Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fiber 411's Ethics Filing Inadequate (With Lagniappe)

Talking to a local lawyer last night I was told that an ethics complaint has been filed against Fiber 411. I certainly hope that is true though, as was the case when ethics-challenged Eric Benjamin "revealed" that an ethics violation had been placed against Joey Durel, it is impossible to confirm that such has occurred without courting an ethics violation yourself or encouraging another to do so.

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.
I'm sure any competent lawyer could find more to question.

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.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have the most twisted sense of fair play of anyone I have ever met. The vile you spout is nothing but enundo, accusation without fact, rumors and supposition. You try to convict without evidence and attack peoples character if they don't agree with you. It is a lynch mob mentality and justice. Character assination by ambush is your sword, delusional selfrighteous piety is your shield. You are the very reason people do not want to get involved in the democratic process. People,like you, of no moral or ethical content are free to attack from a cowards hiding place. It is obvious that you only care about degrading others, not about truth. You are a very, very sick man, looking for someone to drag into you twisted world. You are a coward and a liar.
Tim Supple

Anonymous said...

Why don't you file your own ethical complaint, you dam coward. As usual you wait for others to do what your to afraid to do and snipe from your hiding place. And while you're being so selfrighteous, don't forget to report Max from LCT. Remeber he sent an email to all of you at Lafayette Comes Together bragging about stealing Vote No signs. We have a copy from the "mole". Since you deem yourself to be the defender of ethics, did you report him? If not, why didn't you? Covering up a theft maybe. Did we report him, no. It's to childess to bothers. So stop being such a coward and report me, Fiber 411, anyone you want. If you need my files, come get them. If you need the check book, come get it. I have offered it to your group before and no one took me up on it.

Neal Breakfield said...

John:

Are you off the lithium again? I must say bravo, though. You are quite an investigator... too bad it is all supposition.

Forgive me if I don't go line by line with you. I work about 60-80 hours a week to support myself and my family. If I lived off of the government like you, and had all the resulting free time on my hands, I suppose it would be entertaining. We can't ALL live in a fantasy world.

But lets put it into perspective a little, shall we. You and your fellow pro-government-fiber advocates spent over $100,000 with the help of a lot of politicians who are good at raising money... they're politicians. However, you were bested by the government itself, which spent over $200,000 of taxpayer money on advertising and marketing in the final month before the election alone.

Heck, your own PAC raised what $40,000, maybe $50,000. Most of it came from out of state companies like New Hampshire and Delaware... about $25,000. What's that about? You had about $10,000 in help from your big brothers at Lafayette YES... their cup runneth over. Joey's good friend, Stephen May, along with his newspaper, The Independent, forked over almost $10,000. No wonder they always gave us the shaft... You did have about 30 or so generous souls who donated about 50 bucks or so a head on average.

You all proved that the people in government can direct large sums of taxpayer money AND get their friends with money and other interested parties to open their big bank accounts to blow over a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS in less than a MONTH! Almost as impressive as it is scary.

And you guys didn't want to let the people vote because you were afraid it would be an unfair election... silly wabbit. You were right. We took a knife to a gun fight.

Let's not forget about our Parish President and crew who went around using taxpayer money to campaign for this in the guise of "Town Hall" meetings. Or all the time that he spent campaigning at all those civic club meetings to get all those endorsements. I sure am glad he doesn't get paid by the hour!

I sure wish that I had a small army of government employees and sponges like yourself who have nothing better to do with their time to run such an twisted effort to ram this down the peoples' throats. If I had even a tenth of the resources available to you and your politician and government buddies, the results would have been different.

I stood up for something I believe in, and I stuck to my principles and values all along the way despite whatever you may suggest. I applaud you for your efforts. I know that you did the same. I also reserve the right to believe that you are misguided.

I think that we can agree on one thing though: we will always disagree on this... unless you change your mind... ;)

SOCK PUPPETS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

John said...

Tim,

The problem with your post, and other, similar responses to criticism in the past, is that you don’t answer the questions raised. I raised real questions which have a factual basis. (e.g. money raised before registration as a PAC, apparent misreporting of what money was spent for based on my experience with the costs of yard signs, legal issues about what cannot be hidden behind the in-kind label, etc.) If I am wrong about any of this you can say so--and should. That you do not say so and instead choose to attack my character says much about yours.

