BR Councilwoman Tara Wicker defends developer’s contribution

Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker received $2,500 — her largest contribution for 2013 — from Landmark Properties two days after the City-Parish Planning Commission that she chairs approved the company’s plans for a luxury apartment complex targeted for LSU students.

The contribution, reflected in campaign finance reports Metro Council members filed this week, is among more than $113,000 that members pulled into their campaign coffers in 2013, despite the fact that it wasn’t an election year.

Wicker said Landmark is working with local contractors, who have been her supporters, to build The Standard at Baton Rouge.

“The people that are on the ground are contractors that do business with the city all the time and part of my normal funders. It was a new group that came into town, but the people associated with them, I’ve had relationships with already,” she said Wednesday. “It’s not anything relative to the development project at all.”

The Nov. 20 contribution was given under the name James Wesley Rogers, who is president and CEO of Landmark Properties. The address listed is Landmark’s headquarters in Athens, Ga. Rogers didn’t return a call from The Advocate on Wednesday seeking additional information about the contribution.

During the Nov. 18 Planning Commission meeting, one neighbor spoke out against the proposed $50 million development, expressing concerns over traffic, drainage and noise. The commission voted unanimously to approve the developer’s plans, and the company broke ground on the project last month.

Wicker, a Democrat who has been mulling a run for mayor-president, ended 2013 with $26,227 in her campaign fund — second only to District 9 Councilman Joel Boé, who had $53,886 in cash on hand.

The annual campaign finance reports show that, combined, Metro Council members shelled out more than $96,700 from their campaign funds last year for various expenses often meant to drum up support in their districts or aid constituents — from sponsorship of public events to the distribution of regular newsletters.

District 11 Councilman Ryan Heck was the only council member who missed the campaign finance reporting deadline this week. Heck told The Advocate that he forgot to file but would submit his report in the coming days. Penalties for filing late reports run $60 a day, according to the state Ethics Board.

District 7 Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle reported $0 across the board in her report — no money received, paid out or left in the campaign fund.

For those who did report receiving money, many of the contributions came from businesses or private firms.

Among the more unusual or interesting expenses that Metro Council members reported: District 4 Councilman Scott Wilson and Boé each had to pay $500 to an O’Neal Lane pest control business for “damage caused by a political sign”; District 8 Councilman Buddy Amoroso spent $2,600 to poll constituents on a hot-button issue in the parish; Boé reported spending $70 on a baby-sitter for the Trafficking Hope gala last April and two other $40 baby-sitting charges earlier in the year; District 6 Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis spent more than $1,000 from her campaign for supplies for her annual back-to-school giveaway; and District 5 Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards paid $100 toward a constituent’s funeral expenses.

The only expense for Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe of District 3 was $2,700 to correct errors from previous campaign finance reports that were misdated. Most of the expense was to pay an accounting firm to redo the reports.

Wicker also paid in 2013 for previous reporting mistakes — $3,960 to the Ethics Board in August. She said her late fees were due to errors with the state’s electronic filing system and computer glitches.

Wicker, whose District 10 includes downtown Baton Rouge, spent $4,500 from her campaign fund on gas, with charges reported from area gas stations on 75 dates, sometimes on back-to-back days.

Council members receive $700 from the city-parish each year for travel costs, as well as other discretionary funds, but Wicker said she has chosen to use her campaign account to cover the expenses of getting around her district.

“I do a lot of meetings and running around and using my own vehicle,” she said. “It frees up some of that other money for me to be able to do things for my district.”

District 12 Councilman John Delgado, a Republican who is seen as a possible candidate for mayor-president, spent $11,774 on political consulting and advertising — another signal that he could seek higher office. He raised more money in 2013 than any other Metro Council member with $23,025.

Fellow Republican Amoroso was close behind with $20,205 raised.

“One thing with this is, you’re always fundraising,” Amoroso said.

It’s not yet clear what political future Amoroso will pursue. He said he’s not actively looking at any other office at this time.

“I’ve never had a more fun time in my life,” he said of his position on the Metro Council. “I enjoy dealing with the issues here.”

He hasn’t ruled out a possible run for state Rep. Hunter Greene’s seat in the Legislature. Greene, R-Baton Rouge, can’t seek re-election because of term limits and will leave that post in 2016.

Amoroso spent $17,774 last year on various campaign expenses, from district newsletters to polling residents for their thoughts on the proposal to create a new city in the southern portion of the parish.

The controversial proposal to incorporate St. George has been much debated in recent weeks. Amoroso said his poll found broad support for efforts to create a new school district in the currently unincorporated area, as well as the new city.

“It is very popular,” he said, noting that education is a top issue in his district.