Lee Zurik Investigation: At $149K a year, what is Walter Reed campaigning for?

Walter Reed has raised almost $3 million in political campaign contributions since 1996, and he's spent all but $319,000 of it as of this writing - without facing any significant election challenges.
Walter Reed has raised almost $3 million in political campaign contributions since 1996, and he's spent all but $319,000 of it as of this writing - without facing any significant election challenges.

The last time St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed faced an opponent, Jim Mora was the Saints' head coach. But that hasn't stopped Reed from raising and spending, on average, $149,000 of campaign money every year.

Here's the latest installment of "Louisiana Purchased," reported by FOX 8 News and Heather Nolan of NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune.

Not many Louisianans can spend $2.6 million of tax-free money in 18 years.

The median income for a Louisiana household is $44,673. It would take that family roughly 60 years to earn and spend $2.6 million.

"What are you spending it on?" wonders activist Rick Franzo with the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany. "It's just abuse of dollars."

Since 1996, Walter Reed has raised $2,990,360. But Reed's never faced an opponent.

"How many signs can you put up when nobody's running against you?" asks Franzo.

"Typically the strategy for most incumbents is to raise a lot money to scare off challengers," says UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak. "They don't normally spend that money. It's held there in reserve as a way to communicate to any potential opponents that they're going to face a huge war chest."

But Reed isn't holding on to most of the money. He's been spending an average $149 654.37 a year from his campaign account – tax-free money.

"That's more than I certainly make in a year," notes Chervenak.

Reed has spent the largest chunk of money at Beau Chene Country Club: $163,062. According to his campaign, he was paying for golf tournaments.

Throughout the years, Reed's campaign has spent $98,760 with Benedict's on catering.

In 2000, his campaign spent $67,346 on hotel rooms. According to his campaign finance reports, that expense was for an unidentified "New Orleans fundraiser."

"That's an incredible amount of money to spend on a campaign that's literally nonexistent, hasn't faced any real competition," Chervenak says.

Reed has spent $51,583 on meetings. Most were held at restaurants and many had hefty price tags. In one instance on March 19, 2005, he spent $2,887.59 at Dakota restaurant.

"Yes, it is cause for head scratching," Chervenak tells us. "You don't necessarily have to hold all of your meetings – in fact, he seemed to hold a large number of meetings at restaurants. I would assume that, where he works, there's a meeting room [where] people can gather together. This is just, again, a way kind of to spread the wealth, share the wealth."

One of Reed's favorite places for meetings is Sal and Judy's. Since 1996 he has spent $25,214 on meetings there.

One questionable example came on January 1, 2002, when Reed had a meeting on New Year's Day and spent $2,400. On that same day, Jan. 1, 2002, he held another meeting at Sal and Judy's - this time, he charged $1,050 to his campaign. On New Year's Day 2002, all totaled, Reed spent $3,450 for two meetings at Sal and Judy's.

"Politicians think campaign money is their own money," Franzo complains.

According to LinkedIn, Reed's son attended St. Paul's School in Covington and was there from 2006 to 2011. During that time, Reed's campaign donated $11,264 to the school. By comparison, Reed's campaign only donated $2,150 to the school from 2000 through 2005, and another $1,500 after 2011.

"That doesn't necessarily pass the smell test," Chervenak says of the St. Paul donations.

One August 19, 1997, Reed's campaign paid for an $80 parking ticket in New Orleans. And since 1996, the campaign has spent $45,964 on flowers.

"Basically it's almost like a personal slush fund," Chervenak tells us.

Reed has $34,725 in miscellaneous expenses, some of those to the production company owned by his son, Steven. We've highlighted questionable payments to Steven Reed's companies in several stories. We have no idea the political reason behind these payments.

"That seems to be the area that's most ripe for abuse, when you're just claiming miscellaneous expenses, because it could be for anything," says Chervenak. "Where exactly is that money going and why is it going to these individuals? And it's not explained. You just claim it as a miscellaneous expense and move on. But obviously we would like to know exactly what's going on."

Reed's reimbursed himself $1954, including a reimbursement for a $1221.04 meeting at the Lakehouse restaurant in April 2011. He also paid his chief administrative assistant, Jerry Reed, $8251.88. He paid him a total of $3550.07 for entertainment. One day, Jerry Reed earned $1,900 for event set-up, and $1,000 for providing labor at a campaign event in 2012.

"The fact that you are doing it internally with your employees seems to be suspect as well," says Chervenak of such payments.

On average, Walter Reed has spent about $149,000 a year out of his campaign fund. It's tax-free spending by a politician who, since 1996, hasn't needed to spend a dime on campaign ads or yard signs. He hasn't needed to spend a red cent, fending off an opponent.

At the end of last year, Reed still had $319,000 left in his campaign war chest.

The Times-Picayune emailed Reed for a response to our findings, including the donations to St. Paul's School and payments to his employees. Reed didn't respond to that specific request, but his office did send a generic statement:

For nearly 30 years, I've worked hard as District Attorney to keep our community safe and we've delivered great results. I am grateful for the support of the voters who put me in office and their support which kept me there. It's a testament to the hard-working men and women in this office and the effectiveness we've shown to the public that we have won five elections, at times without an opponent.

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