Louisiana school board candidate may have breached state campaign law
Incumbent Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) candidate Chas Roemer appears to have violated state campaign law by accepting a $20,000 donation from a pro-business Political Action Committee.
A review of state financial reports by The American Independent found that East PAC, one of the four “Big PACs” affiliated with The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), an organization claiming to promote the“free-enterprise system,” made the donation to Roemer on Monday.
Alainna Giacone, communications director for the Louisiana Board of Ethics, the body that regulates election campaign finance, told TAI: “The campaign finance chart limits the amount Big PACs contribute per election to no more than $10,000.”
The contributions were made ahead of November 19 run-off elections pitting Roemer against Donald Songy, a former educator and parish superintendent. The election results will determine whether Gov. Bobby Jindal will enjoy a “pro-reform” majority on the school boards sympathetic to expanding charter schools and weakening teacher tenure rules.
Giacone said The Board of Ethics will likely not take up the issue until December during its monthly meeting.
“Once we receive notice of a report for a possible violation, then it will be put on the docket,” she said. Giacone pointed to state laws indicating that the candidate and the PAC can face anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 in fines for the violation.
Roemer, the son of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, narrowly missed earning the majority vote in an Oct. 22 election that would have resulted in his outright taking the BESE seat — instead receiving 45 percent of the vote. Songy finished second with 28 percent.
While Roemer’s fundraising far exceeded that of his opponents in the BESE seat election, as previously reported by TAI, his supporters are aggressively raising money on his behalf.
A Louisiana Republican group affiliated with Gov. Bobby Jindal is asking supporters to help raise $200,000 for the Roemer’s reelection.
Friends of Bobby Jindal circulated an e-mail on Wednesday that read, in part:
“This is a must win race. We will need to raise $200k quickly to wage a strong campaign for Chas [Roemer] and provide him the support he needs to win election in 4 weeks. Winning this last BESE race will give us a pro-reform majority on the BESE board, giving the Governor and strong partner in reforming our education system so every child can attend a good school and receive a great education.”
An e-mail attachment directs users to the 2011 Republican Victory Fund donation page. Contribution requests range from $5,000 to $100,000. Those limits are defined by state laws that say individuals can contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate per election — or up to $100,000 to a Political Action Committees (PACs) over a four-year period.
Friends of Bobby Jindal, however, is not a registered PAC. It cannot raise money but does not violate state laws soliciting on behalf of groups like The Republican Victory Fund.
On a comprehensive campaign finance filing dated October 11, Roemer’s records show he collected $117,250 to Songy’s $965.
Chris Sommers, Director of the Louisiana Campaign Finance Division within the Louisiana Board of Ethics, told The American Independent, “Certainly the Republican Party can spend unlimited amounts of money; however, just from what I have seen, solicitations aren’t often made in this way.”
Filings after October 11 show Roemer added an additional $16,149.48 from state Republican Party contributions, plus an additional $53,500.
Songy, meanwhile has added $5,000 to his campaign purse strings following donations from a local SEIU chapter and the Louisiana affiliate of the National Education Association. The available records on Songy indicate his campaign has raised $13,830.00. Roemer’s earnings total $222,125.50
Yet state campaign finance records also show Roemer has spent less than $25,000 since January of 2010 on his reelection effort. In the same period, Songy spent just over $6,400 on campaign expenses.
“Customarily, there isn’t a lot of money spent on these elections,” Sommers said, referring to BESE seats. “There is definitely more financial activity compared to before in connection with those races.”
Many corporate interests have backed Roemer.
LABI, made up of four regional PACs (West PAC, East PAC, North PAC, and South PAC) that each gave Roemer $10,000, also through East Pac contributed an additional $20,000 on Monday. The state Republican Party gave nearly $34,000. While Gov. Jindal, who needs a two-thirds majority in BESE to have his choice for state superintendent of public schools appointed, donated to Roemer $5,000 through his campaign committee. His father Buddy Roemer has donated $10,000, spaced over the two campaign periods.
Roemer’s membership on BESE has been a source of rancor for groups opposing his unabated support for charter schools. Roemer’s sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS). The group advocates for expanding charter schools in the state and loosening restrictions on teacher tenure. In 2008, the state’s top ethics committee ruled Caroline Roemer cannot appear before BESE, but LAPCS is not restricted. Chas Roemer was not asked to recuse himself from hearings when LAPCS is present, though sections 1112 and 1120 of the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics indicate that he should.
A look at BESE meeting minutes in January of 2011 reveals (PDF) Chas Roemer voted on renewing the charters of multiple charter schools (Type 5 Charter Schools) that are members of the charter school association his sister leads. Some of those include the McDonogh schools, which belong to the KIPP and Algiers charter school networks.
Four years of listening to Chas Roemer pontificate in a play for press coverage should be nearing an end. His position is so obviously driven by his will to help his sister and not to help the kids attending the RSD schools he governs. With 88% of RSD schools graded D or F last month, he has the gall to attack Donald Songy for state failings, when the district over which Donald served as Superintendent is one of the top ten in the state is preposterous and is clear evidence that he is out of touch with the reality of public education in Louisiana.
Thanks for revealing what Baton Rouge media refuses to touch.
Just follow the money and see who is giving to who. Songy is accepting money from the unions. That right there disqualifies him. BTW Whittinghill; Ascension will have great scores no matter who is Superintendent in that parish. Since you praise Songy for great scores in Ascension, do you also fault him for the Donaldsonville Schools ( remember the WB of Ascension still exists) that are ranked near the bottom of the state standards each year? Giving Songy credit for high scores in Ascension Parish is like giving Obama credit for Killing Osama Bin Laden. Give the children and the teachers credit, not someone in the central office.
It is hare to believe that Louisiana actually has campaign laws that could do something about keepig elections fair. WOW. I hope they get this one for the people.
Indeed, the senate pasesd the bill unanimously without any debate after it had cleared the house by a resounding 94-3 vote. That’s 94 politicians who belong in prison for treason.Way to go Zack Kopplin for defending our constitution.darwinkilledgod dot blogspot dot com