by Elliott Stonecipher
(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.)
I read with real interest yesterday’s Shreveport Times article about the local group which has funded election campaigns for some Caddo Parish School Board (CPSB) candidates. It reminds us of what too often awaits those who do heavy lifting in service to our community.
At issue is Citizens for a Better Caddo, formed by a group of prominent local activists in education and other community interests.* The group set up a political action committee, or PAC, to recruit and/or raise most of the campaign funds for their candidates.
The Times article – a solid and fair one, I think – presents details of how the PAC’s fundraising came from a relatively few people and/or their associated businesses and families. More to the point, some candidates who received campaign dollars from the PAC also received contributions directly from the individuals who formed and control it.
I have not specifically encountered the question posed: is it a violation of some kind for PAC members to contribute both with PAC and individual monies in the same campaign and election cycle? In the usual definition of one kind of “bundling” of contributions, donors personally give the maximum amount per campaign period, plus the maximum from a spouse, plus the maximum from a company the individual owns. That is different than the subject mainly addressed by The Times reporter.
The article well shows this to be yet another area of campaign finance law which is unclear, a chronic problem in Louisiana. Those concerned should ask the Ethics Administration for an advisory opinion, which they may or may not get, some of us know only too well. Regrettably, the “old days” of getting those opinions from Ethics staff as such problems and issues arise are long gone in Louisiana.
Even though the PAC’s relatively small contribution total of $26,000 will draw little attention, if any rule / law has been violated in the process of raising and spending that money, all who care can learn from any available clarification.
As to other matters of concern with this PAC, yes, its work was conducted in private. No matter how much some of us might have liked to know more about what the group was doing, these are private citizens, using their money to accomplish something they deem urgently important here. To our knowledge, they filed all legally required reports.
We have learned, too, that a key function and cost of the PAC was paying an unsuccessful candidate for CPSB superintendent to consult with board candidates the PAC recruited or otherwise selected. That seems strange to many from whom I have heard, but, once again, such is purely the PAC’s choice.
… The Other Concern
My focus is mainly a different issue – how the members of this PAC have been pilloried by some in our community for their attempt to reform our Caddo Parish School Board. Particularly since we are desperate for such changes within our school system, these attacks are evidence of the old saw that no good deed goes unpunished.
(I well know how this manifests itself here, and just in case I was on my way to forgetting it, fallout from our mayor’s race has dramatically hastened my memory.)
My feeling was and is that any and every thing we do in Caddo Parish to reshape the public school establishment is more than merely worthy of our attention. Visible opponents of this effort seem traceable to those the PAC did not support, along with their friends, families, campaign contributors, and fellow partisans (a reference to teacher union reps and members).
Meanwhile, Shreveport and Caddo suffer to a remarkable degree from a lack of citizen interest and initiative. Regardless, it is far too often the case that those who work to be and do the opposite are publicly chastened and privately harrassed. What I know about the members of this PAC speaks to their commitment to our community. Though I certainly disagree with their politics in some instances, their proven willingness to serve our community matters most, especially now.
Of perhaps greatest importance, these activists are not ones who only involve themselves in elections for the purpose of gaining access to taxpayer money. Those are people who, along with their elective offspring, cannot legitimately claim the title “public servant.” The ones at issue here have proven over time to be the real deal.
To those who formed the PAC and are doing its work, I thank you.
To the candidates the PAC has supported who are new to the very tough business of campaigning for public office, I thank you, most sincerely. Please know that your personal sacrifices are recognized and understood by some of us. We know that what you are striving to do matters to us all.
* For readers interested in the make-up of the CPSB, including the line-up of candidates in the current election cycle, this Ballotpedia article is helpful. Others may care to read earlier articles about CPSB which I have written, one just a month ago which touches on the same topic as this one, and another I wrote in a broader context in 2012.