(You’ll have to point out any character attack I made on you. I stated (and will continue to state) that I believe an ethics investigation is warranted. I stated a few of the more obvious and procedural facts that support my belief. Look for the equivalent of calling me a liar and a coward and I think even you will be hard put to find it.)

I can’t help but be astonished by the character issues you try to raise. I have to wonder about the log in your own eye...whatever else might be said about me I have been the most constant and insistent voice for standing up and speaking in public and in your own voice in this whole debate. I not only didn’t encourage anonymous posting, I actively discouraged it. The anonymous poison which was the foundation of Fiber 411’s chatbox activity was founded on was all that sustained that site. What I’ve never done is hide myself, counsel others to hide, or allow people to hide anywhere where I could influence the discourse.

At the bottom of all this you seem to believe that I advocate an ethics investigation out of some sort of “spite” directed at you personally (or perhaps all of you). That is not the case. I believe that it matters that we all play by the same rules. I believe the Fiber 411 PAC didn’t and isn’t playing by the rules I felt obligated by. It matters, even though fiber won, because history is prolog...unless the rules are enforced standards slip away. For instance, I don’t want the sort of last-minute inaccurately drawn attack that was contained in the final mailers from Fiber 411 to slip away as if they weren’t part of what Fiber 411 did during the election. Maybe you are embarrassed by them. I would be. Maybe that’s why they are not listed as an expense on you ethics report even though “Paid for by Fiber 411” is on the flyers themselves. But embarrassed or not you shouldn’t be able to get away with simply not listing them as an expense--and not saying who was paid to get them produced. History is actually important, and I don’t want to see the real history slip away or be obscured.

John said...

Neal,

Aside from the inexplicable confusion (I know you’ve been told multiple times) about my work status (I don’t get penny one from the govt. now and haven’t for years) you’re almost civil. Let it be known, too, that the idea that I should somehow be ashamed of being a teacher because it’s usually paid for by the community is not something I think makes much sense. Sorry.

I suggest that instead of spending your time trying to pass insults that don’t insult you really ought to get into a line-by-line. I make real, factual claims. I think they are all true. If I’m wrong you ought to say so. Getting all hicky about how much more money and energy the proponents of fiber in Lafayette were willing to spend for fiber than your crowd was willing to spend against it doesn’t seem (to me) to do much to counter my well-founded claims.

I’ll happily concede that I was surprised that BellSouth and Cox, in the end, fizzled out so badly. It’s not the way it started and it’s not the way that the incumbents have fought other fights. In other places, though, they didn’t face a community that was so united. Both political parties endorsed fiber. (Both!) The Chamber came down on the side of the city. The vast majority of business owners supported it. You could open the Independent and see a full page of names of businesses and individuals that supported the cause. Serious money was raised from the local community. Polling made it clear where the basic sentiment lay. The council supported it....You get the drift. BellSouth and Cox had only their money and (no offense meant) you guys. That wasn’t enough to get them to invest their cash. It’s the smartest thing they did during the election; their entry would have made the referendum all about the incumbents trying to tell Lafayette not to do what every level of the town wanted to do. They could tell we were prepared to wax them on that (we were) and mostly stayed out of it.

We’ll surely continue to disagree on this and you’ll continue to think you are right...I wish you were just able to say that you lost this argument instead of blaming the outcome on governmental bogeymen when you’re talking about a bunch of local yokels that were just trying to do the right thing for their community. And who had, the evidence shows, the more convincing position.

Neal Breakfield said...

Look dude, Bill spent a large chunk of change of his own. Tim and I tried to talk him out of it, but he would not stop. That's it. End of discussion.

I don't see why this is pertinent since you accepted a $10,000 donation (the largest single donation in LCT's coffers) from an out of state company that is a consultant to LUS and has billed LUS for many tens of thousands of dollars for their consulting services on this issue.

Had not benevolent folks like you and Joey spent over $300,000 in the final weeks, AND EVEN BUSSED PEOPLE TO THE POLLS IN BUSSES THAT HAD PEOPLE WITH _VOTE_YES_ SHIRTS ON, I think the outcome would have been different. I saw it with my own EYES! And when you guys saw that I was watching, you sent the busses off in different direction like bats out of hell! It was like a chinese firedrill!

The difference in your position and mine in the election is this:

I did NOT have to BUY MY VOTES! You and the government sold the dream and told people that there was NO RISK! That's a LIE, John!

