by Elliott Stonecipher
Since 2007, it has been one of my passions to explain how the enforcement of state governmental ethics laws was eviscerated by Governor Jindal and our legislature in their 2008 “ethics reform” ruse.
As a pro bono consultant to the last real Louisiana Ethics Board, I watched and understood how that “ethics gold standard” political op – born of Governor Jindal’s blind political ambition – virtually negated the very purpose of our ethics regime. This article I wrote in 2013 includes a bit of pertinent data.
The latest chapter in this work is assisting a premiere team of Louisiana journalists as they contribute their exemplary labor and skill to this cause.
Investigative journalist Lee Zurik of New Orleans’ WVUE-TV, along with Times-Picayune / NOLA.com enterprise editor Manuel Torres, are now deep into their series of reports entitled Louisiana Purchased, a 2013 winner of the prestigious George Peabody Award. The series has focused on unethical, and in some cases garishly illegal, violations by public officials who use campaign contributions as slush money for payment of personal expenses.
The latest installment in the team’s work was simultaneously released last evening on WVUE’s 10:00 PM news, and on the Times-Picayne’s NOLA.com website. (SEE the WVUE report here, and the NOLA.com story here.)
Please take a few minutes of watching and reading to honor this team’s exemplary work. It is this work to which we may compare the absence of such investigative journalism in so many other places and cases.
Although many elected officials are not violators of related laws, far too many are, and no effective prosecution of illegal practices is any longer possible from and by our Ethics Administration. In fact, this law-breaking is, I strongly believe, the stuff of criminal, not civil, law prosecution.
In that context, it is the IRS, I believe, which should and must take the work of the Louisiana Purchased team and determine how much of this campaign contribution slush money is actually untaxed personal income. That point is now woven into the team’s work.
Were there to be a concentrated series of related investigations and prosecutions, much of this law-breaking, and accompanying erosion of public confidence, would cease. Perhaps, in fact, such has begun in the federal investigation of such “double-dipping” by State Representative Joe Harrison. In any case, the joining of the IRS with the FBI seems a near bullet-proof investigative combo.
I thank the Louisiana Purchased team. It is an honor to be in any way involved in their work on behalf of Louisiana citizens.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.