THE INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: Politicians told to pay fines
BATON ROUGE - Politicians are being warned and getting disqualified from running for office since they owe outstanding fines for ethics violations.
In the next few weeks, the Louisiana Attorney General will mail payment demand letters to 20 politicians in an effort to collect debts.
Four politicians are from the Baton Rouge-area:
The police chief in St. Gabriel, Kevin Ambeau, owes $6000.
Former West Baton Rouge council member Keith Washington owes a $150 fine.
East Baton Rouge Metro Council Member Chandler Loupe owes $1700.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden owes $2500. The Ethics Commission said Holden's annual financial report was filed incorrectly. He will receive a demand letter.
"I'm going to go with my lawyer and prove them incorrect," Holden told the WBRZ Investigative Unit.
It does not take much for a candidate to lose the opportunity to campaign if they do not settle the debt.
"Over $250 the board can object to someone's candidacy," Ethics Commission Executive Director Kathleen Allen said.
This year 15 politicians were disqualified or withdrew from elections once their candidacy was contested because they were delinquent on their ethics fines. When other delinquent candidates were threatened to lose their ballot position, many paid.
"We received over $71,000," Allen said.
Iberville Parish's Edward James Jr. and Erick Batiste never paid and were disqualified. In Pointe Coupee, Chad Hendricks never paid and withdrew.
Loupe was not aware he owed the Ethics Commission money. He was also unaware he was getting turned over to the AG's office for collection.
"I always want to pay my fines on time. If I owe it, I want to pay it," Loupe said.
He agreed to the fine but feels the process is burdensome, especially for some politicians.
"It seems silly. For a police juror, getting $500 a month, to have to spend $5000 in accounting fees to say he only collected $500 in campaign contributions just seems counterintuitive," Loupe said.
As for Holden, Allen said his appeals process is over but the mayor plans to take his fight to the AG's office.
The Ethics Board meets monthly and makes judgments on delinquent fines.
Gonzales councilman Timothy Vessel got his $5000 fine reduced to a suspension of $2500. His fines are waived if he keeps his paperwork in order.
The board can be lenient to candidates or politicians who appear.
"The information is out there," Allen said. "With respect to candidates, they're given information when they qualify. With the respect to the personal financial, they get notices in those situations before penalty is assessed saying you owe us a report you have seven days to do so without penalty."
The Ethics Commission has collected nearly $500,000 this year. Some of that money goes to the salaries at the AG's office.
Click here to see a list of candidates who owe money.