As Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Louisiana Legislature last week wrestled over how to tax the rest of us, a state agency pursued five lawmakers for individual fines ranging from $60 to more than $6,000.
The Louisiana Ethics Commission is seeking payment of late fees for tardy 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 assessed against Louisiana politicians.
The ethics board's pursuit of the five lawmakers coincided with the Legislature's anticipated vote on Blanco's tax plan at the special session, which ended last week. In addition, all five legislators 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. Elsewhere, some fines are months past due, though there is no interest penalty on unpaid fines. Our findings:
· Rep. Cedric Bradford Glover, D-Shreveport, has been fined $6,420 for several tardy campaign finance reports. His fees have been past due since Feb. 9. In a written response, Glover told us: "Thank you for your inquiry and concern regarding my outstanding fines. I am aware of them and they will be paid." Glover's fines nearly tripled the $2,205 his campaign had on hand as of Feb. 17, campaign records show. 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 five late campaign finance reports relative to her election last fall. Her total fines have been past due since Feb. 23, ethics board officials say.
Gray's campaign treasurer told us a check for the full amount would be issued immediately. Gray's campaign reported a negative balance of $4,625 on Jan. 10, according to campaign finance records. Gray's committee assignments include seats on the Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
· 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 relative to his fall re-election campaign for the Senate. Holden did not respond to requests for comment. His total fines have been past due since Nov. 14, 2003. Holden reported $26,738 in campaign funds on hand, as of Feb. 17, 2004. Sen. Holden 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 a $480 fine for one late report. "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. Her fines have been due since Dec. 3, 2003. Her campaign reported a negative fund balance of minus $491.59, as of Feb. 18, 2004.
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 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 posted erroneously next to Boissiere's name. In response to our inquiry, the "outstanding fines" link of the ethics board Web site was taken down, pending repairs. Boissiere, meanwhile, reported $6,128 in campaign funds on hand as of Feb. 12.
· A sixth lawmaker, freshman state Rep. M.J. "Mert" Smiley Jr., R-Port St. Vincent, was scheduled to have his name removed from the ethics board site 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.