There’s an old saying that goes, “Whenever you think things are really bad, just look around. They are always worse someplace else.”
For years, people in Jefferson Parish and in Kenner have complained about elected officials using campaign contributions to fund dubious expenditures under the guise of “campaigning”.
Some notable examples of this abuse of the system:
…Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts spent $50,000 on a tractor and a float to use in Mardi Gras parades to promote himself. Roberts has also spent thousands more on other toys, each of which has a "Chris Roberts for Council" sign on them making them "legal" according to the State Ethics Board.
…Former Councilman and current Assessor Tom Capella spent $11,300 to rent a suite at a Hornets game. Of course, it was for “fundraising” purposes.
…Councilman Elton Lagasse spent thousands on “meals with constituents”.
…Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni has spent thousands on Mardi Gras beads and throws along with Krewe membership dues.
…Former Parish President Aaron Broussard spent over $50,000 for “flowers” with undocumented Florist and current JP Councilman Ben Zahn.
…While a Kenner Councilman, Zahn spent campaign dollars to purchase Saints gear for his family to wear in a Mardi Gras parade. Zahn also spent hundreds on gas for his car (despite receiving a $500 per month auto allowance from the City of Kenner), hundreds more for the infamous “meals with constituents” and even more on “gifts for constituents” and giftcards. Zahn was even so bold that he had a “dinner with a constituent” at a Chinese Restaurant in Hammond – an hour away from Kenner. Talk about buying the vote.
And, these aren’t the only examples, just some of the most flagrant.
According to the State Ethics Board (I know many of you are shocked that Louisiana actually has an “Ethics Board”), all of these expenditures are perfectly legal and legitimate.
But each of these dubious expenses is topped by an attempt by New Iberia Mayor Hilda Curry to use campaign dollars to finance a trip to Belgium and France.
Curry asked the Ethics Board to preapprove her expenses in advance of a trip in 2014. Curry said that she is making the trip for “official business” to meet with government officials and establish ties between New Iberia and cities in Europe.
Since Curry had no meetings actually scheduled with any government officials, the Ethics Board did not offer an opinion on the use of campaign funds. Instead, the Ethics Board told Curry to come back when she had some meetings scheduled and they would decide the matter then.
Former State Legislator Peppi Bruneau of New Orleans was quoted in The Advocate as saying that he had no problem with the proposed “European Vacation” if it actually involved “official business”.
“The way it looks right now, it’s a trip,” Bruneau said.
Yeah, it looks that way from here in the cheap seats too.
It is unclear why Curry wouldn’t get reimbursed from the City of New Iberia if her trip actually involved “official city business”. Of course, the people of New Iberia might look a little less kind on financing the Mayor’s European Vacation if it came from taxpayer dollars.
I sure am happy and proud that our state legislators spent so much time ensuring that Louisiana has the “Gold Standard” of ethics.
But, we have learned a cure for unemployment – just become a political candidate and, if you can round up some support, you too can use campaign funds for Mardi Gras parades, tickets to sporting events, dinners, gift for your friends and family and gas for your car.
Soon, we might be able to add trips to Europe to that list thanks to Mayor Curry and the State Ethics Board.
But, we keep electing these people and our “State Ethics Board” keeps allowing them to spend campaign money to fund their lifestyles.