The fact remains that our government has spent over a million dollars of taxpayer money and has endeavoured to "bend" the law many times on this and they are not done yet.

Do you see nothing wrong with that? Well I do.

Anonymous said...

Look you little twerp, the filiers were oked by Fiber 411, Fiber 411's name was on them, my god, how much more can we do to satisfy you. Yes, they were a like kind contribution from Bill, yes I did not "label" it specifically as filers, I just put it all up as yard signs. What difference does it make. Filers, yard signs, bumper stickers, lapel pins, what difference does it make.

Lets settle this once and for all, you come to my office 10:00 A.M. Monday morning. I will come get you if you need. I will give you everything I have and you can file the ethics report for Fiber 411. And by the way I didn't list the cost of phone calls I made to other cities to research fiber, I didn't list the cost of mail to those cities to request financial information, I didn't list whatever copy cost I had off of the machine in my office, I didn't list the gas for my car that took me around to put up and take down signs, or go to meetings, or lunchs I had while at public speaking engagements, and I'm sure many other cost. You can add that also. What I did do was send the ethic committee all the cash contributions (some $185, I think)and total amount of the in kind contributions that I know about. If I did it wrong you can correct me.
So I will see you at 10:00 at my office on Monday. By the way please bring the email from Max about stealing signs. And I will be at your office at 10:00 on Tuesday to view your records. I know you would want to be fair and have full disclousre. If you don't show up, please post in your blog site that you have refused my invitation to inspect fiber 411 books, then everyone who reads your blogs can determine for themselves if you are a coward or not.
Tim Supple

John said...

Hi Tim,

You don't need my help to get yourself straight on this. And you aren't going to get it.

After a couple of repetitions here you are willing to address and own up on one of the points I raised in the original post. (The one for which I suggested an easy explanation.) Congrats.

Now how about the others?

You seem to think--or want people to believe--that this is all about pleasing me and that you are righteously willing to satisfy me. It isn't about me and I haven't asked you to prove one thing to me. It's about the ethics commission reports. It's all about You meeting Your obligations.

Simple as that.

And it can't be cured by name-calling or histrionics.

John said...

A note of rationality:

The mailers that Tim is loath to list on Fiber 411's PAC report are no small item either in terms of the campaign or in terms of Fiber 411's finances. They had to have been the largest expenditure of their campaign, and were surely a larger expenditure than the "yard signs" which were what the official ethics report says the 22,000 dollars in question was spent on. Most of the 22,000 surely to mailers. The yard signs are the least significant item, not the mailers. In truth those were different expenditures and should have been listed separately.

The point of my bringing up the issue as an ethics question is that the ethics rules exist to let the public track the money. Where did it come from? Where did it go? Ok, they've said it came from Bill. What was it spent on? Each expenditure needs to listed. Beyond that it still remains to be said where the yard sign OR the mailer money was spent. Who designed the mailer? Who printed it? Who handled the mailing? For LCT's postcard mailer all that is in the ethics report. You can see where the money went.

To repeat the point made in the original post: you cannot tell where that money went on the basis of Fiber 411's ethic's filing.

And you should be able to. As I read them the ethics rules require that information. The public ought to be able to find out, that is my point. Telling any private individual, myself included, doesn't satisfy that ethical requirement.

Anonymous said...

So bottom line,you are a coward. you don't want to come to my office and check my files and get whatever answers you claim you want.You don't want to get anything straight. You would rather continue to snipe away from you hiding place and continue attack people with inneundo of unethical behavior.

OK, now I'm not satisfied. When can I come to view your groups books? Are you afraid? What are you hiding?

Please tell your readers about the Max email to all Lafayette Comes Together bragging about stealing Fiber 411 Signs. Everyone of them got it. Come on John tell us about your ethics.
Tim

Anonymous said...

PUBLISH THE EMAIL FROM MAX ABOUT STEALING SIGNS. WHO IS MAX?

John said...

Tim,

You've seriously dropped off the edge. There comes a momement in everyone's life when blaming others for your failures no longer works.

You've reached that point. Wise up.

To repeat again: you've got nothing to make right with me. We're talking about the right way to make an ethics report. Telling me all your sins won't help.

Anonymous said...

Do you or do you not know of members of Lafayette Coming Together stealing Fiber 411 yard signs? And if you do, do you feel it your ethical responsiblity to report it? Tell your readers the truth.
Tim

John said...

