Thursday, October 26, 2006


Change Limits Campaign Contributions

By Meghan Gordon

Halfway through his first term, St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez Jr. created what he hoped would become an annual golf tournament to raise money for future re-election bids. But as his chief of staff puts it, the inaugural 18-hole scramble set for Aug. 29, 2005, was "rained out" by Hurricane Katrina.

So the colorful politician rescheduled the fund-raiser for the hurricane's anniversary. He marked the somber day with a morning ceremony before heading to the links, where he collected $17,000 in donations for his 2007 re-election campaign.

Two months later, his treasurer hasn't deposited the checks.

A new law that strips away a potentially hefty amount of campaign cash from local elections has metro New Orleans elected leaders cautiously holding onto similar donations while they await clarification of a campaign finance provision that went into effect in July.

It targets any donor who received a contract or a first-tier subcontract for emergency work after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when mayors and parish presidents had the authority to ignore competitive bidding rules. The ban stays in place until 2009. Any politician or donor who violates the new law faces a penalty double the amount of the illegal contribution and, likely more damning, negative attention from the gaffe's disclosure.

Given the unknown implications of the new law, it remains to be seen whether it will dent one of the greatest advantages held by incumbent politicians, who often receive donations from companies as soon as they take office.

"When you look at these companies that do contribute to politicians in the parish, they contribute to everybody and, no, they're not just on one person's lists," Kenner City Councilman Kent Denapolis said. "Companies give across the board."

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