2006-619
Created By: Danielle Stanton on 09/19/2006 at 09:51 AM
Category: Campaign Finance Advisory Opinions
Caption:
Dismissed Document:

September 19, 2006

W. J. LeBlanc, Jr.
Gretna City Attorney
P. O. Box 400
Belle Chasse, LA 70037

Re: Ethics Board Docket No. 2006-619

Dear Mr. LeBlanc:

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, and acting in its capacity as the Supervisory Committee on Campaign Finance Disclosure, at its September 14, 2006 meeting, considered your request concerning Chief Arthur Lawson’s use of his campaign funds to pay for defense costs incurred by himself and other police officers or the receipt of such defense services at the cost of a non-profit group/fund. You stated that the New Orleans District Attorney announced to the media that he would empanel a grand jury to investigate the Gretna Police Department, with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, refusing to allow ingress across a bridge to the City of Gretna. You stated that the chief and other officers need the services of legal counsel, as well as independent investigators and experts to prepare and defend against possible criminal charges resulting from the investigation.

R.S. 18:1505.2I of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act provides that “contributions received by a candidate . . . may be expended for any lawful purpose, but such funds shall not be used, loaned, or pledged by any person for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign, the holding of a public office or party position, . . . except that excess campaign funds may be . . . given as a charitable contribution as provided in 26 USC 170(c), [or] given to a charitable organization as defined in 26 USC 501(c)(3). . .”

The Board concluded, and instructed me to inform you, as to the following with respect to each of your questions:

1. May the chief donate campaign funds to a non-profit group, such as a policeman’s benevolent fund, and the non-profit donate the money to the affected officers to cover defense costs?

The Campaign Finance Disclosure Act permits the Chief of Police to use his campaign funds to make a donation to a charitable organization as defined by 26 USC 501(c)(3). R.S. 18:1505.2I However, Section 1111A(1) of the Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits a public servant from receiving a thing of economic value because of the position he holds, other than his salary and related benefits from the governmental entity to which he is duly entitled, for the performance of his duties and responsibilities. Since the funds will be given to the chief and police officers for the defense costs related to their duties as such, they are prohibited from receiving the money donated. Correspondingly, Section 1117 of the Code prohibits Chief Lawson and the non-profit group from making such payments.

However, the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act permits a candidate to use his campaign funds in connection with his holding of public office, the chief is not prohibited from using his campaign funds to make payments for the defense costs incurred on his own behalf in this particular matter.

2. May the chief, in his individual capacity, raise money through a non-profit corporation for such a defense fund for legal expenses incurred as a result of the investigation?

No, since the funds will be given to the chief and police officers for the defense costs related to their duties as such, Section 1111A(1) of the Code prohibits them from receiving the money from the non-profit corporation donated for the defense costs incurred. Correspondingly, Section 1117 of the Code prohibits the non-profit group from making such payments.

3. May the chief or members of his department accept donations from non-profits, private individuals, or corporations for legal defenses incurred as a result of the investigation, if they are not involved in the solicitation of said funds?

No, since the funds will be given to the chief and police officers for the defense costs related to their duties as such, Section 1111A(1) of the Code prohibits them from receiving the money donated, even though they were not involved in the solicitation of those funds. Correspondingly, Section 1117 of the Code prohibits the non-profits, private individuals, or corporations from making such payments.

4. May a non-profit group be formed, such as the Gretna Police Defense Fund, and may that non-profit subsequently solicit funds and donations in order to pay any defense costs directly to the attorneys, investigators, etc. that were incurred by the chief and the officers?


No, since the funds will be given to the chief and police officers for the defense costs related to their duties as such, Section 1111A(1) of the Code prohibits them from receiving the money donated, even though they were not involved in the solicitation of those funds. Correspondingly, Section 1117 of the Code prohibits the non-profit from making such payments.

The Board issues no opinion as to laws other than the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics and the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act. If you have questions, please call me at (800) 842-6630 or (225) 763-8777.

Sincerely,

LOUISIANA BOARD OF ETHICS



Kathleen M. Allen
For the Board

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