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Confused editorializing errs on LA ethics administration

Giving Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover the idea to police his own illegal campaign affairs is like taking a foundling and dropping it in a wastebasket, as in the past eight months he apparently has done little to clear up reporting problems in his last run for his job. But to rectify the situation and discourage others from such inattention, whether intentional, needs proper diagnosis of the situation.

At the end of 2010, the Shreveport Times for reasons unrevealed decided to traipse through Glover’s campaign finance reports from the fall election. It found several irregularities, to which Glover made penitent noises about fixing. Turns out since then he’s done almost nothing to get at the bottom of the presumed oversights, earning him another scolding from the newspaper.

However, the paper editorialized that part of the problem came from changes made in 2008 that “that separated investigative efforts from prosecution of complaints [and] neglected to adequately fund the enforcement staff.” This misunderstands the intent behind the function of the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program, a part of the Department of Civil Service, as well as draws erroneous conclusions about the enforcement efforts of it.

Ethics administration never has been about pouring over each report as it comes in, which as a result of the 2008 changes includes not only campaign finance matters but also vastly expanded amounts of information on elected officials, candidates for offices, many appointed individuals, and those who seek to influence them. It’s been about educating people about the requirements, maintaining the infrastructure to warehouse information, and to bring enforcement actions. Because of the expansion of duties, the next budget after the enactment of the changes more than doubled for ethics administration, which has been pared a little since.

Note that few jurisdictions anywhere actually have employees, in essence, proofread every document that comes in for apparent violations. This comports well with the prevailing ethos in our system of competitive elections for political power, that give incentives for different interests to police each other (that’s how the one and inadvertent violation Gov. Bobby Jindal has had in his reporting came to light). Note also that this historically since the creation of the ethics enforcement mechanism in Louisiana has been by design; as the long-standing statute states, the Board of Ethics “shall initiate an investigation when it makes such a determination upon receipt of a sworn complaint … by any person who believes a violation of the Chapter has occurred.”

So The Times needs to understand that because there aren’t readers employed at LEAP, which would probably entail adding at least a million more dollars a year there by increasing its budget by more than a quarter, that does not define inadequate funding of the enforcement staff, because it never was intended to perform these functions. In fact, according to the performance metrics reported, of the cases brought, 93 percent are processed within the statutory time limit, which would seem to indicate sufficient resources to do the job set out by the law.

Of greater interest is why The Times simply didn’t file a sworn complaint against Glover? Had that been done, by now the case may have been processed and be ready to be heard by the part of the Department of Civil Service responsible for adjudication, the Division of Administrative Law.

If the state’s people wish to get their policy-makers to change the law to add a policing function to the prosecution function of LEAP, and then hopefully fund it, that’s their prerogative. At least those reporting and opining on these matters should understand how the system works before assigning blame that bears no resemblance to reality.

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