A couple of things are patently obvious to anyone who saw the press conference put on to defend East Baton Rouge Council On Aging director, and perhaps Louisiana’s chief public-sector kleptocrat, Tasha Clark Amar today – a press conference at which the most outspoken of Amar’s defenders was state representative, COA board member and budding ne’er-do-well C. Denise Marcelle.
Before we get to those, though, here is video of that press conference. If this is the best Baton Rouge has to offer in terms of municipal government, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be lost by the incorporation of St. George in the southern unincorporated part of the parish.
The guy talking at the beginning of the press conference is Murphy Foster, the legal counsel to the COA, and his statement is cute – he’s talking about how the COA is such a greatly improved organization thanks to the “help” from the legislative auditor and the governor, and how the COA is really getting trained up on ethics rules, and so on. He didn’t take any questions, which is understandable – after all, who in his position wants to catch a query like what in the hell was he doing when Tasha Clark Amar was commingling money between the COA and its political action committee, or why the ethics training Amar had already had didn’t prevent her from writing herself into an old lady’s will in direct contravention to state ethics law.
Then came Denise Marcelle to give a little bit of lip service to Foster’s narrative, and then flopped down the race card because all the white people in Baton Rouge didn’t have a problem when the white clerk of court was a bit freewheeling with the credit card, and now those white people “amaze” her by having a problem with Tasha Clark Amar breaking campaign laws to hook a hosepipe up to their wallets courtesy of that property tax. It was an “everybody does it” defense, as though the context of the misbehavior in question – committing, essentially, elections fraud in order to pass a tax to fund an agency engaged in wholesale corruption and practicing lawfare against its critics – is not noteworthy. She also asked why nobody cared about misuse of funds which turned up at the Bienville Parish Council On Aging, without making an allowance for the fact most people in Baton Rouge couldn’t place Bienville Parish on a map if their lives depended on it (for your information, the answer is it’s right here, just east of Bossier Parish).
It was an amazing “F you” moment, and it elevated Denise Marcelle to the status of this state’s most aggressively race-baiting elected official. As she said, she’s been around the COA in Baton Rouge for some eight years and she acts like that’s a good thing – rather than an admission she’s been part of a longstanding problem of graft, financial mismanagement and politicization (not to mention racialization; the COA used to have white people on its staff and now has none) of a troubled quasi-governmental agency for a long time.
That Marcelle is a bad egg and a major problem both as a matter of ethics in government and the promotion of positive race relations in Louisiana is hardly news; she’s just doing everything she can to insure even those who don’t pay all that much attention to state politics know it. That didn’t work for her in the Baton Rouge mayor’s race last year, when she failed to make the runoff, but Denise Marcelle is never going to be a peacemaker on the race relations front.
But the second thing one notices from that press conference is how confident the COA is that nothing of any significance is going to happen to the agency. Both Foster and Marcelle took pains to “assure” everyone that they’ll have the full $8 million flowing through that hosepipe by next year, and even when the local media started asking questions about Amar’s insane defamation lawsuit against members of the Plummer family she apparently attempted to defraud (it’s the second suit she filed against them, after all) Marcelle acted as though none of this relates to Amar’s fitness to serve in her current role at all.
All this would be bizarre if you didn’t understand the source of this confidence. A governor whose commitment to honor among public officials was more than just a campaign statement would pull the COA’s charter, which he has the plenary power to do, but John Bel Edwards isn’t going to do that.
After all, if you look at the legislative auditor’s full report, you’ll notice something interesting on Page 16 of the PDF file (page 10 as it’s paginated on the document)…
Council Used Public Funds to Pay Political Organization’s Expenses
From April 2016 to November 2016, the Council used $6,523 in public funds to pay SOS’s expenses. The majority of these expenses were incurred using the Council’s credit card and were reimbursed to the Council after the election. In addition, we identified $9,132 in expenses that the Council appears to have paid on SOS’s behalf for which the Council was not reimbursed. The use of public funds to pay SOS’s expenses may have
violated the constitutional prohibition against the donation of public funds.5 Furthermore, if the Council used public funds to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization, then Council management may have violated the Louisiana Constitution and state and federal law.
