So if senators who police ethics for their chamber say it’s acceptable to have a member’s spouse engage in real estate transactions with parties who may wish to influence her, why should Louisianans be concerned that Sen. Mary Landrieu and her husband Frank Snellings engage in this?
At least two instances have been uncovered where Snellings has been party to transactions with individuals who lobby for interests on issues she handles through the Senate Energy Committee on which she serves, and perhaps even personally; one, in fact, is a former employee of hers. Given the typical commission rate and prices of the properties, Snellings stood to bring at least around $75,000 into the family coffers as a result of these deals. The matter having been brought before the Senate Ethics Committee, it disposed of this case long ago by following its pattern of ruling that spouses can do any outside work they wish, including lobbying, as long as they don’t improperly influence their partners on behalf of paying clients.
It’s legal, and also ethical by Senate standards. But it displays poor judgment on Landrieu’s part because it invites the fox into the henhouse, as long as it swears up and down with no independent verification that it won’t touch the chickens.
To some degree, this typical ruling misses the danger to the integrity of the body. For improper influence to occur, there doesn’t even have to be a single thought communicated by either party along those lines. Lobbyist is in need of buying or selling a house, decides to use the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and influence, finds agent married to legislator who has power over issues of interest, the deal gets done, and the legislator knows who padded her family’s pocket. That is, the very act itself, needing no explicit acknowledgment of the possibility of influence peddling by the parties, is an instrument of influence.
Landrieu, who despite the policies she pursues than run counter to her professed faith that have drawn condemnation from religious leaders, maintains she is a Catholic. As such, she must be aware of the admonition against “occasions of sin,” where Catholics are bound to remove themselves from such relations that are continuous and voluntary – such as in these instances. It’s not like they need the money – according to her 2012 Senate disclosure they have at least $1.461 million in net assets but which could be (given the reporting ranges) at least a million dollars higher. And it seems that Snellings is in high demand as an agent with (as of this publication) more than 360 properties listed, most over $1 million.
In other words, if there was even the hint that his entering into a transaction could put her into a situation where impropriety in influence could occur, he easily could opt out of those transactions and not miss anything – if she asked (which, in my spouse’s vocabulary, translates as “ordered”). But yet she doesn’t appear to request this simple and costless deferral that would remove any doubts at all about improper influence cast over her actions as senator.
Which should flash a red light to voters. Judgment and discretion are important attributes in anybody who claims they serve the people, not just on issue preferences where Landrieu has proven remarkably obtuse, but in comportment and actions as a public servant. That Landrieu appears oblivious to the danger of allowing her spouse to put her into situations that betray the public’s trust should make anyone question whether she is fit for public service – a judgment voters will get to render next year.