Gov. Bobby Jindal's ethics reform package began moving through the Legislature last week, with some parts of the plan moving faster than others. That's to be expected. Some of the governor's proposals enjoy widespread support and almost no opposition, such as measures to require lobbyists to disclose who is paying them and how much and limits on what lobbyists can spend on lawmakers. Other elements of his plan, such as financial disclosure by public officials and a measure stripping the state Ethics Board of its adjudicative authority, are hitting snags. The devil is always in the details. Speaking of devilment, Governor Jindal's young administration (a description that applies in more ways than one) continues to be beset by inconsistencies when it comes to the "gold standard" that Candidate Jindal promised voters last fall. Just last week it was reported in Baton Rouge that the governor's chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, scored three free tickets to the sold-out Hannah Montana concert. Teepell's guests got to watch the Disney darling in the governor's suite of the New Orleans Arena. The Jindal Administration doled out additional Hannah Montana tickets to select legislators, allegedly on a first-come, first-served basis. All this while Team Jindal jawboned lawmakers, the press and the public about the urgency of stopping lobbyists from wining and dining legislators and cutting off lawmakers from lobbyist-sponsored tickets to sporting events and concerts.
Truth is, we are being kind in describing the Hannah Montana ticket razoo as an "inconsistency." Let's call it what it is: hypocrisy. As veteran blogger and watchdog C.B. Forgotston (www.forgotston.com) noted last week, "There's a distinction between ending corruption and merely passing more "ethics laws.' Governor Jindal seems to be focused on the latter. The more I watch the pragmatic Jindal at work the more I come to the conclusion that the "gold standard' is quickly becoming the "aluminum standard' it is lightweight and flexible."
If this were an isolated incident, we would be inclined to slough it off as a rookie mistake. Unfortunately, we see other inconsistencies. A few examples:
Teepell figured in another snafu when he "forgot" to tell the Jindal campaign about more than $118,000 that the state GOP spent on a pro-Jindal mailer last summer. As a result, the Jindal campaign failed to list the party's "in-kind" contribution on its campaign finance report in July. Now the state Ethics Board is pursuing charges against Jindal. During the campaign, Candidate Jindal proclaimed that he would have a "zero tolerance" standard for members of his administration who violate the Ethics Code. So far, that standard has not applied to Teepell.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), Jindal now proposes to strip the state Ethics Board of its enforcement authority as part of "ethics reform," even though the state Constitution expressly stipulates that the state's Ethics Code "shall be administered by one or more boards created by the Legislature." Instead of the Ethics Board adjudicating matters brought to it by its staff, Jindal proposes to have "administrative law judges" hear ethics cases, which may or may not be open to the public or widely publicized. Enforcement of strong ethics laws is the most important part of cleaning up Louisiana's tainted image. We can pass all the "reforms" we want; without uniform enforcement by a fully staffed and adequately funded Ethics Board, tougher laws amount to nothing more than window dressing.
Last week, high-ranking members of Jindal's administration argued for tougher and broader financial disclosure laws as applied to lawmakers but demurred when legislators sought to subject more of the administration's paperwork to the state's public records laws.
Some of Jindal's legislative leaders also appeared ready to give in to judges' requests to let them regulate themselves when it comes to financial disclosure. The move allegedly was a nod to the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. We would respectfully remind the judges, the governor and lawmakers of another constitutional tenet: checks and balances. In our opinion, lawmakers clearly have the authority to require financial disclosure by judges just as they have the authority to call judicial elections, draw judicial districts, set judicial salaries and retirement benefits, and pass laws overturning judicial decisions. If citizens need to know where lawmakers make their money, why shouldn't litigants know where judges make theirs? Several bills on this subject are still pending, and some would apply the new standards to judges.
Lawmakers and Jindal have two more weeks to get it right in the special session. Failing that, they'll have lots of time when the regular session convenes on March 31. Some opposition to the governor's proposals is borne of Old Guard resistance, but we suspect a good deal of it is healthy skepticism in the face of too many "inconsistencies" on the part of the new administration.