Our Views: High life in politics

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Politicians are human beings, and surely some of them can be forgiven if they cling to their offices in the state House and Senate as much for the fine dining and high life of Baton Rouge compared with, say, Shongaloo.

Terrible, then, what has happened over the past few years to those politicians who treasure the legislative sessions as the highlight of their culinary calendar.

Meals from lobbyists are often limited to about $50, almost down to what one can spend back home at the diner.

Now, with the legislative session back at the State Capitol, we do not begrudge a lawmaker a good meal, or a waitress or barkeep the revenue from the entertainment associated with Big Issues.

Say what you will about the merits of lawsuits against Big Oil, the industry brings out the lobbyists and corporate execs, and the caterers. Even little payday loans, the target of limits on sky-high interest rates, have provoked a wave of lobbying contracts.

That’s not, though, where there is a lifestyle associated with pretty good government.

That is in the campaign accounts of powerful legislators, because Louisiana is one of the most lax states in allowing “campaign” expenditures for what in most jurisdictions comes out-of-pocket.

Over the years, many legislators, particularly those in leadership positions, have used campaign funds as an adjunct for their lifestyles: luxury car leases, tickets to the Final Four and other major sports events, expensive meals — the latter not subject to the lobbyists’ limits, so considerably more than $50 and change.

Where does this money come from? From campaign funds, many of them contributed by the special interest groups that darken the door of every committee room at the Capitol.

The ethics reforms so ostentatiously embraced by Gov. Bobby Jindal mean little if campaign funds can be spent on noncampaign expenses.

We like the argument of Jeff Sadow, the political science professor and conservative blogger: “Under the current regulations it’s too easy to want to be in office not so much because you want to provide good public policy, but in order to live the high life, using the promise or reality of power to entice donations in exchange for access.”

We hope that the Legislature avoids minor tweaks or adjustments to the law but instead sets out firm rules against using campaign funds for personal expenses.

Other states have dealt with this issue, and as Jindal says, in Louisiana we ought to be at the gold standard for ethics.