Lee Zurik Investigation: Senator’s bill would open the spigot for PAC cash

Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb
Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb

After possibly breaking the law, a state lawmaker files a bill that would make a similar violation in the future legal.

"I've seen a lot of in-your-face legislation," says political watchdog C.B. Forgotston. But he says he's never seen a bill quite like this.

"This is just proof that Louisiana is not a government of laws," he tells us. "It is a government of men - meaning that the law only applies to, as I say, poor people and people who don't know anybody."

Last November, our joint investigation with NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune found that nine Louisiana politicians broke campaign finance laws by receiving more contributions from political action committees, or PAC's, than the law allows. Right now, the current law lets lawmakers receive $60,000 in total contributions from PAC's each election cycle.

We showed how Baton Rouge-area Senator Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb apparently broke that law in the 2011 election, collecting about $86,000 from PAC's – that's $26,000 above the legal limit.

Now, Dorsey wants to change the law.

Last week, she filed a bill for this month's legislative session that would raise the PAC limit for lawmakers from $60,000 to $100,000. And for statewide elected officials such as the governor, it would increase the limit from $80,000 to $120,000.

Forgotston says, "As she's demonstrating in this bill, if [lawmakers] run afoul of the law, they just change the law."

As we reported last month, most of the lawmakers who broke the law have returned the money, a total of almost $300,000. But campaign records don't show that Dorsey gave back any money. And she hasn't returned our calls or emails for any comment since our investigation began.

"I'm actually shocked about how blatant she is on this," Forgotston says. "This is really 'in your face' to the public - just like, 'Well, yeah, that limit didn't work so we're just going to raise it, ha.'"

This bill has been assigned to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"I think it should be embarrassing to them to support a bill like this," says Forgotston. "[But] you have to have a moral compass to be embarrassed."

Forgotston says he is not sure if lawmakers will ultimately pass Dorsey's bill. "If they believe this will hurt them in reelection to pass this, then they won't," he predicts. "If they believe that nobody cares and it's a way to get more money from the same people for the election, they will pass it."

It's a bill that could be introduced as early as next week.

No lawmakers have introduced any bill that would enact widespread campaign finance reform. There are bills that address certain points of concern, though.

One bill by Representative Greg Miller of Norco would make it illegal for a campaign to purchase a vehicle. Our reports show St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain purchased two vehicles with campaign money over the past few years. Miller's bill would still allow a campaign to lease or rent a car.

Copyright WVUE. All rights reserved.