Friday, February 8, 2008

Jindal Campaigns for 'Ethics' in Lafayette with Finance Law-breaker Trahan at His Side

Governor Jindal might be the smartest guy in some rooms, but a sense of irony is apparently completely missing in the man.

Jindal brought his ethics campaign road show to Lafayette on Thursday. The new governor made an impassioned plea against "special interests" and others who drown out the voices of ordinary people in the political process.

Standing at Jindal's right hand in a Baton Rouge Advocate photo in Friday's edition was none other than Republican District 31 Rep. Don Trahan who, it has been revealed, used more than $23,000 in illegal contributions from political action committees (PACs) to secure his 33-vote win in the October primary.

Jindal has studiously avoided making substantive campaign finance reform part of the special session on ethics that he called and which will begin on Sunday. He gets downright antsy when the discussion turns towards campaign finance reform, probably owing to the fact that his own campaign has admitted to violations of state campaign finance laws.

Jindal is resisting making personal payment on the fine. Instead, Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister, who was Treasurer for Jindal's campaign, has said he will pay the fine.

That matter itself is raising ethical issues as this article in Thursday's Times Picayune about an exchange during a Legislative Joint Governmental Affairs Committee demonstrates:
Third-party payments

One of the sharpest exchanges came when House Speaker Pro-Tem Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, questioned whether "third parties" such as campaign treasurers should be allowed to pay ethics penalties that are assessed to a candidate or a campaign committee.

The question appeared directly aimed at Jindal's admitted failure to make timely disclosure of $118,000 in Republican Party contributions, which faces a July hearing before the Board of Ethics. Jindal's campaign treasurer, publisher Rolfe McCollister, has offered to pay a $2,500 fine to settle the matter.

"How do we permit a third party to pay a fine for me? That seems totally inconsistent with good ethics," Carter said.

When Waguespack said the administration will not be offering a bill during the session to ban such third-party payments, Carter said she would file one herself.
In yet another bit of irony, McCollister -- whose offer to pay Jindal's campaign finance penalty is raising ethical questions -- is also head of Believe in Louisiana, the newly-formed group of Jindal backers who are airing commercials across the state calling for support for Jindal's ethics package. For all their claims of transparency, Believe in Louisiana does not provide a list of officers, nor has it published a list of contributors. It was set up as a 527 — a political issues interest group, but not a PAC -- so it falls outside the coverage of Louisiana's campaign finance laws, meaning (among other things) there are no limits on the size of contributions that can be made to this group.

That Jindal would allow Don Trahan to stand next to him while he pitched his ethics package in Lafayette demonstrates a certain obtuseness about the role of campaign finance reform in ethics reform. Perhaps that's understandable coming as it did from a man whose campaign for governor reported raising more than $12 million, including direct contributions from corporations doing business or seeking to do business with the state government he now heads.

The Advocate article on his Lafayette stop contained this passage, quoting Jindal:
He said that, while special interests have lobbyists to push their concerns with state legislators, the people of the state do not.

Jindal called on people from around the state to call and e-mail legislators to support the ethics package and to go to Baton Rouge to push their legislators to support it.

“The reality is this is going to be a hard fight,” he said.

“Don’t kid yourselves.”
Those special interest lobbyists are also the people who direct the PAC money that pushed Trahan over the top, both in the amount of PAC money he received and in his race against independent challenger Nancy Landry. They were business PACs — the same sources that supported Jindal's campaign.

If Jindal's ethics push is to be taken seriously, he's going to have to come to grips with the fact that the only way to truly end the "pay to play" era in Louisiana politics is to tackle campaign finance reform. That will mean penalties with teeth for blatant violations like those of Trahan and his campaign. That will also mean banning direct corporate contributions to political campaigns.

If he can't deliver real reform on his signature issue, that's going to mean much bigger trouble for other initiatives down the road.

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