Stephanie Grace: Reed’s largesse stirring the media pot

One word comes to mind when I think of St. Tammany Parish DA Walter Reed: hubris.

Wait, that’s not true. Many words come to mind. There’s entitlement. Audacity is another. Oh, and then there’s “above the law,” which is several words, but you get the idea.

The truth is that Reed’s got so many questionable incidents in his past that he’s keeping reporters from across New Orleans’ crowded media landscape busy unraveling all the schemes. And lest anyone out there be tempted to sympathize, to dismiss or downplay the steady stream of revelations as a byproduct of the city’s hyper-competitive news market — well, to them I’d say this: If you don’t want someone talking about what you did, then you really shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

A lot of people are talking about Reed these days because he’s given them so much fodder.

The free Tulane University education for his son, Reagan, was just the beginning. Reed personally solicited it from state Rep. Harold Ritchie via a controversial program giving each lawmaker control over a full-freight scholarship. The arrangement was irksome — so much so that a civics teacher in Ritchie’s district asked the lawmaker to come in and explain why someone whose insider father makes a roughly $200,000 public salary should get the scholarship. But it was also acceptable within the program’s rules.

But that was only the amuse bouche to what’s become a virtual feast of stories about Reed helping himself and helping his own, largely through a campaign account that he treated as a slush fund.

In some cases, the offenses involved literal feasts.

The New Orleans Advocate’s Sara Pagones reported last week that a nearly $3,000 outing to the upscale Dakota restaurant in Covington in 2005, listed merely as a “meeting” on Reed’s finance report, was actually a birthday party for 40 for Reed’s then-girlfriend. Claire Bradley still has a framed menu, a gift from Reed, which lists the evening’s courses, from the shrimp remoulade appetizer to the entrée of pan-seared filet mignon topped with Maine lobster. At the top, it reads “Happy Birthday Claire.”

Then there was the $29,400 check from Reed’s account to another son, Steven Reed, supposedly for “catering” a 2012 fundraiser. The Reed camp has struggled to explain just what the fee covered, and whether it included alcohol or just setups of supplies and mixers. In either case, the per-head rate appears to be above industry norms; if no liquor was included, it’s far above.

In some cases, the supposed events themselves appeared to be cover stories. Bradley also got $7,500 in checks for event setup and supervision, and her son got an additional $500 for working at a fundraiser. But Bradley said she and her son did no work for the money — which, she said, was Reed’s way of compensating her taking unpaid time off from work to travel with him.

“If anyone asks, you worked. You called people to come to the party,” she said he told her. Reed denied the allegations and said they actually earned the money.

There’s more. According to WVUE and nola.com, Reed also seems to have vastly overpaid Steven for a rudimentary public service video that industry insiders say would normally cost $500 to $750. Walter Reed’s campaign paid Steven Reed more than $14,000. That fee and the catering bill mentioned above are just two examples from a list of payments from the father’s campaign to his son’s companies totaling nearly $95,000 since 2006.

The two organizations also reported that the event hall listed district attorney employees as contacts and suppliers for the fundraiser, calling into question whether Steven Reed did anything at all for his big payday.

Unlike Reagan Reed’s Tulane scholarship, these transactions raise serious legal questions. Louisiana’s campaign finance rules are loose and enforcement is even looser, but there are limits. Politicians are not allowed to write off personal expenses to their campaigns, and they’re not allowed to overpay relatives for campaign services. Oh, and writing checks to cover work that was never done? That’s also a definite no-no.

Reed is a lawyer by trade and has a whole staff of attorneys serving at his pleasure, but clearly it’s time for him to call in the professionals. Hubris may be an explanation for his behavior. It’s certainly not a defense.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter @stephgracenola.