Kennedy wants ethics fines collected

State Treasurer John N. Kennedy said Monday he wants the new Office of Debt Recovery, which will open in January, to collect unpaid ethics fines.

The Ethics Board reports $1.7 million in outstanding fines. They are penalties from about 300 officials, candidates and political action committees that filed disclosures and reports incorrectly or otherwise violated the ethics code and were punished with a fine.

But Jarrod Coniglio, deputy secretary of the Department of Revenue, said the state’s ethics staff has not reached out for assistance from the Office of Debt Recovery.

The office does not begin operation until January and its focus right now is on agencies with larger amounts of debt, Coniglio said.

Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the state Attorney General is charged by state law with collecting the outstanding ethics fines. The fines are turned over to the Louisiana Attorney General once the judgments have been filed and various appeals have expired.

State Department of Justice Spokeswoman Laura Gerdes Colligan said in a prepared statement late Monday that the Attorney General’s office collection section had 47 open accounts valued at about $306,000 from the Board of Ethics. “Once our office receives ethics violation accounts for collection, they are pursued using our standard collection procedures,” she wrote.

Kennedy said he doesn’t know which agency is supposed to be collecting the monies but somebody needs to.

“I just look at the list and see that it hasn’t been done” said Kennedy, adding that an everyday driver who is ticketed for speeding cannot slip by without paying. Apparently elected officials can.

“This is a case where there is a double standard,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the Office of Debt Recovery would have the ability to seize bank accounts, tax returns and other assets.

Kennedy said the state’s ethics code also suffers from lack of enforcement caused by having too little funding available. The monies would go a long way towards helping the Ethics Administration hire more people.

“I can’t think of a better place to start than with these officials,” Kennedy said.