Apparently Arkansas has ethics laws that are a bit stronger than those in Louisiana.
Lt. Gov. Mark Darr announced last week that he will resign, effective Feb. 1, in a move to avoid impeachment by the Arkansas House of Representatives after he was fined for 11 separate counts that included his personal use of more than $30,000 in campaign funds.
Earlier this year, Democratic State Sen. Paul Bookout also resigned after he was fined $8,000 by the State Ethics Commission for using thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal purchases.
In that case, reports totaling more than 35 pages revealed that Bookout spent more than $5,000 alone on clothes and accessories at a Jonesboro, Ark., clothing store.
And then there is Martha Shoffner, the Democratic State Treasurer who resigned last May under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans and who was arrested the following month on 14 counts, including receipt of a bribe and extortion—not quite the same thing as using campaign funds for personal purposes, though we do have a legislator who awarded a $4 million contract to a firm when he was head of a state agency only to resign and go to work for the firm within weeks of signing off on the contract. He apparently continues to represent the company even while now serving in the legislature.
The personal use of campaign funds, while a common practice among Louisiana politicians, is apparently frowned upon in Arkansas to such an extent that even Darr’s fellow Republicans urged him to resign in the wake of his ethics problems.
Darr signed a letter on Dec. 30 in which he agreed to pay the Ethics Commission $11,000 in fines and to reimburse the state for findings in a legislative audit, which said he improperly spent $3,500 on his state credit card and then filed for an equal amount in travel reimbursements.
Remember back on Feb. 10, 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 1 into law which, among other things, banned legislators and other state officials from contracting with the state?
SB-1, which became Act 2 with Jindal’s signature, was the centerpiece of the new governor’s agenda (he had been in office little more than a month at the time). “Today, we take the first step towards building a better Louisiana where our ethics laws are the gold standard,” he boasted as he signed the bill.
Well, not so much, it turns out.
Jindal’s “gold standard” removed enforcement from the State Ethics Board and gave it to some creature called the Ethics Adjudicatory Board whereby ethics cases are now heard by administrative law judges. Enforcement became such a joke that 10 ethics board members, including its chairman and vice-chairman resigned in disgust.
Today, we have a Teach for America (TFA) director serving on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which administers funding for TFA, the BESE president voting on charter school matters while his sister serves as director of the state charter school association, another BESE member whose company has a multi-million contract with another state agency; a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors voting to turn over operations of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Hospital in Monroe to a foundation which he serves as CEO.
And worse, no one in a position to take appropriate action appears to want to step up to the plate.
Apparently, that “gold standard” in Louisiana means whoever has the gold sets the standard.
Campaign funds in Louisiana appear to serve as a handy slush fund for legislators who use the money for any purpose they wish—even, in one case, to pay a legislator’s federal income taxes not once, but for four straight years.
Take for example the Louisiana Election Code (Title 18:1505.2-I, paragraph 36 on page 36): “No candidate, political committee, person required to file reports under this chapter, nor any other person shall use a contribution, loan, or transfer of funds to pay a fine, fee or penalty imposed (by the State Ethics Board.)”
Yet The Louisiana Board of Ethics web page lists dozens of individual occasions in which ethics fines were paid with campaign funds. Some of these were paid by political action committees (The Alliance for Good Government paid $1,600 from its campaign funds and the Better Government Political Action Committee paid $5,000 from its campaign funds), some by lobbyists and these, by current or former legislators:
- Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville)—$2,600 (two fines);
- Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport)—$2,000;
- Former House Speaker Charles DeWitt (D-Alexandria)—$5,000;
- Former Rep. Tom McVea (R-St. Francisville)—$720;
- Former Sen. Walter Boasso (D-Chalmette)—$1,000;
- Former Rep. Irma Muse Dixon (D-New Orleans)—$600;
- Former Rep. Dale Sittig (D-Eunice)—$800;
- Former Sen. Joel Chaisson, II (D-Destrehan)—$5,000 (two fines);
- Sen. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston)—$1,000.
