As Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Louisiana Legislature this week wrestle over how to tax the rest of us, a state agency is pursuing five lawmakers for individual fines ranging from $60 to more than $6,000. The Louisiana Ethics Commission is seeking payment of fees for late campaign finance reports totaling nearly $10,000 from five lawmakers ‹ including two senators, records show. One state representative admits owing the lion's share of the total. And the overall amount is a tiny fraction of the more than $1 million in campaign finance penalties currently owed the state treasury by Louisiana politicians.
The ethics board's pursuit of outstanding fines against the five lawmakers comes at a time when the Legislature is expected to vote on Blanco's tax plan, before the special session expires March 23. In addition, all five of the legislators surveyed hold influential committee assignments over state spending.
Our survey of outstanding fines posted on the ethics board Web site (www.ethics.state.la.us) also found errors in the favor of two legislators ‹ including a New Orleans senator. Our findings:
Rep. Cedric Bradford Glover, D-Shreveport, has been fined $6,420 for several tardy campaign finance reports. In a written response, Glover said: "Thank you for your inquiry and concern regarding my outstanding fines. I am aware of them and they will be paid." First elected to the House in 1995, Rep. Glover's assignments include seats on the check-writing House Appropriations Committee as well as the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. A businessman, he is the regional president of a temporary employment service.
Freshman state Rep. Cheryl Gray, D-New Orleans, owes $1,800 in fines for six late campaign finance reports relative to her election last fall.
Gray's committee assignments include seats on the Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Gray could not be reached for comment. The ethics board site also listed Gray's former opponent in the fall election, Republican lawyer Randy Evans, as owing $60 for a report filed one day late. After our calls, the board rescinded the fee after Evans produced records showing his report had been timely filed.
Sen. Melvin "Kip" Holden, D-Baton Rouge, a lawyer and elected member of the legislator since 1988, has been fined $720 for allegedly filing late campaign finance reports in his re-election campaign for the Senate. Holden could not be reached for comment. He currently serves on the influential Senate Finance Committee and chairs the Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee. A former Metro City Council member, Holden is an announced candidate for mayor of Baton Rouge in the fall elections.
Rep. Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, acknowledged $480 in fines for late reports. "I have a fundraiser scheduled for late spring; this debt will be settled at this time," Dorsey said in a written response to our inquiry. First elected to the Legislature in 1993, Dorsey serves as vice-chair of the House Health & Welfare Committee, and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, as well as other panels.
Sen. Lambert Boissiere, D-New Orleans, is disputing a $60 ethics board fine over a report his campaign filed during the October primary election. The ethics board site late last week listed Boissiere as owing $2,060 for tardy campaign reports. But Boissiere provided Gambit Weekly with a letter from the ethics board dated Jan. 22, 2004, stating that a $2,000 late fee assessed against the senator had been rescinded.
"All that has been corrected and we have a letter from the board saying it has been corrected," says Boissiere, who chairs the Senate Retirement Committee. "I never had to pay the fine. My report was electronically filed. The 'hard copy staff' (at ethics) didn't know what the 'electronic staff' had."
Ethics board staff attorney Kathy Allen acknowledged the $2,000 fine had been rescinded, but said that the senator still owes the board $60 for the late filing of a separate report. Allen said computer transmission problems with the board Web site resulted in the larger fine being erroneously posted next to Boissiere's name.
A sixth lawmaker, freshman state Rep. M.J. "Mert" Smiley Jr., R-Port St. Vincent, had his name removed from the ethics board site last week, after our inquiry found he paid the $240 fine to the commission five months ago. "I do everything 100 percent above board," says Smiley, who acknowledged the late filings of his reports for the fall elections.
A Republican conservative, he says he relied on the help of his wife with the campaign finance reports, instead of hiring a CPA. An independent automobile dealer who represents Ascension and Livingston parishes, Smiley serves on the House & Governmental Affairs Committee. The panel oversees all ethics and campaign finance legislation that passes through the Senate.