe we could have the cars off the street right now? That's just ridiculous," he said.

Batt said he's not sure the car -crusher options are solid, given they have been presented informally. Nevertheless, if the Nagin administration were less secretive about its contracting practices, some of this embarrassment might have been avoided, Batt said.

"The mayor is tweaking his contracts while the streets look terrible," he said.

Such comments suggest the pending contract with CH2M Hill, whose press office has also not responded to phone calls, is poised to become another contentious issue between a council and an administration already at odds on a host of post-Katrina spending matters.

More spending matters could arise when the second half of the car job is being considered.

In the short term, the city is simply inking a deal with CH2M Hill to cart off the cars and warehouse them. Future work, on the other hand, will involve a second contract that includes the remediation and recycling of environmentally hazardous materials and then the scrapping of the cars . In theory, the city could make some money back at that point, but the outline of that contract hasn't even been sketched out yet, let alone advertised, officials said.

The holdups on the current contract remain maddeningly vague to some players such as Dupree of Southern Scrap. City officials said they are simply awaiting the green light from FEMA, which could reimburse the city 100 percent of the costs if it approves the contract. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is waiting on paperwork from the city.

Dupree accused the city of shifting the scope of the work and blamed some of the delays on those constant changes.

"The scope of this thing has been changed by the city four or five times already," he said. "This whole thing should be much further along, and we're severely frustrated by what's happened."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pastor's business got big sewer contract - Firm incorporated after work began

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Saturday, May 13, 2006
Author: Gordon Russell Staff writer

A multimillion-dollar subcontract involving the inspection of the city's damaged sewer system was awarded in October to a company organized by a politically active minister who incorporated the firm months after the work began.

State records show the company, Management Construction Consultant Inc., was formed Dec. 20 by Bishop O.C. Coleman of Greater Light Ministries and two of Coleman's associates.

The company was incorporated nearly three months after the firm began sending invoices to Montgomery Watson Harza, the prime contractor overseeing the job for the Sewerage & Water Board. In total, MCCI was given subcontracts worth $2.5 million for work on the city's water and sewer systems.

The company also was a subcontractor on a separate $24 million contract awarded by the city's Department of Public Works to assess the drainage system, according to Sal Mansour, a vice president at Montgomery Watson. Mansour could not provide the amount of that subcontract, and it could not be obtained by The Times-Picayune by the close of business Friday.

Coleman has been a vocal supporter of Mayor Ray Nagin. Nagin said he had "no knowledge" of the subcontracts landed by Coleman, and said he hadn't intervened on the minister's behalf.

"The bishop (Coleman) hangs around City Hall quite a bit and was there before I became elected," Nagin said in an e-mail. "I have never lobbied on behalf of him" or his companies, he said.

Thus far, FEMA has paid only a fraction of the $14 million contract given to Montgomery Watson for the sewer analysis, though the work is complete. A "working document" prepared by FEMA said much of the work performed by subcontractors, including that done by MCCI, is "not eligible for reimbursement" because of a lack of a "clear scope of work."

According to Mansour, most of MCCI's work involved taking off manhole covers to visually assess damage. Records show the company billed between $90 and $106 per hour for such labor.

Mansour of Mongomery Watson said the back-and-forth with FEMA over record-keeping is routine and is likely to be resolved. MCCI, as well as all the other subcontractors, did everything expected of it, he said.

"Unfortunately, this is what it means to work with FEMA," Mansour said. "It's torture."

'A private matter'

How MCCI came to be hired -- given that it didn't exist on paper and still lacks a listed phone number -- is something of a mystery.

Coleman, who was one of a group of African-American ministers to express support for Nagin midway through his first term after the mayor came under fire from another powerful group of black ministers led by Bishop Paul Morton, declined to discuss the contract , calling it a private matter.

"I don't feel I need to explain myself," he said, adding that his lawyers had advised him not to talk to the media.

Mansour said Montgomery Watson largely relied on subcontractors or individuals it had previously done business with, but said he is not sure if MCCI fell into that category.

Mansour said he was not surprised or bothered to learn that MCCI didn't exist on paper at the time it was hired by Montgomery Watson. In the post-Katrina chaos, he said, everyone was focused on getting work done rather than filling out paperwork; in fact, he noted, Montgomery Watson's contract with the S&WB wasn't actually signed until March.

He said he believes someone from MCCI called his company after learning about the contract and offered to help.

"I don't recall how we found them," he said. "We were short on labor, and we tried to go to different places. This company was able to provide us with manpower."

Friendly relationship

The answer may lie in the person of Benjamin Edwards Sr., a longtime member of the water board who also is a politically active minister and a friend of Coleman.

Edwards, who was originally appointed to the water board by former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy -- and who was retained by Barthelemy's successor, Marc Morial -- has long been known for his activism in the board's contracting practices. Nagin has never appointed Edwards, but has allowed him to continue serving even though his term expired in late 2003.

