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Will Ethics Board act on more than just Richard?

OK, so the Louisiana Board of Ethics got state Rep. Dee Richard. What’s the holdup on everybody else?

Next week, the Board reportedly will announce a settlement with Richard over $37,000 in campaign funds he apparently misspent. R.S. 18:1505.2 states that campaign funds shall not be used, loaned, or pledged by any person for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign. Richard will admit he spent that on gambling, an addiction he maintains he developed as a result of taking legally-prescribed medication.

A dose of irony comes along with that. Richard has made a career in the Legislature in efforts to reduce the addiction that state government has to spending money, and now he gets busted over his own profligate, illegal spending. Term-limited but not intending to resign early over the incident, his district’s voters now may decide whether to attempt his recall over this breach of trust.

More irony abounds. Voters in the neighboring House district last election sent former state Rep. Joe Harrison packing, after media attention to use of his campaign dollars. Not only did Harrison report unrealistically, even absurdly, high amounts of travel paid out of his account on allegedly official business, he also seems to have drawn similar amounts for the same purpose as reimbursement for his legislative work. 

Yet the article that first questioned the legality of Harrison’s spending drew a favorable comparison to records filed by Richard in the 2009-12 period, noting he had asked for zero reimbursements for gas. Obviously, time changes things quickly.

But not that the Board has concluded any investigation of Harrison. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation began poking around Harrison’s records three years ago, the Ethics Board has given no indication that it has acted relative to Harrison.

Nor has it apparently done anything with the seemingly far more egregious case of Sen. Pres. John Alario, also reportedly under FBI investigation since at least 2015. Media accounts also noted a large number of questionable expenditures made out of Alario’s campaign account that do not seem to have a relationship with political campaigning.

Richard’s incident didn’t have close to the publicity surrounding these other folks’ spending, with the FBI either uninterested or unaware of his activities. Perhaps the Board waits on FBI action one way or the other before dealing with the other pair. Or maybe it has no interest in Harrison now after his defeat and it doesn’t have the courage to tackle the powerful Alario. Or perhaps Richard’s apparently cooperative behavior allowed a resolution to come about, where the other two seem to have put up resistance and stonewalling from the start, which discourages the Board from acting.

Regardless, ferreting out any unethical behavior by an elected official and meting out deterrent punishment counts as a victory for the state’s citizenry. However, given the amount of convincingly evidence and attendant publicity pointing to illegal behavior by others past and present, refusing to initiate cases against them erodes whatever credibility the Board gains from successfully applying the law as in Richard’s case.

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