The deliberate wrecking of ethics law enforcement by Governor Bobby Jindal and a few legislative leaders is now breeding even more unethical behavior – and legal cover for it – by Louisiana public officials who are so inclined. A case in point is outlined in Alison Bath’s Shreveport Times story this morning.
(To those in the state and national news media who know the background of this story, please bear with me as I present this summary to a group of new readers.)
In 2007 and 2008, I enthusiastically worked as a (pro bono) consultant to the “old” Louisiana Ethics Board. The Board was then chaired by one of the most honorable public servants with whom I have ever worked, Lafayette attorney Hank Perret. In a sad day for Louisiana, Mr. Perret and all but one his fellow Ethics Board members later resigned in protest over the real meaning and impact of Governor Bobby Jindal’s “ethics gold standard” ruse.
In my work with Hank Perret, including in my related testimony before the Ethics Board, I stressed these key points:
(1) The relationship between campaign finance law violations and later, much more serious, illegality by those same public officials, is very important. It is a relationship which is poorly understood by the Ethics Administration and the public.
(2) Jindal’s “gold standard of ethics” gimmick was only about attracting national attention to himself as he positioned in the then-underway hustle for the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential campaign ticket. The only substantive changes included in Jindal’s “gold standard of ethics reform” were the imposition of some new laws in lobbying disclosure and personal financial reporting by public officials. These were the only substantive changes because they had been carefully researched and identified by Jindal as those most likely to achieve high national rankings from groups such as the Center for Public Integrity.
(3) No such changes in ethics laws would matter if enforcement was not real and effective. Jindal’s plans to (a) raise the standard of evidence in ethics cases to that used in criminal law, and to (b) turn ethics enforcement adjudications over to judges working under a lone appointee of the governor, were clear evidence that ethics enforcement in Louisiana was, in fact, about to be effectively killed by Jindal.
(4) The team assembled by Jindal to control this political op was impressive, and included his Executive Counsel, Chief of Staff, hand-picked Speaker of the House, and the chairmen of both controlling legislative committees, Senate & Governmental Affairs and House & Governmental Affairs. Notably, several of the “legislative leaders” onboard to eviscerate ethics enforcement had serious ethics violation cases against them which were under investigation at that time, but any public mention of that fact was illegal under state law. Literally, these “leaders” were writing and passing laws which would specifically protect them when their cases reached any such point of need.
All of the worst predictions have now come to pass. Our ethics administration has, effectively, ceased functioning. Louisiana is now in a far worse position to police ethics laws than at any time since their 1960s origin. Such is Jindal’s legacy, whether he rushes off to some new job tomorrow, or hangs around for another term as governor.
As to the role of Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover in this latest sad, sad tale for Louisiana, it is detailed in Point #1, above. If Cedric Glover was required to file a real campaign finance report – one that actually detailed who gave him how much money – the Shreveport public and any investigative agency that cared would know where to focus their attention. One out-of-state contributor, as a good example, apparently “bundled” $45,000 to Glover in his 2010 campaign, an impressive amount given that $2,500 is the contribution limit in a campaign for Shreveport mayor. If Louisiana had real ethics enforcement, we would now be well along in finding out why and for what purpose any such out-of-state contributor would come to Shreveport and arrange for the delivery of a $45,000 calling card to Cedric Glover.
For the first time in my career, Louisianans have no fair expectation that any of its laws related to governmental ethics will be enforced. Public officials now know and understand that there is no downside risk breaking any and all laws such public officials care to break.
Most dramatically, all of this is precisely what Gov. Jindal and his team intended, planned and perfectly executed.
I wonder if Cedric Glover has at least called our governor to thank him for his “ethics gold standard.”
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