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Louisiana Purchased Series: One Year Later

(#LAPurchased award winning logo)

(#LAPurchased award winning logo)

This month marks the one year anniversary of the highly successful investigative news series titled “Louisiana Purchased”.  The Times-Picayune Newspaper, partnered with FOX 8 news, to conduct a four-month long investigation, which originally aired in November 2013.  The #LAPurchased series explored the power of the money behind campaign contributions, to elected officials and what donors got in return.  Louisiana is billed as the most “corrupt state in the nation” and 2UrbanGirls spoke with Enterprise Editor, Manuel Torres, on how this series affirms that notion.

Manuel Torres is a seasoned journalist who is a native of Nicaragua.  He studied in the states receiving his undergrad degree from Louisiana State University (LSU) and earned his Master’s at the University of Alabama, where he majored in journalism.  Upon graduation in 2000, Torres went to work for NOLA.Com | Times-Picayune, and has been there ever since.  We inquired on why a degree in journalism?

“My high school, in Nicaragua, didn’t have a school paper and I wanted to be a part of the writing culture” said Torres.

In 2012, The Times-Picayune (TP) was focusing on a more digital presence to deliver their stories.  During this time, Times-Picayune forged a partnership with WVUE-TV Fox 8, to co-produce stories together.

The team would hold meetings and not really know what direction they wanted to go in, but, according to Torres, “…they wanted a story that would resonate with the public and have significant impact.”  The #LAPurchased series had all of the above.

Louisiana is known as “The Most Corrupt State in the Union” which was derived from the amount of cases prosecuted, although Florida has more elected officials being accused of crimes, Louisiana is the most successful at prosecuting.

The team decided to look at the power of the money behind politics.  Who finances and who benefits.

Torres explained, “…in the State of Louisiana the law concerning how candidates spend their campaign contributions is very vague. “

We inquired if the law is so vague, how can one be prosecuted and for what?

The #LAPurchased series uncovered numerous instances of double billing.  Elected officials would use campaign money for expenses, seek reimbursement from their state office, receive the reimbursement and never put the reimbursement back in their campaign account.

Related article:  Lee Zurik Investigation: Lawmakers pocketing your tax dollars by double billing

Torres went on further to explain, “…campaign contributions can be used to purchase a home, car,football tickets, etc. since the law doesn’t say that they can’t.”

Senate Pres. John Alario (Source: NOLA.com & The Times Picayune)

Senate Pres. John Alario (Source: NOLA.com & The Times Picayune)

Related article:  Senate President spends $253k on Saints, Tigers football tickets

Another scheme heavily used is the hiring of family and friends, using campaign funds.  The only requirement is the friend/family must be in business for at least a full year prior to being hired.  One elected official hired his son to be a bartender at a function, paying him $30k, but a review of the records show the venue had its own bartender and there was no record/mention of the son being hired for that day.

Related article:  Lee Zurik Investigation: For DA’s son, campaign finance is a family affair

When we asked if former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin convicted of similar, Torres replied, “no.  Ray Nagin was convicted for other reasons.”

Finally, we asked Torres if the #LAPurchased series had the desired impact they were looking to make, and from the amount of awards generated, we would say yes.

Torres said, “…our #LAPurchased series has initiated two federal investigations surrounding Walter Reed, affectionately known as “Boss Hogg” by the local residents, who is the current District Attorney in St. Tammany’s District, along with Rep. Joe Harrison.”

Related article:  FBI probing Louisiana lawmaker after news series raises questions of double billing

watler reed

“Boss Hog” has already publicly stated he would not be seeking re-election after the #LAPurchased team uncovered he was double billing the local hospital.  Rep. Harrison is the individual who paid his son $30k for bartending duties.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has made some minor changes to reform campaign spending, but has done absolutely nothing to address the parameters of how campaign money can be spent.  Then again, why would he change how campaign contributions are spent, he has his own issues with spending.

Related article:  Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $152,000 in travel since 2012, other campaign spending, raise questions

It led me to speculate that elected officials face prosecution depending on which court they end up in.  Senator Mary Landrieu was charged with not living in her district and the judge dismissed the case citing she only needed to be a resident on the day of the election and cited a passage in the U.S. Constitution to affirm his dismissal.  On the other hand, here in California, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office ignores the U.S. Constitution, in favor of election codes, to secure the conviction of former Senator Rod Wright, for not living in his district.

Now back to those who are financing campaigns for personal benefit.  The #LAPurchased series uncovered that majority of campaign donors are appointed to commissions and/or awarded contracts, after giving to the elected of their choice.  Some appointments/contracts came either the day before/after the contribution was received.

Finally, we asked if the #LAPurchased series would be ongoing.  Torres replied, “…most definitely.  We have the opportunity to review expenses and analyze the differences from the prior year’s reports.  We didn’t expect to see much change the first year, but significant changes should be seen, now that the series has uncovered so much of their wrongdoing.  This is a series that can go on until the end of time.”

The #LAPurchased series has earned a Peabody, National Headliner Award and the coveted Edwin R. Murrow award for excellence in digital journalism.

You can view the entire portfolio of #LAPurchased related articles by clicking here.

LAISSEZ LE BON TEMPS ROULER


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About Melissa

I am a lifelong Inglewood resident living in District 4. I serve on PTA and School Site Council as Vice-President, for the last 8 years with Inglewood Unified School District. I volunteer on the Wellness Committee for ICEF Public Schools. I am an alumni of California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in Political Science. You can find me on Twitter under @CreoleMommie

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