But the real eye-opener is the list of more than 50 legislators and former legislators who had expenditures for LSU athletic season and individual game tickets, New Orleans Saints, Sugar Bowl, Jazz/Pelican and NCAA event tickets and in some cases, vehicle leases (including Senate President John Alario, who leased a Jaguar for his use) and gasoline purchases and even federal income tax payments. Here are a few examples of current members of the House and Senate who have dipped into campaign funds to pay for athletic event tickets that total more than $500,000 (car leases, gasoline, travel, parking and other personal expenditures are in parenthesis):
- Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans)—$12,200 in 2009, 2011 and 2012 (Abramson also spent an additional $13,563 on legislative travel, airline tickets, Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras events and hotel fees in New York);
- Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego)—$88,441 in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 on athletic and Jazz Fest tickets, $62,365 in auto lease payments from 2009 through 2012 (Jaguar), another $12,000 for fuel, more than $16,000 in meals during that same time frame, more than $10,000 on entertainment, $13,840 in rent for his Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge; $1,200 for cable TV for his Pentagon Barracks apartment;
- Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia)—$9,142 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. James Armes, III (D-Leesville)—$11,688 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans)—$3,000 in 2011;
- Rep. John Berthelot (R-Gonzales)—$7,770, all in 2011;
- Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville)—$10,798 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Thomas Carmody, Jr. (R-Shreveport)—$11,556 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans)—$3,738 in 2009 and 2010;
- Sen. Norbert Chabert (R-Houma)—$3,015 in 2010;
- Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero)—$25,026 (Connick also paid $5,073 in lease payments for an Infiniti automobile in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and also paid $2,107 for lodging at the Baton Rouge Hilton Hotel;
- Rep. George Cromer (R-Slidell)—$14,228 in 2008 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Cromer also paid $1,709 to the Sandestin Hilton on Aug. 3, 2008, for a Louisiana Forestry Association meeting and eight days later paid himself $1,500 for “expenses Hilton Hotel—hotel $969, mileage $285 and food and drink $250” and he paid $1,254 to the Hilton Washington for expenses for the Washington Mardi Gras in January of 2009. He also paid two New Orleans hotels a combined $1,141 for lodging for a legislative retreat and for a freshman retreat. He also paid himself a $500 cash advance for that 2009 Washington Mardi Gras;
- Rep. Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria)—$2,750 in 2011 (Dixon also paid $1,593.26 out of his campaign funds for hotel bills in Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago.);
- Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles)—$1,500 in 2008 (he paid another $10,500 in rent for a Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge);
- Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge)—$6,394 in 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe)—$11,106 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
- House Speaker Charles Kleckley (R-Lake Charles)—$17,492 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte)—$11,316 in 2009, 2020 and 2011;
- Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie)—$69,529 from 2002 through 2012 (Martiny also spent $12,351 on travel and another $12,976 for rent and furniture for his Pentagon Barracks apartment in Baton Rouge);
- Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans)—$8,043 in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City)—$2,735 in 2009;
- Sen. Dan Morrish (R-Jennings)—$2,978 in 2009;
- Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell)—$20,660;
- Sen. Jonathan Perry (R-Kaplan)—$16,653 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula)—$5,900, all in 2011;
- Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux)—$2,678 in 2009;
- Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)—$2,000 (Riser spent an additional $8,138.84 in 2012 for his personal vehicle, another $6,656.86 for fuel for the vehicle, $1,013.67 to Riser & Son Funeral home—his business—in Columbia for reimbursement for purchase of an I-Pad, and $1,005.72 for insurance coverage on his truck;
- Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette)—$19,756 in 2004, 2005, 2006 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012;
- Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington)—$1,708 in 2009;
- Sen. Gary Smith (R-Gonzales)—$14,952 in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge)—$5,238 in 2008 and 2009;
- Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport)—$6,100 in 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero)—$8,448 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
- Rep. Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur)—$11,386 in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012;
- Sen Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie)—$7,466 in 2007, 2009 and 2011;
- Rep. Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley)—1,010 in 2010;
- Sen. Kevin Pearson (R-Sulphur)—$3.010, all in 2010;
- Rep. Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa)—$810 in 2005;
- Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport)—$8,075 in 2011 and 2012 (Seabaugh also spent $1,309.74 for a hotel stay for an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Baton Rouge in 2011;
- Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)—$11,958 in 2009, 2010 and 2011(Thompson also paid $3,456 for hotel rooms on three trips to Sandestin Beach Golf Resort in 2009, 2010 and 2012, ;$11,958 in gasoline and auto insurance for those same years and $2,725 in dues to the Delhi Country Club and the Black Bear Golf Course. Even more curious, he $11,367 from his campaign funds for his federal income taxes for the years 2008 through 2011;
- Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)—$1,785;
- Sen. Bodi White (R-Central)—$5,858 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (White also spent $2,543 on hotel stays in Destin, Fla., and in Washington, D.C. and another $1,398 on air travel to Phoenix and Atlanta;
Former Rep. Noble Ellington who spent $32,380 of his campaign funds since 2007 on athletic event tickets, more than $8,000 of which was spent in 2011 when he did not seek re-election. He spent another $40,755 in rent payments for his Pentagon Barracks apartment and another $2,400 attending meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), of which served as national president during his last year in office.
Ellington, within weeks of leaving office, was named the second in command at the Louisiana Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year, a position which will greatly enhance his retirement benefits at the same time Gov. Jindal is asking state employees to work longer, pay more in employee contributions and accept fewer benefits.
Other former legislators who found no problem soliciting campaign contributions from supporters and to use the money for LSU athletic tickets and other personal expenditures included:
- Former Rep. Bobby Badon (D-Carencro)—$8,448 in 2008, 2010 and 2011;
- Former Rep. Damon Baldone (R-Houma)—$8,865 in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011;
- Former Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Meaux)—$3,060 in 2010;
- Former Rep. Walker Hines (R-New Orleans)—$5,688 in 2010;
- Former Sen. Mike Michot (R-Lafayette)—$14,797 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Former Sen. Rob Marionneaux (D-Maringouin)—$6,075 in 2010 and 2011;
- Former Rep. Billy Montgomery (R-Bossier City)—$4,075 in 2011 (Montgomery has not served in the legislature since 2008.);
- Former Rep. Ricky Templet (R-Gretna)—$8,638 in 2009, 2010 and 2011;
- Former Rep. Ernest Wooton (R-Belle Chasse)—$4,755 in 2009 and 2011;
- Former Rep. Troy Hebert (D-Jeanerette)—$10,425 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (Hebert also $1,505.70 for lodging at a Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and $691.80 on an airline flight to Washington in 2010, and $500 at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, which he listed as a “donation” in 2011;
- Former Rep. Nickie Monica (R-Metairie)—$9.670 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;
Some of the current and former legislators listed their expenditures as “donations,” but the “donations” often were in multiples of $1,010: $1,010, $2,020 and $3,030, which correspond to the price of LSU tickets. Interestingly, other legislators listed identical amounts, but their reports said the expenditures were to purchase LSU tickets which would seem to make the donations claim appear somewhat duplicitous.
And apparently there is no inclination—or desire—on the part of the legislature to enact appropriate legislation to keep such rampant abuses in check.
Rank indeed has its privileges.
And what Louisiana’s legislators get away with is pretty damned rank.