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Zurik: Is jet-setting Jindal illegally funding a presidential campaign?

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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said he will not run for any other office other than president. So why did he spend more money than any other politician in the state last year? One political analyst says it's because Jindal may be breaking the law.

Just a few words into his May 10, 2013 keynote address at a fundraising dinner for Republican state senators in New Hampshire, Bobby Jindal went after the current president.

“You know, it would be very easy to get up here and give a speech with a lot of applause lines, attacking President Obama,” he told the audience. “I want to talk to you a little about where do we go as a Republican Party.”

C-SPAN labeled it on screen as a “Road to the White House 2016” event.

That tenth of May was the 21st day of Louisiana's 2013 legislative session. Jindal went far beyond Baton Rouge, taking to a national stage to bolster support for his fellow Republicans, still smarting from their 2012 presidential loss.

“We lost an election,” he said. “It's time to get over it.”

A longtime political analyst wonders why Jindal paid for the trip out of his Louisiana campaign account.

“He is converting funds to whatever it is that serves his purpose,” Elliott Stonecipher says. “He's not following the law.”

The state campaign finance law allows politicians to spend campaign money on their Louisiana elected office or any future Louisiana election. But Stonecipher believes Jindal is using much of his state campaign fund for federal campaigning.

“And it is against the law,” Stonecipher says. “I don't know any way around that.”

For that speech in New Hampshire, Jindal spent $3518.79 out of his Louisiana campaign account: money for flights, hotel rooms and food.

“The conversion of state money for federal office is glaring,” Stonecipher says as we show him Jindal's 2013 campaign spending. “This is just incredible.”

"All spending by the campaign is done according to the law and fully reported."

- Timmy Teepell, Jindal campaign adviser

Of the $1,870,349 that Jindal spent in 2013, more than half - $1,105,406 - was paid to out-of-state addresses. Compare that to 2008, when just $391,311 went out of state. 

You can also take a look at his predecessor, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. From 2004 to 2008, she spent $1,555,852.48 in Louisiana; just $96,147.07 went out of state. Again, compare that to Jindal in one year, 2013: $764,943 spent in Louisiana, $1,105,406 to out-of-state addresses.

“At the essence of his behavior is ethics-less-ness, at the very, very least,” Stonecipher says.

Jindal listed spending for different political meetings in Wisconsin, Tennessee, New York, New Jersey, Las Vegas, San Diego… the list goes on. And we have no idea how any of those expenses relate to his state office.

“I would suspect that most of the money that's being spent there is related to his ambitions to become president,” says UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak. “According to the Ethics Administration, you're not supposed to. That money should be dedicated to running in the state and that, if you want to run for a federal election, you need to form another campaign finance account.”

An Associated Press article from April of this year is telling. The writer, Melinda Deslatte, gives a 2016 checklist for Jindal, writing in the first sentence that it was "a look at preparations" by Jindal "for a potential 2016 presidential run." 

She writes that Jindal must go to New Hampshire to run for president, and she points out he made two trips there, including that keynote speech – again, paid for with Louisiana campaign dollars. The article also adds he must have foreign travel, and notes he traveled to Canada in August 2013 to speak to the Oilmen's Business Forum luncheon. His state campaign records show he paid for hotel rooms and food for that trip. 

Visiting Iowa is also on the presidential checklist, and Jindal made one campaign expenditure there. And to run for president, Deslatte writes, Jindal must "meet the money.” Her article points out he "met leading GOP donors in New York City.” We found travel to New York out of his Louisiana campaign fund; it is unclear whether he met with GOP donors during those visits.

“Even though he is barred from running here in the state, he's been running for office after his most recent election in 2011,” Chervenak says. “He's been running to basically build up his name recognition, his reputation among Republican primary voters on the national stage. So he has been running. Let's just get that out of the way.”

