Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jindal Campaign Admits Campaign Finance Law Violation

Well, it's clear now why there's been no mention of campaign finance reform in the vaunted Jindal ethics package.

Seems like the new governor's campaign was — in that great Republican tradition — trampling Louisiana's campaign finance laws at the same time the then-candidate was blathering about the essential need for ethics reform in our state.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reported tonight that Jindal's campaign has admitted that it failed to report more than $100,000 assistance it got from the Louisiana Republican Party:
Gov. Bobby Jindal faces state ethics charges for failing to timely disclose more than $100,000 in campaign aid he received from the state Republican Party.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics ordered a public hearing to explore charges that Jindal and his governor’s campaign committee violated the state’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.

Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s chief of staff, said Thursday night that Jindal would pay the fine.

Jindal failed to “accurately disclose in-kind contributions” from the state GOP, according to a Tuesday letter notifying Jindal of the reporting problem.

The Advocate on Thursday obtained a copy of the letter.

Jindal was flying to Washington, D.C., according to his press secretary, Melissa Sellers, who said he could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jindal campaign accountant William Potter of Baton Rouge said a mistake was made.

“We are not trying to deny anything,” said Potter. “It’s an error.”
According to The Advocate, Jindal's campaign will suffer the indignity of a $2,500 fine for hiding the $100,000 in party money that was spent during the summer of 2007. The Associated Press also has a story on the Jindal campaign finance violations.

Jindal's ethics task force was silent on the matter of campaign finance reform in the report it submitted to the new Governor just days after his inauguration, where he again proclaimed his intention to make Louisiana's ethics laws the best in the country.

What this violation makes clear is that ethics reform without campaign finance reform is a scam. The fact that campaigns can routinely violate the state campaign finance laws and yet suffer nothing worse than a token fine makes violating a winning proposition.

Case in point: Lafayette-area Republican Representative Don Trahan hid more than $23,000 in excess PAC contributions to his re-election campaign, listing them as "individual gifts." Trahan won a tough re-election campaign over independent Nancy Landry by only 33 votes. No doubt, that illegal PAC money helped put Trahan over the top.

Trahan's campaign blamed "an inexperience staffer" for the "error." Trahan, though, will get to keep his seat despite the fact that he won it with illegal money.

There is no deterrent in current law for well-funded campaigns to thumb their noses at the campaign finance laws of this state. They break the law, say they're sorry, take a slap on the wrist and keep their ill-gotten office.

Another key point which The Advocate article points out is the role that citizens play in enforcing campaign finance and other ethics laws in this state:
Potter said the problem didn’t come to light until a news report alleged that advertising the Republican Party did for the Jindal campaign wasn’t being reported.

Chris Stow-Serge, a New Orleans public high schoolteacher with Democratic ties, said he had filed the complaint.
The Shreveport Times produced an excellent post-campaign series on the Louisiana State Board of Ethics and how our laws and the board compare with those in other states. One glaring problem is the small, under-funded staff on our board.

With this situation, it falls to citizens to do the discovery and present claims to the Ethics Board and its staff.

Citizen Chris Stow-Serge's actions show the way for the rest of us.

Be the campaign finance law enforcement you want to see — at least, until Jindal and his Republican friends decide to measure of the standards they set and include real campaign finance reform in the the call for the so-called "Ethics" special session.

If campaign finance reform — with real penalties for scofflaws like Don Trahan and the LCRM (more coming soon) — is not included in the call for that special session, Jindal's rhetoric will have been proven empty and he will be discredited on his central issue in his first month in office.


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