Recall organizers fined

The Louisiana Board of Ethics on Friday levied fines of $500 each on two Calcasieu Parish school teachers who led unsuccessful recall efforts against Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley.

Angie Bonvillian and Brenda Romero had faced penalties of $1,000 each for the late filing of campaign finance reports.

Board members commended the recall leaders for exercising their constitutional rights, but said they did not want to set precedent by forgiving the entire penalty. Board guidelines allowed the reduction to $500.

Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, had written a letter to the Ethics Board asking for leniency for Bonvillian and Romero and dismissal of the fines.

“I’m satisfied,” Romero said. “I sent them a letter asking them to do anything they could do. But I really expected to have some fine. I think it’s fair ... I know we missed the deadline.”

Bonvillian said she is “grateful” for the board’s decision.

“I felt like we were wrong and we should pay some penalty. I think the Ethics Board made the decision based on the letters Brenda and I wrote to them,” she said.

The two educators started recall petitions last spring after the passage of laws pushed by Jindal and supported by Kleckley that Bonvillian and Romero said would harm public education. The laws expanded use of public dollars for private school vouchers and changed teacher tenure.

Bonvillian and Romero had told board staff that they had no experience filing reports and did not realize the deadlines they were under. The teachers missed the deadline for campaign finance reports required 45 days after the recall campaign began.

State Republican Party executive director Jason Doré had filed a complaint with the Ethics Board.

“I commend them for doing what every American citizen and Louisiana citizen has the right to do in reference to free speech. I also commend the speaker of the House that he understands why they did what they did,” said Ethics Board Chairman Blake Monrose of Lafayette.

“However,” Monrose continued, “I do not believe personally that we need to let these ladies off without paying some type of fine. If we do this we will be setting a precedent (in cases) where people say ‘We really didn’t know what we were getting involved in.’ ”

Board member Terry Backhaus, of Lake Charles, said he watched the recall campaign unfolding in his area. “I could pretty much forecast this happening.”

“I agree with the chairman that they were doing what this country was founded on,” Backhaus said.

Board members Steve Lemke, of New Orleans, recommended that all but $250 of the fine be suspended.

“They are intelligent people,” Lemke said. “There needs to be some accountability here.”

The board rejected the idea of the $250 fine with four members supporting the reduction and five voting against it. The board then, without objection, agreed to impose the $500 fine and suspended the remainder based on future compliance.