Jindal campaigned for a sheriff in Michigan and bought food for that trip out of his campaign account. Jindal supported a North Carolina congressman for reelection and paid for a hotel room for an event there, again with Louisiana campaign funds. He spent $650,000 on consultants.  

“Consulting for what?” Chervenak wonders. “I mean, he's not running for office again.”  

Jindal's campaign says consultants advise on policy, press and digital. 

“He is converting funds to whatever it is that serves his purpose. He's not  following the law.”

- Elliott Stonecipher

The governor spent a total of $80,816 on air travel, in some cases leasing a private jet. In 2009, his campaign spent just $7,785 on air travel. But as his national profile and aspirations increased, so did the amount he spent on travel. 

A broader look at overall spending tells the same story. Looking at non-election years, he went from spending a total of $720,029 in 2008 to $1,870,349 in 2013. Last year, spending reached its highest non-election year level. 

That spending included a March speech at the National Gridiron Club in DC. Jindal's campaign account spent $4857.43 on transportation, airfare, parking and tickets to the event. According to the Washington Post, Jindal and Pres. Barack Obama gave the speeches that night. The Post even has a copy of Jindal's speech, which was filled with jokes about Chris Christie, John Boehner. Joe Biden and Eric Holder. It had no message about his current role as governor, policies in Louisiana or any message that relates to his current office. Still, Jindal billed the trip to his campaign.

“It appears that he is violating the spirit of the law, if he's using his state-based campaign finance account to pay for his national ambitions,” Chervenak says.

Stonecipher gives an even stronger reaction about the intentions of a governor who claims to have brought the gold standard of ethics to Louisiana. He says a quick look at Jindal's campaign finances leads to an easy conclusion: Jindal is spending very little money on things related to his job back home, but spending freely on his national ambitions.  

“And if you go out and ask 15 people who keep up with this, all 15 of them are going to answer the same way,” Stonecipher says. “There's no question… It is a violation. It is definitely a violation.”

Louisiana Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen cited provisions defining who is a candidate and what constitutes public office. Together, those provisions exclude “the office of President or Vice President of the United States,” as well as Congress, presidential electors and party offices.

"When I read these provisions together, the conclusion is that you are a candidate for a state race, and the money you raise can be used only for [a state] campaign or for exercise of that office," Allen said.

Gov. Jindal declined our requests for an on-camera interview. But his campaign adviser, Timmy Teepell, did respond to several of our questions, in writing.

"All spending by the campaign is done according to the law and fully reported,” Teepell writes. “As Governor of Louisiana, Jindal gets invited to speak to a number of groups and associations about the tremendous work he has done implementing conservative reforms in Louisiana. In order to defray the cost of this travel to taxpayers, the campaign account covers many of these expenses.”

A third option for paying those bills, not addressed by Teepell, is to pay for such travel costs out of the governor's personal funds.

Louisiana's campaign laws are vague. Jindal's campaign team thinks the laws, as written, give them leeway in how they spend the money.

Teepell pointed out a part of the law that states “a campaign may spend its excess campaign funds 'in support of or in opposition to a proposition, political party, or candidacy of any person.'”

Many candidates we have talked with think “excess” funds relate to funds leftover after you leave office. Jindal's campaign is applying that to his time in office, and they say that allows them to spend money on these trips and speeches.

Notably, much of Jindal's travel last year was for the Republican Governor's Association. Jindal served as RGA chairman until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took over in Nov. 2013. If Teepell's interpretation is correct, Jindal's travel for those events would likely be legal under the law.

“Governor Jindal is a young man,” Teepell continues. “He has said that he won't run for Congress or Senate. But he has not closed the door on running for Governor again at some point in the future.”

Jindal himself addressed questions about his political aspirations this way, on Oct. 21: “If I were to stay in politics it would involve the 2016 running for president. There¹s no other elective office I would seek.”

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Go to FOX8Live.com/LaPurchased for more reports in our "Louisiana Purchased" joint investigation of campaign finance, in partnership with NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune.


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