An ethics challenge would be appropriate because the final ethics filing of Fiber 411 was wholly inadequate. The purpose of such filings is make visible who supported and who has benefited from campaign monies. Fiber 411's filing serves to hide this rather than reveal it.
As treasurer for Lafayette Coming Together's PAC I can attest to the fact that the filing rules are arcane and burdensome, you are supposed to file a lot of detail and file it in a timely manner. It isn't easy. (We missed a deadline for instance.) But the basic purpose and what you are supposed to file is clear.
Now the Fiber 411 crew of Tim Supple, Bill Leblanc, and Neal Breakfield spent a lot of energy trying to avoid being held responsible for a public accounting at all claiming that, for reasons that were always murky, that they shouldn't have to register as a PAC in order to receive money and spend it to influence the election. They were wrong and and under pressure eventually formed a PAC. There are more than a few things that are fishy about the whole setup.
- First, they organized the PAC after they had solicited, gathered money and presumably spent some of it. It should go without saying that this is not the right or legal order.
- Tim Supple who, oddly, is the only officer and is written in as both chair and treasurer in the organizational filing. As I understand and it the regulations require a chair and a treasurer at minimum and the legal responsibilities of the two differ. (Published claims by the trio have all three of them agreeing to actions taken by the PAC.)
- During the heat of the campaign and shortly after finally conceding that they had to have a PAC Fiber 411 told reporters that it had filed the interim report required by law. The trio's "report on their report" to the media, coupled with filings actually appearing on the ethics commission website from properly registered pro-fiber PACs made interesting reading at the time. But the stories made it sound as if the 411 guys were doing the right thing. Unfortunately the report they said they filed then never appeared on the ethics website at all. What happened? Was it not filed? Was it not filed correctly? Why wasn't a correct, if late, filing made? (One was required at that point in the campaign.)
- The final Fiber 411 report claims 22,000 dollars in "in kind" contributions by Bill LeBlanc for "yard signs." That's way too much money for yard signs; Bill LeBlanc is too good a businessman allow himself to be overcharged that badly.
- A Times of Acadiana article includes the last minute (and very dishonestly negative) direct mail pieces that Fiber 411 claimed credit for were part of that $22,000 that Bill LeBlanc claimed to have spent...it would pretty much have to be to have run up that sort of bill. Why wasn't that reported? It needs to be reported somewhere.
- The most glaring problem with the final report though is the lack of any detail on the $22,000 in-kind contribution attributed to Bill Leblanc. That's a lot of money coming from a single individual. (To give you an idea of just how disproportionate: the rest of the opponents in Lafayette was apparently concerned to the tune of only $185.) It is hard not to wonder if that that disproportionate an investment might not conceal donations that Bill passed on. But, source aside, what this "in kind" ploy surely conceals is who was paid and how much. Again, I worked with the "in kind" requirements while wearing the treasurer's hat for Lafayette Coming Together. The in kind requirement is intended to keep people from contributing resources anonymously. So if someone helped us design a mail piece but donated the service we had to report that as an "in kind" contribution to the cause. The point is that the in kind requirement works to force the PAC to list all those who contributed to the campaign in any way. It is most definitely not intended as a device to "sublet" the campaign so that one person contracts out and pays for all the work that is done and hides all the pay-outs under their name. We deserve to know where the money came from and who it was spent on--and on the profiber side that information is readily available. The in kind contributions reveal information for both Lafayette Yes! and Lafayette Coming Together. The in kind contribution on Fiber 411's listing conceals information. To distill the applicable law: Expenditures made by an agent on behalf of a political action committee must be specifically reported.
For lagniappe, one could file a separate complaint against Neal Breakfield and Eric Benjamin for revealing an ethics complaint illegally.
Or, for that matter, another enjoyable endeavor might be trying to track down where the $51,000 of BellSouth money that was apparently paid Calzone and Associates actually went. Might that have something to do with who designed the mysterious last minute direct mail pieces? I've worked around print design much of my life and am confident they were professionally--and very cleverly--designed. Someone designed it and someone printed it. Who is a question that is supposed to be answered in an ethics commission report. Saying that a person or a PR firm paid for the work isn't good enough. Any money paid by a public relations firm or agent is supposed to be itemized by the candidate. The law is clear on this:
Expenditures made by a public relations firm, an advertising agency, or agent for a candidate, political committee, or other person required to file reports under this Chapter shall be considered expenditures of the candidate, political committee, or such other person, and must be specifically reported as required by this Chapter.It's not enough to say you paid a company to do it. You have to say who they paid.
But WAIT. There's MORE!
Apparently BellSouth is taking "credit" for the last minute automated phone banking that went on in opposition to Lafayette's' plan. Who paid for that had been a mystery. Ourso Beychock Johnson, a Baton Rouge political firm, was paid by BellSouth to do the deed according to the election day report.
A curious payment of $750 dollars for election day work was made to Dustin Ryan Cravins, Don Cravin's youngest son, according to BellSouth's report. Dustin is a registered lobbyist. He registered Calzone and Associates as clients in a supplemental filing 5 days before the election but failed to fill out the part of the documentation where he is supposed to state whether Calzone and Associates paid him leaving us to speculate as to who his paymaster actually was. Cravins' office was the locus of considerable hullabaloo during the election when a Cravins aide was caught "running" picketing outside and questions during town hall meetings. His actions were disavowed by Cravins. We were told that Brooks, the aide, was free-lancing. The timely Dustin Cravins connection to Julie Calzone's firm reawakens those questions. We'll have to wait to find out what he did with that money till February 15th when lobbyists have to fill expenditure reports for the second half of the year. It will be entertaining. It should be fun get some clarity on who paid him and what he did with the money.