Ethics package proposed

The Louisiana Board of Ethics on Friday advanced a scaled-down legislative agenda for consideration during the 2013 Legislature which opens April 8.

The board asked Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislative leaders for help in addressing four areas of law “which have presented issues before the Ethics Board or have resulted in litigation” which can prove costly for everyone involved.

Board priorities are:

  • A clarification of what constitutes prohibited personal use of campaign funds.
  • A determination of what information ethics attorneys must disclose during in judicial proceeding to those accused of violating ethics laws.
  • Guidance on when private entities or individuals doing traditional state work become public employees subject to the ethics code.
  • Fixing a glitch in the reporting of contributions by political action committees.

The Ethics Board postponed action on a fifth recommendation involving public officials and their participation in zoning and subdivision issues they or their relatives own.

“We need to say what it is we are having problems with,” said Ethics Board member Steve Lemke, of New Orleans.

The Ethics Board sends proposals to the Legislature each year, but it is up to legislators whether they want to file bills to address any of the problems it has run into. The pre-filing deadline for bills to be heard in the upcoming session is March 29.

An Ethics Board subcommittee has been studying the issue of appropriate use of campaign funds with an eye on developing rules and regulations.

But the board opted to ask the Legislature to weigh in first. The board has originally suggested that a model similar to that in Rhode Island be considered, but the recommendation ran into opposition from new Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau.

Bruneau, a former legislator who crafted campaign finance laws, bristled at the suggestion. “I would not include the pejorative language of Rhode Island,” Bruneau said. “When you send something like that you are going to get nothing done.”

Rhode Island’s law provides for a definition of personal use and provides a list of prohibited and permissible expenditures.

The Ethics Board should recommend that legislative committees that oversee campaign finance laws study the issue, including looking at other states not just Rhode Island, Bruneau said

“I think they are perfectly capable of doing nonpartisan research,” he said.

The board altered the recommendation to Bruneau’s liking.

On another issue, the board wants the Legislature to protect from disclosure to those accused of ethics law violations the transcript and recording of executive sessions as well as the board’s investigation report, notes of the investigator and attorneys.

The board wants the items to be declared confidential and privileged.