In anticipation of legislative passage and voter approval of Senate Bill 76, state agency heads have already begun setting up “volunteer” payroll deductions that would enable classified state employees to contribute to the campaigns of political candidates.
SB 76, by State Sen. Ryan Gatti (R-Bossier City) would greatly change the landscape of statewide political campaigns by allowing state classified employees, historically barred from political activity, to participate in and contribute to political campaigns.
The bill, which calls for a constitutional amendment, would need approval of two-thirds of the House (70 votes) and the Senate (26) as well as approval of a simple majority of Louisiana voters—with the emphasis being on “simple.”
The current provisions of the Louisiana Constitution say this about political activity by classified employees:
Article X. Public Officials and Employees. Part I. State and City Civil Service. § 9. Prohibitions Against Political Activities
Section 9. (A) Party Membership; Elections. No member of a civil service commission and no officer or employee in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity; be a candidate for nomination or election to public office except to seek election as the classified state employee serving on the State Civil Service Commission; or be a member of any national, state, or local committee of a political party or faction; make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate; or take active part in the management of the affairs of a political party, faction, candidate, or any political campaign, except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately, to serve as a commissioner or official watcher at the polls, and to cast his vote as he desires.
(B) Contributions. No person shall solicit contributions for political purposes from any classified employee or official or use or attempt to use his position in the state or city service to punish or coerce the political action of a classified employee.
(C) Political Activity Defined. As used in this Part, “political activity” means an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or to support a particular political party in an election. The support of issues involving bonded indebtedness, tax referenda, or constitutional amendments shall not be prohibited.
The Louisiana State Police Association and three members of the State Police Commission are the only ones exempted from those prohibitions.
The restrictions were put in place by Gov. Sam H. Jones (1940-1944) as a means of preventing Huey Long’s political allies from using the favored “deduct box” withholdings as a means of keeping them in power. They remained in place during the term (1944-1948) of Jones’s successor, Jimmie H. Davis but were abolished when Huey’s brother, Earl K. Long, was elected in 1948. The constraints on political activity were not reinstated until Davis’s second term (1960-1964.
Now, a half-century later, state classified employees will apparently again be free to openly support the candidates of their choice—or at least the candidates of their agency heads’ choice. At the same time, however, Gatti’s bill makes it clear that the prohibition against classified employees seeking office remains unchanged.
A memorandum leaked to LouisianaVoice spells out the scenario whereby state classified employees may set up payroll deductions to political candidates.
Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2016 6:12 PM
To: Dept. of [Redacted]
Subject: RE: Political activity
Approval of Senate Bill 76 by Sen. Gatti appears to be on the fast track for approval by the Louisiana Legislature. If approved as expected, state classified employees will no longer be encumbered by unfair restrictions on political activity. Instead, you will enjoy the freedom to express your political sentiments the same as any other Louisiana citizen.
Moreover, you will be free to provide financial support to the candidate(s) of your choice once the bill is voted into law.
In the expectation of your political emancipation, a process is being set up whereby you, as a state employee, will be empowered to authorize payroll deductions to political candidates on the local, state and national level.
For those who equate this to the old “deduct box” system of the Huey Long era as alluded to by a political blogger who shall remain unnamed, please be assured this is not the case at all. In fact, the new payroll contribution system will be officially known as the “Giving Opportunity to Taste Governmental Activity Satisfaction” (GOTGAS).
To be completely fair, the system will be set up initially with mandatory deductions of $1 per pay period per classified employee for each incumbent legislator and each incumbent statewide elected official. That will amount to “volunteer” contributions of $151 every two weeks, a small sacrifice to make to ensure continued good government. You will be happy to know that in addition to contributions from lobbyists, PACs, state contractors and other political hangers-on, all incumbents will receive an additional $1.5 million per year, or $6 million for a four-year term of office, thanks to your generosity.
You will be pleased to know that this will allow legislators and the seven statewide elected officials to purchase even more expensive meals at the finest restaurants, to stay in better hotel rooms while on travel, to lease more luxurious automobiles, to pay ethics fines (on the rare occasions they are imposed), to pay income taxes, and, of course, to purchase even more LSU, Saints and Pelicans season tickets for their friends.
These mandatory voluntary contributions will begin immediately and you can see the deductions reflected in your next online pay stub.
As always, thank you for your continued dedication to helping move Louisiana forward.
Yes, folks, it’s April 1.