When Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) legal counsel Floyd Falcon defended political contributions in the 2015 gubernatorial campaign by LSTA, he cited a 1992 legal precedent which he said permitted the activity.
Apparently he had not counted on being outmaneuvered by a retired state trooper who was perfectly able to do his own legal research to counter Falcon’s argument at last week’s hearing before the State Police Commission.
Several retired state troopers, represented by spokesman Scott Perry, a retired captain with 26 years’ experience with LSP, appeared before the commission on Thursday (Jan. 14) to voice objections to the funneling of LSTA funds through its executive director David Young.
Perry was joined by retired Lt. Leon Millet who said more than $45,000 in political contributions were made without the knowledge or consent of the LSTA membership and that the action appeared to be a violation of the state constitution and State Police Commission regulations.
Perry, on Friday, followed his Thursday verbal request for an investigation with a written request. “Please accept this correspondence as a formal request pursuant to State Police Commission Rule ‘Chapter 16, Investigations,’” he wrote. Perry asked that the commission “investigate the allegation of Prohibited Political Active, 14.2 (A) (1), 14.2 (A) (4), 14.2 (A) (8), in regards to political endorsements and contributions.
“This request is made specifically against classified members of the Office of State Police acting in their capacity as elected officers of the Louisiana State Troopers Association.”
Following Perry’s address to the commission on Thursday, Falcon told the commission it had no authority to investigate LSTA because it is a private organization not subject to oversight by the commission.
Commission members agreed but pointed out that it is empowered to investigate illegal or questionable activity by individual state troopers. The commission is the equivalent of the Louisiana Civil Service Commission which serves the dual purpose of protecting the rights of state employees and investigating illegal or improper activities by state employees.
Falcon cited the 1992 case of Cannatella vs. the New Orleans Department of Civil Service. In that case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal overturned a 30-day suspension handed down to police Sgt. Ronald Cannatella for violation of a city civil service rule prohibiting political activity. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=718580336782666189&q=cannatella+v.+department+of+civil+service&hl=en&as_sdt=8000006&as_vis=1
Cannatella was president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) in January 1990 when PANO decided to endorse a candidate for mayor. PANO had polled its membership beforehand and Cannatella subsequently appeared at a public forum to announce the endorsement. The appellate court noted that Cannatella believed he was acting “pursuant to what he believed was a function of his position as the president of PANO.”
The court said that while the prohibition against political activity is “exclusively limited to commissioners and classified civil service employees and officers,” the prohibition “does not extend to a labor organization such as PANO, or its spokesperson, merely because its members are classified civil service employees.”
No sooner was Falcon finished citing the Cannatella case than Perry, who now works as an investigator for the Office of Inspector General, was on his feet. Perry presented a copy of a 2001 ruling by a three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. The ruling he held, while not a legal precedent, nevertheless differed significantly with the Cannatella case and was identical to the circumstances of the LSTA action.
In the case of Kenner Police Department vs. Kenner Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board, five officers who signed off on a contribution check in their capacity as members of the executive board of the city police association were fired.
In the opinion written by Judge Clarence McManus, the Fifth Circuit said that while Cannatella held that members of PANO had the right to endorse a candidate without exposing the members to penalties under the civil service laws, “…Cannatella is not controlling or binding on this court, as counsel for appellants seems to suggest.”
It said Cannatella is distinguishable because it involved a different statute governed by a different provision of the constitution. “In this case the appellants are indeed classified civil service employees. Therefore, the prohibition against political activity clearly applies to them,” the decision said. But, the court noted, the officers claimed they did not individually make any campaign contributions, but rather PACK did. (PACK is an acronym for Police Association for the City of Kenner.)
The court said the appellants’ assertion that the contribution and endorsement were actions taken by PACK and not the fire appellants individually “is simply untenable. As for the contention that being members of a labor union exempts them from any and all responsibility under the civil service laws, we find this argument unpersuasive. To allow the appellants to do indirectly through the union or an association that which they cannot do directly as classified civil service employees will permit them to circumvent the statute’s prohibition.” (Emphasis ours)
The civil service board held that the campaign contribution check “was personal action taken by the officers individually, and not an action of the association,” said the appellate court in upholding their termination. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/la-court-of-appeal/1285153.html
LouisianaVoice broke the story of the LSTA contributions on December 9. http://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/
In the LSTA case, Young acknowledged that he made the contributions in his name and was subsequently reimbursed by the organization.
In a statement that would seem to conflict with LSTA’s own legal counsel’s argument, Young said there were questions about the ability of state employees making political contributions. “So in order to avoid any of that,” he told the Advocate, “if I make a contribution as a non-state employee, there could never be a question later that a state employee made a contribution.”
Except there now are questions. Commission Vice Chairman W. Lloyd Grafton of Ruston observed that it “almost makes me think there was something suspect here because of the check writing. Why wouldn’t the association have made the contribution? It looks like someone was trying to circumvent something.”
Prior to that date, on Dec. 4, LouisianaVoice broke another story that State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson attempted to prevail upon the LSTA board to write a letter to then Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards endorsing Edmonson for reappointment to lead state police for another four years.
On Nov. 30, the board voted unanimously not to write the letter. Edwards subsequently reappointed Edmonson anyway, largely on the strength of the endorsement of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana Police Chiefs’ Association.
Edmonson twice denied that he had requested the LSTA board’s endorsement but LSTA Interim President Stephen LaFargue confirmed to LouisianaVoice, also on two separate occasions, that Edmonson asked him about the prospects of LSTA sending a letter to Edwards asking that Edmonson be reappointed.
“Col. Edmonson attended the board meeting and he told me he was going to apply for reappointment,” LaFargue said. “He then asked about the possibility of the LSTA board writing a letter of endorsement. I told him I didn’t know, that it would have to be taken up by the board.” Because of questions raised by LouisianaVoice, the board subsequently agreed unanimously not to write the letter to Edwards.
A meeting summary of a Troop I (Lafayette) affiliate meeting noted that LaFargue also “took responsibility” for the LSTA’s endorsement of Edwards in the Nov. 21 runoff election against U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Edwards defeated Vitter by a 60-40 percentage point margin.
Edwards also was one of several candidates who received contributions from LTSA. Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo told the Baton Rouge Advocate last Thursday that the governor had no knowledge that Young was reimbursed by LSTA and that Edwards would return the $8,000 received from LSTA through Young “if the contributions were made improperly.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14574305-124/head-of-state-police-group-says-nothing-wrong-with-his-political-donations-gov-edwards-said-he-will
Louisiana State Police Commission Chapter 14 to which Perry referred specifically says that no member of State Police shall:
- Participate or engage in political activity, including, but not limited to, any effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or support or oppose a particular political party in an election;
- Make or solicit contributions for any political purpose, party, faction, or candidate;
- Directly or indirectly, pay or promise to pay any assessment, subscription, or contribution for any political party, faction or candidate, nor solicit or take part in soliciting any such assessment, subscription or contribution, and no person shall solicit any such assessment, subscription or contribution of any classified employee in the State Police Service.
So in the end, we have:
- State police officers who comprise the LSTA board making a political endorsement in direct contravention of rules and regulations.
- The Superintendent of State Police leaning on the LSTA board in an effort to get the board to send the new governor a letter endorsing him for reappointment.
- The executive board of the LSTA, comprised of state police officers under the jurisdiction of the State Police Commission making the decision to make more than $45,000 in political contributions—contributions that were laundered through its non-state employee executive director—by the director’s own admission, and without bothering to poll its membership for approval.
All three of which were in violation of State Police Commission regulations.