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Payment (Still) Past Due

The Louisiana Ethics Board has begun collection procedures against dozens of politicians and political organizations (PACs) who allegedly owe the state treasury thousands of dollars in fines for campaign finance violations.

"We are in the process of engaging an attorney to try and move forward with those collections [against] sitting officials or candidates who have not paid," says Maris LeBlanc, a staff attorney for the ethics board.

And there's more bad news for political debtors who are currently campaigning for the Oct. 4 primary election. Candidates who spend campaign funds while still owing the ethics board fines or fees are subject to civil penalties of up to 200 percent of the expenditure of $1,000, according to a state law passed in 2001 and authored by state Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie.

Among the alleged debtors listed on the ethics board Web site are three candidates and two influential political organizations active in metro area campaigns in the Oct. 4 primary election. They are:

· Keith T. Johnson, an incumbent member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who has been assessed $1,000 in late fees for supplemental reports from campaigns in 1999 and 1995. Johnson did not return a call for comment by press time.

· Rufus Johnson, a candidate in the crowded House District 98 race, allegedly owes $1,020 for late filings from a 1999 campaign. Johnson did not return calls for comment.

· Renee Washington, a former deputy sheriff campaigning for sheriff of Jefferson Parish, acknowledges she owes the state $1,700 for late filings from her unsuccessful 1999 campaign for the office. "That was on an error on my part -- trusting my campaign treasurer," Washington says. "I'm going to pay the fine as I do obtain the funds."

· Development Association of Wards & Neighborhoods (DAWN), a political organization chaired by Johnny Jackson Jr. , a former New Orleans councilman and state representative who is running for clerk of Criminal Court in Orleans Parish. The ethics board asserts that DAWN owes the state $15,800 in fees for repeated late filings of campaign reports in 2002. "Whatever we have to do to rectify it, we will," says Jackson. "It (DAWN) is something I am associated with and I am going to get it straight."

· The Community Organization for Urban Politics (COUP), another influential political organization in New Orleans, owes the state $19,400 for repeated filings from the 2002 citywide elections, ethics board attorneys say. The campaign treasurer did not return a call by press time.

In a separate board action, the Treme Improvement Political Society (TIPS), an influential PAC associated with state Rep. Ed Murray, got its fine reduced from $34,500 to $2,500 -- with a condition. The Ethics Board voted 9-0 to roll back the fine after a clemency request from Murray, who appeared before the panel at its regular meeting on Sept. 11 in Baton Rouge.

Officials for TIPS, which has blown campaign finance reporting deadlines in previous elections, told the ethics board they have hired a professional accounting firm. Murray assured the board the PAC is on the right track. The ethics board warned Murray -- a trial lawyer -- and TIPS that the fee reduction was contingent upon future compliance with campaign reporting laws. "If for some reason the reports are not timely filed in the future, then the remaining $30,000 can be resurrected," ethics board staff attorney Kathleen Allen said.

Records show TIPS has repeatedly filed late campaign reports for elections in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. -- Allen Johnson Jr.


You Say "Mosca" ...

In the Jefferson Parish Council District 2 race, attorney Vinny Mosca is running catchy campaign television commercials in which he invites voters to call him at home to find how what he's really like. But there is more to the spot than meets the eye -- and ear.

The spots show Mosca in the city of Harahan on the East Bank, where he served as a mayor and councilman. He also appears in front of his family's famous Italian restaurant on the West Bank.

Mosca (generally pronounced MAH-ska) asks viewers to remember him on the Oct. 4 primary election ballot, and pronounces his name "MOH-ska."

"MOH-ska?" we asked Mosca at a campaign forum last week.

"That's how they say it on the West Bank," said Mosca, who says he is trying to appeal to West Bank voters. District 2 is roughly divided between the East Bank and the West Bank. Mosca is the only Democrat in the race and his political base is on the East Bank. -- Johnson


Money to Blow

"Blowing the whistle" on corporate or government corruption may not be as thankless as it's cracked up to be. Three annual $10,000 awards, named for the late New Orleans investigative journalist (and former Gambit Weekly reporter) Ron Ridenhour, have been established by the Fertel Foundation and The Nation Institute to recognize those who risk professional and personal backlash to expose the truth.

The first Ridenhour Awards will be bestowed Oct. 15 at the Press Club in Washington. The Ron Ridenhour Award for Truth-Telling will go to American diplomat Joseph Wilson, who challenged President George W. Bush's assertion in his State of the Union speech that Iraq had been soliciting large amounts of uranium from Africa. The Ron Ridenhour Book Prize will be awarded to investigative reporter Deborah Scroggins, whose book Emma's War: An Aid Worker, a Warlord, Radical Islam, and the Politics of Oil sheds light on the complex relationship between the West and war-torn Sudan.

The Ron Ridenhour Courage Award goes to Daniel Ellsberg, the former Department of Defense employee who leaked the "Pentagon Papers." Exposure of the secret government study of the United States' involvement in Vietnam set in motion a torrential First Amendment court battle between the government and the media. It also revealed the government's attempts to conceal its mistakes from the public.

Ridenhour, who died in 1998 at age 52, was an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam. His legacy has been kept alive in part through his friend, writer Randy Fertel, president of the Fertel Foundation and son of the late Ruth's Chris founder Ruth Fertel.


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