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Board shouldn't expand ethics exceptions

The truism that you should stick by the choices you make in life and not expect others to subsidize you for them applies to a future electoral candidate request to the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Last month, the Board ruled that candidates cannot use campaign funds on child care expenses. Almost two decades ago, the board ruled differently; it has discretion over this issue because the state’s Ethics Code doesn’t address the matter. A majority of the board now in place saw differently from the past.

The request came from a putative candidate next fall for House District 66, Morgan Lemandre. She also affiliates with the group Emerge Louisiana, which supports hard left Democrat women running for office, and as a result will lose big to incumbent Republican state Rep. Rick Edmonds.

Regardless, that orientation in part explains how she phrased her request for a Board review of its recent decision. She played the class warfare card by writing the ruling “disparately impacts working parents of small children who are not independently wealthy and will have the unintended result of preventing many parents from running for elected office.”

In other words, she alleged the present interpretation rigged the electoral system in favor of moneyed interests, in that only they could afford to pay for their own child care while out on the hustings. Yet it probably never occurred to her – or it did and she wrote cynically and deceptively anyway – that even if the Board would authorize that kind of expense, wealthy donors and special interests could give to a candidate to recycle funds into paying for that, under her formulation making those candidates just as much pawns of “wealth.”

However, the argument fails, and no better explanation suffices than the one proffered during the initial review by Board member Peppi Bruneau, an ex-legislator who often dealt with ethics matters: “Nobody forces you to run for public office. But you have a child and that is your primary responsibility to provide for that child. But I don’t think you need to be raising money to run for office to do that, and I don’t think that is the intent of the statute.”

Exactly so. People make choices in life; you can’t have it all regardless of what you want. You have the right to run for an office for which you qualify. You don’t have the right for the public to give you an ethics pass to allow you to take money to offset the downside of a decision, by which doing that could influence your actions negatively in office. And, if you do want to have it all in this instance – run for office and afford child care expenses – you and your spouse could pursue occupations lucrative enough to permit that.

Remarkably, some complained that the decision was “sexist” in nature, oblivious to the sexism in that very complaint. It assumes that a female candidate must have primary child-rearing responsibilities, an attitude Lamandre echoed in her request for review: “just a few [women in the Legislature] have very young children whereas a higher percentage of men in our legislature do. This is simply because many in society believe that it is the primary responsibility of women to provide childcare for their children and if they do not then they have misplaced priorities.”

But the Board didn’t differentiate between men and women by this decision; it applies to all candidates regardless of sex. If Lamandre and others see that directed against female candidates, it’s because they assume women must act as children’s primary caregivers. (And that she makes the imputation of imbalance by sex for legislators with young children as reflecting an anti-female bias itself is absurdly reductionist; women typically, for reasons not inevitably shaped by societal attitudes and pressures, simply disproportionately prefer childrearing and/or other choices over political careers.)

Yet in her morass of poor assumptions and faulty reasoning, Lemandre did make one trenchant comment, when she wrote “A brief search of campaign finance reports by current elected officials will show expenditures for car care, lawn care, NRA membership, meal expenses, LSU football tickets and throws for Mardi Gras. If those items are deemed to be related to a campaign and allowable, then it is reasonable to allow childcare expenses directly related to a campaign event.”

In other words, if the Board permits such large loopholes, then this issue should receive the same treatment. However, this thinking is backwards: just because dubious practices are allowed doesn’t justify that you can add one more. Indeed, by denying the addition of more, hopefully this creates momentum to reverse the bad trend and tighten up allowable expenses wherever the Board has that discretion.

No good reason exists for the Board to reverse itself on this item. If anything, it should begin ruling as out of bounds many other expenses it currently allows.

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