From April 11, 2016 to June 29, 2016, the Council incurred expenses totaling $837 on SOS’s behalf. The Council issued checks or used its PayPal account to pay these expenses and was reimbursed by SOS within a month of each expense being incurred. However, from July 6, 2016 to November 8, 2016, Council management and staff used the Council’s credit card to incur expenses totaling $5,686 on SOS’s behalf. Council and SOS records indicate that none of these charges were reimbursed to the Council until after the election, on November 15, 2016 (see copy of the reimbursement check below).
SOS is Support Our Seniors, the political action committee Amar set up to help pass that $8 million tax. The auditor’s report has a copy of the reimbursement check SOS wrote to the COA, and we picked up something significant about it…
No, it’s not that the check is a reimbursement. It’s not even that the signature on the check looks like it may have come from O’Jayadrian Williams, who is Tasha Clark Amar’s executive assistant at the COA and that in itself may be problematic.
It’s the address on the Support Our Seniors check. That would be 352 Napoleon Street in Baton Rouge. Which is the address for the Democrat political consulting firm Ourso Beychok, which works with virtually every major Democrat candidate in Louisiana and, in the 2015 gubernatorial election, did PAC work for John Bel Edwards. Ourso Beychok was the firm which leveraged millions of dollars of trial lawyer money into the anti-David Vitter Gumbo PAC, and essentially turned that race from one having to do with policy issues and the future of Louisiana into a referendum on a 15-year old sex scandal. Since Edwards’ election Ourso Beychok is also the firm behind Napoleon PAC, which is one of the governor’s political tentacles and raised over $100,000 last year to distribute street money on behalf of Democrat candidates. Napoleon PAC and Support Our Seniors PAC have the same treasurer, Mary Hoffman.
In the auditor’s report there are a number of e-mails back and forth between Michael Beychok and Tasha Clark Amar, ending in Beychok expressing some consternation that what Amar was doing in commingling the funds between COA and SOS was out of bounds, but it’s fair to say that consternation is rather mild; it’s of the “ask your attorney” variety. In the COA’s answer to the report, Foster makes the representation that the COA was under the impression Ourso Beychok was working on behalf of the PAC on a pro bono basis, something which might be true – we can’t find a report from the Support Our Seniors PAC at the Ethics Committee website or at the FEC website.
[EDIT – A correction: when we were researching for this post we looked mistakenly for “Save Our Seniors” and therefore came up empty. The Support Our Seniors PAC statements are here, and it turns out from looking through them that Ourso Beychok didn’t take a check from that PAC. One surmises they were compensated elsewhere, like from some of the Democrat political candidates whose donations cover those Support Our Seniors finance reports.]
This matters why? Well, it’s an indication that no matter how disgusting you might find Tasha Clark Amar, or Denise Marcelle, or the entire COA mess in Baton Rouge you can bet that crowd isn’t just whistling Dixie when they act like nothing much will happen as a result of the horrendous conduct of which they’re guilty. That $8 million they believe they have coming is dedicated to a purpose we’ve discussed here at the Hayride before – it’s to build a political machine which might provide some meals to senior citizens but it’s primarily to give them rides. To the polls. Particularly in the case of those seniors in demographic categories friendly to Democrat candidates.
Everyone, from John Bel Edwards, to Trey Ourso and Michael Beychok, to Tasha Clark Amar and Denise Marcelle and on down, knows this is going to be a staggeringly well-funded get-out-the-vote operation for the Louisiana Democrat Party in Baton Rouge which you will pay for out of your property taxes. And no matter how disgusting Tasha Clark Amar and Denise Marcelle might be and no matter how outrageous and offensive their statements might be, they serve a crucial purpose to Democrat control of East Baton Rouge Parish and the governor’s chances at re-election.
Which is more important than corruption, it’s more important than conflicts of interest, and it’s more important than senior citizens.