By Andrea Gallo | The Advocate | February 4, 2022
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry failed to report that he received more than $4,000 in travel reimbursements last year within the time period that state public servants are required to submit such expenses to the state’s Ethics Board.
Tax forms filed Jan. 31 with the Internal Revenue Service show that the Republican Attorneys General Association, known as RAGA, reimbursed Landry for three trips in 2021. Landry got a $710 reimbursement last July, a $2,410 reimbursement last August and $910 reimbursement last October.
While the 2021 trips were the most recent, RAGA’s past tax forms show that they’ve reimbursed Landry at least $8,000 in travel expenses since 2018. Landry, the state’s top law enforcement official, has never reported the reimbursements through disclosure forms for “complimentary admission, lodging, and reasonable transportation or a reimbursement of such expenses,” according to the state’s Ethics Board online filings.
State law requires public officials to disclose when they receive reimbursements or comped travel; they must do so within 60 days of receipt. The law says public officials are supposed to include information about when and where they were traveling, the purpose of the travel, who paid for their expenses and the amount reimbursed.
The RAGA filings do not say where Landry traveled and for what purpose, but they do list Landry’s home address in their descriptions. Landry’s spokesperson, Cory Dennis, did not answer questions about why Landry did not fill out the disclosure forms, the purpose of his travel and whether the reimbursements went to Landry’s campaign fund, state coffers or personal bank account.
Instead, Dennis said, “there is nothing improper about these reimbursements.”
Others say the attorney general ought to set a better example.
“He is the attorney general of the state of Louisiana. If anybody is supposed to know the laws of Louisiana, including the ethics laws, it’s him,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans-based watchdog group. “While this is not necessarily a lot of money, it may have been an oversight, but he as the lawyer for the state of Louisiana, the attorney general for the state of Louisiana, has to be held to a higher standard.”
Landry’s last filing with the state’s Ethics Board was in May 2021, when he submitted his personal financial disclosure forms for 2020. In all of his time working in politics, he has never submitted disclosure forms about travel, admission or lodging, based on those posted on the Ethics Board’s website.
Among his peers, that’s unusual.
Landry’s predecessor as attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, submitted a disclosure in 2012, for example, for a $1,154 trip to Washington, D.C. for a seminar. And Gov. John Bel Edwards last filed one of the disclosure forms in 2018, when he reported that the Center for Planning Excellence paid $159 for his lodging during an event at the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
State Treasurer John Schroder also filed a disclosure form this January for a $1,486 trip he took last November to Florida for a national meeting of state financial officers. He also submitted a form last September for a $695 July trip to Utah for a Louisiana Firefighters Retirement System meeting.
The state’s Ethics Board can penalize public servants who fail to follow the rules by charging them with a violation of the code, which can end in a settlement agreement or be battled out through administrative courts. Those found out of step can also be fined, though state Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said she “cannot think of charges issued in which this provision was raised.” It’s the sort of omission that can be hard to police, as it’s up to public servants to report their own behavior.
The Ethics Board maintains lists online of public officials who fail to file financial disclosure forms — and the fines assessed for failing to do so — but those involve personal financial disclosures. Landry is up to date on those.
Landry also reported some expenses related to RAGA in campaign finance forms from 2020 and 2019, but the expenses do not correspond with those on RAGA’s filings. For example, RAGA reported that they reimbursed Landry with $718 in May 2019 for lodging. That expense does not appear in Landry’s campaign finance forms, though Landry reported tapping his campaign fund for $398 in October 2019 for a hotel stay related to a “RAGA event.”
One sole expense appears both on Landry and RAGA’s disclosure forms, and it isn’t related to travel. Both reported that RAGA gave a $5,000 contribution to Landry’s campaign fund in late 2018.
Landry was the chair of RAGA in 2020 and has been on its executive committee since then.
That organization came under heavy scrutiny last year after one of its offshoots, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, sent out a robocall the day before a pro-Donald Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were voting to certify that Joe Biden won the presidency.
The robocall invited “patriots like you” to “march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.”
Landry is also listed in past tax documents as one of several directors of the Rule of Defense Law Fund. The fund’s chairman said in the aftermath of the call that he was directing an internal review of it, while a RAGA spokesperson said that they condemned the violence and that RAGA “had no involvement” in the event.