Mr. Transparent pt. 2
James Gill, op-ed columnist at the Times Picayune, expands on PBJ’s selective transparency this morning
That avatar of rectitude and tireless proponent of “transparency,” Gov. Bobby Jindal, refuses to answer when asked how come he won’t require unethical politicians to pay fines out of their own pockets.
Jindal’s advisers wanted to prohibit officials from dipping into their campaign funds when they violate the ethics code, but Jindal paid no heed. Otherwise he went along with the reforms they recommended, and last week unveiled a 60-point plan for consideration at the upcoming special legislative session.
He would have been wiser to make it a 61-point plan, since it is perfectly obvious that grubby politicians are hardly going to be deterred so long as the law allows them to pay fines with other people’s money.
It is also perfectly obvious why Jindal refuses to explain himself. He can hardly be expected to say, “Because I am a humbug,” although that would be the right answer.
Jindal proposes to tap his campaign fund to the tune of $2,500 after the ethics board found he had failed to disclose a $118,000 in-kind contribution from the GOP.
That was not exactly a hanging offense, and appears to be been the result of sloppy communication among his campaign staff. Such errors can occur in any campaign, but Jindal had boldly declared himself for “zero tolerance” and promised stern retribution for errant staffers. Evidently he didn’t mean it, for there were no repercussions.
Jindal is a great deal holier than thou, and here was an opportunity to put his money where his halo is. Since Jindal proposes to lead us to the sunlit uplands of ethics reform, he could have set a stirring example by reaching into his own pocket. Instead, his flack announced, “The campaign was fined. The campaign will pay.”
Jindal is supposed to be some kind of genius, but you’d never know it from this stunt. He evidently lacked the nerve to ban what he had just done himself, and was thus forced to weaken the ethics reform package on which he is staking his reputation.
There will be an unmistakable whiff of hypocrisy when our self-styled champion of virtue enters the room. He needs to make a splash at the first session of his governorship, and enjoys such overwhelming public support that he should emerge with enough reform to brag about. But, for a lousy $2,500, he could have had moral authority too.
Since Jindal has set a tight agenda for a special session, it will be very difficult for legislators to remedy his omission. They could, in theory, enact a ban on the use of campaign money to pay ethics fines at the regular session that starts March 31, but this is regarded as unlikely.
It is apparent that plenty of legislators think that ethics can be taken too far, and they will not be eager to enact more reforms than the governor proposes. Jindal has a lot of stroke with the Legislature in in any case.
He came to office extolling the separation of powers and promising to let legislators choose their own leaders. This was another of the new dawns that dominate the Jindal rhetoric. Finally, we would have a governor who didn’t interfere with the Legislature and usurp its powers and independence.
Except that Jindal didn’t mean what he said that time either, sticking his nose in to orchestrate the ascent of Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, to the House speakership and Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, to the Senate presidency. He tapped those worthies, and called them “consensus” choices, eight weeks before their colleagues were due to vote for new leaders.
Now, a couple of weeks after imposing a state government hiring freeze, Jindal has granted himself an exemption and recruited a new director of community programs. No big deal, perhaps, but more evidence that leading by example is not our governor’s style.