Public notice:

As Neal can testify spamming this site by posting comments that have nothing to do with with the post it supposedly comments on is something I object to. I've erased several such this morning (the text is immediately above). I will continue to do so.

(I say Neal knows because he unaged in a bit of it and when he calmed down graciously apologized. We all,Tim included, know this is not new policy.)

This string has become, at least on Tim's part, a series of disconnected, pointless insults and attempts to bring topics to the table that distract from, rather than explore, the points made in the post. My best efforts not to play that game don't seem to be working to bring the conversation around. I refuse to follow his lead in trading insults and I am in no way obligated to continue to endure them.

I'm willing to debate, and I'm going to leave the gratuitous insults and obvious attempts to change the topic up. But I am hereby serving notice now that I'm not going to feel obliged to do so in the future.

This isn't a chatbox. It's a comment's section.

Anonymous said...

The debate is about ethics. By enundo and rumor, you call into question my ethics. Now I call into question your ethics. The question stands:
Do you or do you not know of members of Lafayette Coming Together stealing Fiber 411 yard signs? And if you do, do you feel it your ethical responsiblity to report it? Tell your readers the truth.

John said...

No Tim, the debate isn't about ethics in general or either of our characters. It is about an ethical filing. As you well know since you filled them out the forms are entirely about financial matters. This pretense that something else could be or should be reported on them is yet another hypocritical ploy to avoid examination of the issues I raise. The hysteria and name calling didn't work so on to other evasive tactics. What you want to do is turn this discussion into another "he said, she said" game where a reader would be tempted to say "a pox on them both" instead of examining the evidence I presented. I've learned enough, at long last, not to play that game. I recommend the reader simply click through, look a the evidence presented, and decide for themselves whether or not a complaint is warranted.

Mea Culp Section:

Oddly, I deluded myself into believing that if I was scrupulous and didn't try, for instance to lord over this little debate that at least one Fiber 411 member and probably two had not only advocated filing but actually filed ethics reports that we'd be able to walk through the plain facts without incorporating the rancorous fact that these guys objecting to anyone else calling for an ethics filing was they height of hypocrisy. Oddly, I thought that would be unfair, thinking if I had pursued it I would have been encouraging folks to speak about things which by law they are forbidden to do. Oddly, I thought that bringing in other issues outside the scope of my points about the financial filings at the ethics commission would both appear ugly and unprincipled and actually be an attempt to unfairly influence the reader's judgment of the plain facts I put before them.

Obviously, to anyone who has a lick of analytical sense, I have avoided making an ethics complaint myself because people who do that are not (supposed) to talk about it. My chosen role is to comment on ongoing issues; if I lodged a complaint I would be honor-bound to shut up about an important piece of the history I want to make sure is part of the record. And I'm not planning on shutting up, so...

I should have understood that since Fiber 411 folks apparently felt no compunction in breaking or evading that law by discussing their own filing I was just being a patsy by not calling them on their evasions. Silly me. Gotta have principles and all that. Give folks a chance to rise to the occasion. Foolish. I have a bad case of congenital naivete. The kicker is that, as far as was recounted in Eric Benajmin's column, the substantial points of that filing were almost completely contradicted by easily available research. The inaccuracies went so deep that the Advocate went the highly unusual length of devoting a story to demolishing them. Apologies or retractions? None. Disavowals by others on that team? None. Hypocrisy in complaining about others merely recounting their obvious failures in filing? Enourmous.

I blame myself. I did know better than to expect better. And really, why should I have held out any hopes when the first message was a little hissy fit and a lot of name calling and not a lick of response to factual claims. When it turned to spamming multiple postings with "comments" that had nothing to do with the post, something that had called for an apology from 411 folk before, I should have realized that it was another example of deciding that the rules are for other people--precisely what I was complaining about in reference to the ethics filing.

The Evidence section:

Anyone who wants can go back to the top of this post and read what I've actually written about filing ethics reports. It is all based in fact. Follow the links, it's all laid out plainly. I did nothing more than to point out that filings weren't timely, that donations appear to improperly proceeded incorporation, that the crucial mailers weren't accounted for and should be, and that the law (clearly cited) calls for those who were paid to produce things like mail and yard sign items to be listed.

This series which began in hysteria and name-calling has degenerated into repetition, and faux anonymous postings. I've not been able turn it into a conversation. It is over.