The Return of Trooper-Gate: Have We Found the Money Man?

During and after the gubernatorial election, we here at The Hayride have had a few questions regarding the Louisiana State Trooper Association (LSTA) and its seemingly illegal (or at least unethical) endorsement of John Bel Edwards, and our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.

Via the Shreveport Times, there’s an Associated Press report that lists a big fundraiser for John Bel Edwards as the leader of the investigation into the LSTA contributions scandal: Taylor Townsend.

Townsend is a former Democratic state representative who was also recently hired by the governor for potentially lucrative work on lawsuits against oil and gas companies over coastal damage.

The governor’s office has denied allegations of political favoritism in Townsend’s hiring for that work.

Townsend heads the Democratic governor’s fundraising super PAC, Louisiana Families First. Between them, he and the other lawyers hired to handle the coastal suits raised some $130,000 for Edwards last year.

Don’t worry, there’s nothing at all dubious…

Ethics experts interviewed by the Advocate were divided over the hiring of Townsend by the State Police Commission.

…oh.

“There’s nothing in the law that would prohibit that, and I’m not aware of any overarching principle of ethics that would be drawn into question by reason of that occurrence,” said Gray Sexton, who served as general counsel for the state Ethics Board for four decades and now, as a private attorney, advises clients on how to navigate ethics law.

Robert St. Martin Westley, who teaches legal ethics at Tulane University Law School, said the arrangement presents “not an actual but a potential conflict of interest.”

“You’re enforcing state campaign finance law. That should itself not be a political process, and so if you take someone who is part of the political process and put them in charge of something that’s supposed to be a legal process, that’s where the appearance of impropriety comes in,” said Westley, who emphasized he was speaking from his legal ethics experience in general, not as someone devoted to governmental ethics or campaign finance law specifically.

Gray Sexton, by the way, is not unknown to us – he was the attorney who helped spring Caroline Fayard’s political career from its coffin after Fayard’s father and the state Democrat Party set up a dry-cleaning operation for him to illegally pay for his daughter’s 2010 campaign for Lt. Governor; Sexton managed to convinced the state’s courts that it’s actually OK for a third party to directly contribute more than a half-million dollars to a political campaign.

So, if there’s disagreement over the ethical aspect of this, then 1) it’s a day ending in -y in Louisiana and 2) there was probably a better choice out there.

Townsend did find three of the commissioners made illegal contributions to Edwards. They then resigned their positions, and Edwards was allowed to put three more guys of his choice on the commission. The other investigation Townsend spearheaded was into the use of LSTA money to reimburse David Young for his contributions to politicians. That investigation, according to the AP report, was mysteriously shut down.

Everyone maintains that it was all on the up-and-up, but if that were the case then Edwards, as also pointed out in the AP story, wouldn’t have distanced himself from the story nor would he have seen any reason to return the money to the LSTA. He’s a man of optics, not a man of ethics.

The lesson here? If you want something taken care of at State Police headquarters…better call Taylor.

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