Someone please wake me up when we’re no longer in a place where accusations of ethical wrongdoing by elected officials can be so easily weaponized as high-caliber campaign fodder. It was really only a matter of time before what has infected the national political discourse spread down to the state level.
The Louisiana Board of Ethics has called out Attorney General Jeff Landry, the current favorite to become the state’s next governor, for accepting free plane travel from a top campaign donor. The board intends to fine Landry for the ride he accepted in 2021 from Lafayette businessman Greg Mosing to an attorney general’s association conference in Hawaii.
As first reported by Sam Karlin with The Advocate | The Times-Picayune, the Hawaii trip is one of several Landry accepted from major donors that appear to run afoul of state ethics laws because Landry failed to report them on his campaign finance disclosures. So far, it appears the ethics board is only concerned with the Hawaii flight.
Landry has acknowledged accepting the plane ride to Hawaii and said he did so to save the state money. He calls the ethics allegations an attempt from Gov. John Bel Edwards, who appoints seven of the board’s 11 members (state legislators approved the remaining four), to derail his front-running campaign just weeks before the primary election. The governor called Landry’s implication a “silly notion” this week.
There might be merit in Landry’s claim if the state ethics board actually had any teeth in the matter. Under its current structure, it’s largely an administrative agency with minimal punitive power. Fines comprise a large extent of the punishment the ethics board hands down, although it does have the ability to remove, suspend and reduce the compensation of public employees.
Unless it scrutinizes his additional free travel, Landry isn’t likely to see much more than a fine for his Hawaiian junket. There’s also the matter of whether any investigations can conclude ahead of the Oct. 14 primary election, not that it would make much difference to Landry supporters.
Remember, we live at a time when a former president who is the Republican frontrunner in the race to return to the White House unabashedly faces four criminal indictments — and has in succession turned each one into campaign gold. Call it modern-day political alchemy.
And like Donald Trump, there’s just no tarnishing Landry among his hardcore backers at this point.
Greg LaRose is editor of the Louisiana Illuminator and has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana.