Appeals court to hear Holden’s ethics case

The dispute over whether Mayor-President Kip Holden violated campaign spending laws in 2010 by giving money to a constituent for funeral costs, for students to travel abroad, and to sponsor a Metro Council member’s daughter at the Congressional Youth Leadership Council will be heard Jan. 11 by a state appeals court in Baton Rouge.

State District Judge Kay Bates ruled in April that Holden did not violate the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.

Attorneys for the Louisiana Board of Ethics are asking the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to reverse Bates’ decision and send the case back to her for the assessment of “appropriate penalties” against the mayor.

Attorneys for Holden want the appellate court to affirm Bates’ holding and dismiss a lawsuit that the Ethics Board filed against him in February.

The board accused Holden of violating the CFDA by donating $500 for funeral expenses for murder victim Brittni Boatner, $500 for a program — People to People Ambassadors Program — for students traveling abroad, and $197 to sponsor Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker’s daughter, Tya Wicker, at the Congressional Youth Leadership Council.

Holden has said previously that he made all three expenditures “with a conscience that’s free and clear.’’

Ethics Board attorneys Michael Dupree, Kathleen Allen and Suzanne Quinlan Mooney argue in documents filed at the 1st Circuit that the mayor’s expenditures “were for personal reasons, not for reasons related to the holding of public office.”

The board’s attorneys contend that campaign funds “are not charity funds or slush funds.”

“While the expenditures were noble, they were personal, and should have been made using the Mayor’s personal funds,” the attorneys say.

Holden attorneys Jennifer Jackson and Gray Sexton counter in documents filed at the appellate court that the mayor’s challenged expenditures “are not only statutorily authorized, but are completely consistent with the Ethics Board’s prior actions.”

The mayor has donated excess campaign contributions to the Congressional Youth Leadership Council and People to People Ambassadors Program for years “without complaint from the Ethics Board,” his attorneys note.

Holden’s attorneys claim that 53 other Louisiana elected officials have made 90 donations from excess campaign contributions to PPAP since 2004, and no lawsuits have been filed against them. His attorneys also say more than 100 combined donations from excess campaign contributions have been made to CYLC and PPAP by at least 60 different politicians during the past eight years, without drawing a lawsuit.

“It is disturbing that the Ethics Board’s highly selective enforcement — and discordant interpretation — of the relevant provisions of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act has occurred against a background of the Ethics Board publicly announcing it is developing administrative rules to ‘define’ the term ‘personal use’ of excess campaign contributions,” Holden’s attorneys argue.

“The Ethics Board does not know what constitutes permissible use of campaign funds and has selectively enforced its own interpretation of permissible use,” they charge.

The Ethics Board’s attorneys counter that the board’s “inability” in the past to enforce violations of the laws does not “give support that the prohibited conduct is now righteous and lawful.”

The mayor’s attorneys also note that 113 funeral donations have been made by other elected officials since 1999, but no lawsuits have been filed against those officials.

Bates ruled that Holden did not violate state law in part because he “derived no personal benefit or added publicity” from the donations challenged by the Ethics Board.

Louisiana law states that contributions may be used for any lawful purpose, but the funds “shall not be used, loaned or pledged by any person for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of public office.”

Holden was fined $2,500 last year, the maximum allowed under state law, for his campaign’s failure to properly account for campaign funds that were used to cover travel expenses in 2009. The travel expenses included trips to China that Holden has said were to promote economic development for Baton Rouge.