Nov 26, 2013 12:39 AM by Alex Labat
This past legislative session, the Senate & House Committee on Governmental Affairs were tasked with studying and recommending how campaign funds can be used. As of now, candidates can not spend campaign money for personal reasons.
But our investigative team has been doing some digging, and found out those restrictions haven't stopped politicians, as well as paying for staffing and buying food. Why? Because there's no concrete guidelines as to what is, and what isn't personal use.
"There are no specific provisions that address that. What you look back to are the general guidelines", says Louisiana Board of Ethics administrator Kathleen Allen.
Currently, the law prohibits officials from using campaign funds for expenditures that are not related to public office or campaigns. The Campaign Finance Disclosure Act also states that any excess funds can be used for future campaigns, returned to the donator, and given away to charities or other campaigns.
"Is this money being used for a political purpose that is not related to the officer holders own personal interest. If you can say yes, or make an argument to that effect, then the money is being used in an appropriate fashion", explains UL Political Science professor and KATC Political Analyst, Dr. Pearson Cross.
So we delved into the funds of Acadiana politicians, both active and inactive, and found some startling numbers. Here's a breakdown of some of the biggest left over campaign funds: CampaignSpending.pdf
Of all the candidates we looked at, former governor Kathleen Blanco's war chest remains the fullest. Since leaving office in 2008, she's spent more than $1 million on things like meetings and banquets, tech services like domain name renewal and email hosting, donations and political contributions, and over $350,000 in staffing.
But for all those expenditures, Blanco, who was last in office close to six years ago, still has close to $2 million dollars in unspent campaign funds.
"As long as she has that money she's still a big player. She's not just a former governor, she's a former governor with lots of cash to give away to any cause or candidate that she supports. It's a way to stay vital and important", says Cross.
Blanco declined to comment on camera about her spending, but did issue this statement, saying, ""Over the years my treasurer and I have worked to make sure my campaign account is used in accordance with state law and Ethics Commission rules. I maintain the option of running for office and keep my organization intact."
Another interesting spender we discovered is former senator Fred Hoyt. He represented St. Landry, Lafayette, Acadia, and Vermilion parishes for just one term, from 2000 to 2004.
What's so interesting? He still has $28,000, but he's spent almost as much as he left office with thanks in part to interest and contributions he's accepted.
"You have to pay taxes on the interest your account makes. But, you can use that interest money to pay those taxes. So these accounts can just get bigger and bigger. One imagines you could retire from politics with one million in your account, and run it up to two million if you were out long enough", says Cross.
Hoyt has accepted $3,000 in donations, and the investment account that holds his campaign money has earned over $6,000. He was also returned over $3,000 from returned checks after his failed re-election campaign, and has another $3,000 in earnings that are unaccounted for.
Hoyt declined an interview about his spending, saying only, "I'm still young and smart and I'm still politically active. I'm holding that there might be a possibility that I get back into politics."
Cross says, "If they want to hang onto it, then they can keep it until their dying day. As long as they say, "Oh well I'm going to use it for a political purpose."