Edwards has long been a staunch advocate for minority-owned businesses getting a fair slice of the board's work. He said he became aware of MCCI's existence last year, but has no relationship with the firm. "I've heard of every company that comes to the Sewerage & Water Board," he said.

Edwards described his relationship with Coleman as friendly, saying Coleman attends services at his 9th Ward ministry, Third Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, about once a year. But they've never done business together, Edwards said.

However, there is a pattern of coincidences between Edwards and Coleman. The two men, or entities they control, donated money in recent months on the same day and in the same amount to both Nagin and several City Council candidates.

In most cases, the donations are listed consecutively on campaign finance forms, suggesting they were received simultaneously.

For instance, City Councilman Oliver Thomas reported receiving $5,000 apiece on March 2 from Coleman's Management Construction Consultant Inc. and Third Shiloh Housing Inc., a nonprofit run by Edwards.

Moreover, Thomas' report notes that both were cashier's checks -- the only two contributions Thomas received that were so designated. The checks bear similar numbers as well, though they are not consecutive.

Nagin, meanwhile, reported receiving $5,000 apiece from the same two firms on March 27. The contributions are not listed consecutively -- Nagin's reports are filed electronically, in alphabetical order. The address Nagin's campaign listed for Third Shiloh, Edwards' nonprofit, is 4948 Chef Menteur Highway. That is the same address MCCI gives as its home base in state corporate filings.

Edwards said he has no idea why a check would have been recorded by the Nagin campaign that way. Nagin adviser David White said the campaign enters the address based on what's listed on the check, but he could not locate the actual checks late Friday.

Another detail shows that many of MCCI's employee time sheets, which were submitted to Montgomery Watson to back up its billing invoices, were signed by a supervisor whose name appears to be "B. Edwards."

Ben Edwards said he did not sign any invoices, and a check of Third Shiloh corporate documents he has signed shows a signature that is not similar to his. Coleman would not say who "B. Edwards" was. He referred questions to a cousin, who also said he did not have the answers.

Edwards said he does not know who "B. Edwards" is but said it is not his son, Benjamin Edwards Jr., who he said is a financial adviser based in Atlanta. Edwards added that he has "400 or 500 relatives" and does not know of any who work for MCCI. But he said he couldn't be sure that none did, either.

Independent spending

In total, MCCI has given Nagin's campaign $10,000, while Third Shiloh Housing Inc. has kicked in another $5,000 to the mayor's war chest. Neither firm has donated to Nagin's runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

Edwards has acknowledged that the contributions from Third Shiloh, which is exempt from federal taxes, violates the housing group's nonprofit charter, which prohibits it from making political donations. He said he has asked some of the candidates who received the checks to return the money as a result.

White, Nagin's treasurer, said Edwards asked the campaign Thursday to return his $5,000 contribution because of the violation. White said he planned to send the money back, and noted that it's not the candidate's job to determine whether a corporation making a contribution is violating its tax-free status.

Even with his money being returned, Edwards has gone well beyond the traditional cap of $5,000 on individual donations to help Nagin's re-election campaign.

Last month, Edwards said he and other family members had spent more than $100,000 on pro-Nagin billboards in Atlanta, Houston and other hubs of Katrina evacuees. He said he planned to sponsor radio ads outside the city as well. By Friday, Edwards said his family's efforts had topped $171,000, and would exceed $200,000 by the May 20 runoff.

Nagin has raised only about $500,000 on his own behalf since Jan. 1.

"It's been a good run, and it's not over with yet," Edwards said. "I haven't spent this kind of money and been this excited about a race since I ran a campaign in 1985. I'm very excited about the direction this city is heading. I'm excited about the mayor and what he's doing."

Such spending is allowed under state law provided it is "independent," meaning the person or group paying for the ads does not collude or coordinate with the campaign. Both Edwards and Nagin campaign staffers said there has been no coordination between the two camps.

Under state law, individuals or groups who engage in such "independent expenditures" are required to file reports with the state showing where the money came from and how it was spent. Edwards said last month he was not aware of that law. He said Friday, however, that he planned to visit the state Ethics Commission, which supervises campaign-finance laws, to clarify the situation.

Edwards stressed that his strong backing of Nagin springs not from any sense of debt to the mayor but from a strong feeling that Nagin is the right man for the job.

Edwards also said he has spent about $700,000 of his own money since the storm offering rental assistance and free gutting to homeowners around the 9th Ward.

"My character and integrity speaks for itself," he said.

Edwards said he was able to bankroll the nearly $1 million cost of supporting both Nagin and his neighbors through a combination of hard work and wise investments.

In a long career at BellSouth, Edwards said he racked up thousands of hours of overtime, in part by working storm-damage details. After he left, he said, he formed a company called Edwards Telecommunications that was "very successful." Since then, the money has continued to accrue because of sound investments, he said.